Diversity do-over: It’s time for real inclusion

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My first boss told me, “Get in as much good business experience as possible before you have kids and your priorities change.”

I’ve heard variations of this comment throughout my career. Always well-meaning, they miss the value I and other women offer. I’ve also been fortunate to work with many phenomenal female leaders in my career. But there were still times I felt like an outsider, not celebrated for the value of my business perspective as a woman.

Historically, diversity best practices have focused on bringing women and minorities in the door. As female executive, I’ve benefited from past diversity efforts.

But diversity isn’t as simple as putting together a group of people of different nationalities, races, genders or cultural backgrounds. It’s about building a team whose varied thoughts and beliefs combine to create a more comprehensive solution to global business issues.

We must create environments that value different experiences and perspectives. It’s time for inclusion. Our workplaces won’t change without each of us committing to behavior that creates inclusive environments where women and others feel a sense of belonging, respected and valued for who they are — and where they are supported by others so that they can do their best work.

Inclusivity at Clorox

At Clorox, our mission is simple yet powerful: We make everyday life better, every day. We apply this approach to everything we do, including our inclusion. Diversity and inclusion is not just a “nice to have;” it’s a business imperative.

Having served in customer-facing roles most of my career, I’ve seen how changing demographics impact sales growth. Women and multicultural consumers now account for about 80 percent of shoppers. Women are the largest group. Multicultural is the fastest-growing. Millennials represent our future.

To reach these diverse consumers, our workforce and corporate governance need to reflect them. At Clorox, 41 percent of our global managers and one-third of our senior executives are female. Our board of directors is composed of 40 percent women and 20 percent women of color. (At Fortune 500 companies’ boards of directors average 20 percent women and 3 percent women of color.)

Clorox’s female leaders are making a real difference creating a culture of inclusion within the company. They’re incorporating new approaches and bringing different world views, experiences and thought processes to our leadership teams. Their diverse backgrounds enrich our workplace culture and improve employees’ effectiveness and satisfaction.

More than a decade ago, Clorox formed an employee resource group for women, SHOW (Support, Heart and Opportunity for Women), to support a more inclusive environment. Our growth culture — central to our business strategy — fosters a work environment where every employee is encouraged to put the consumer first, be curious, embrace change, think boldly and act like an owner. We believe that creating a culture of inclusion that reflects our consumers brings us a competitive business advantage.

I see Clorox’s approach to D&I as a model for other companies. But there are two actions individuals can take to create a more inclusive workplace, too.

Support other women’s success. Journalist Ann Friedman calls this approach the “Shine Theory.” Surrounding yourself with best talent “doesn’t make you look worse by comparison,” Friedman says, “it makes you better.” She’s right. 

Success isn’t finite. One woman’s success doesn’t counteract your own. When one of your team members or friends is shining brightly, she doesn’t put you in the shadows. She lights you up. Success is limitless, and contagious, and something to be celebrated, whether it’s your own or someone else’s.

Amplify other women on the team. To make sure they were heard at meetings, female staff members at the White House during the early years of the Obama administration banded together to adopt the strategy of “amplification.” When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own. The president noticed and began calling more often on women and junior aides.

The key to an effective D&I strategy is to view it as a strategy to make you organization stronger and more effective. Creating a workplace that nurtures and leverages women business leaders can be a game changer.

Blog Author Bio

Linda Rendle is senior vice president and general manager, cleaning division for The Clorox Company, where she chairs the company’s women’s employee resource group. A version of this blog first appeared in the Professional Woman’s Magazine.

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