My life as an advocate for women at work

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Today’s global marketplace is very different from the one many of us grew up in. It requires new approaches and diverse leadership teams with different world views, experiences and thought processes.

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

Everyone can become an ally for diversity and inclusion, and that includes championing women for leadership roles at every level. A great way for men to make a difference is to get out of the stands as a "diversity spectator” and get onto the field as an "inclusion player.”

I stepped up my own commitment to women’s leadership by joining the Network of Executive Women in 2008 and visibly supporting its mission "to advance women, grow business and transform our industry’s workplace through the power of community.” This included leveraging NEW webinars, regional and national events, leadership and learning tools within Clorox — and then even more visibly supporting women’s leadership by joining NEW’s board of directors and serving as treasurer. Serving on this board of 20 women and two men has been very rewarding — and eye-opening.

In the Fortune 500, the average mix of board of directors is 12 percent minority and 16 percent women. At Clorox, 41 percent of global managers, 31 percent of senior executives, and 30 percent of our board of directors are female. Also, 25 percent of U.S. managers and 50 percent of our board of directors are minorities. These are professionals making a real difference driving growth and innovation within the company at mid- to senior management levels.

What I’ve learned along the way: Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. Let's dance!

A culture of inclusion

Historically, many diversity best practices have focused on bringing those who are "different” in the door. Many of these efforts have been quite successful increasing the overall representation of women and minorities. And companies have achieved diversity, or "the mix.” However, in many places the mix is not working well. We end up with diversity without inclusion.

Without inclusion, good management and leadership skills often are not recognized when they manifest differently than the company’s established culture of leadership. Rather than leading to growth, innovation and new ways of doing things, "different” ends up being defined as poor performance. This leads to higher turnover for women and people of color in the retail and consumer packaged goods industry.

With the pace of business and technology change exploding, no single person — or one type of leader — can know it all. It’s just not possible. As the world "shrinks,” we need to increase our understanding of each other and all the unique perspectives we bring.

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 diversity and inclusion programs. With a strategy centered on our people, we are acutely aware of how valuable different ideas are. We actively encourage unique viewpoints and champion everyone at Clorox to be what we call "an everyday leader.”

I believe very strongly that experiences, skills and insights from all types of backgrounds enrich the workplace culture, improve employees’ effectiveness and satisfaction and ultimately contribute to our business performance in the marketplace.

Company leaders should be held accountable for creating a culture of inclusion. Women can do their part by building their skills and putting themselves in the position for advancement. Here are three pieces of advice:

.” After all, you are selling your skills and abilities. Then focus on key areas to leverage your own strengths for business growth and innovative ideas: your job performance, internal influence and external connections. Say your strength is in marketing. Try partnering with someone in finance to broaden knowledge of concepts like EBIT margin, basis points and free cash flow. In exchange, share insights about retail markets, consumer brands and market positioning.

2. Look for cross-functional project opportunities. Employee resource groups like Clorox’s SHOW (Support, Heart & Opportunity for Women) are great platforms for employee engagement, social connections, networking and leadership development. Focus on how you can not only serve as an all-important "connector,” but find new, even more business-aligned ways to add value.

3. Invite your male peers. We all have an "unconscious bias" that is shaped by our personal experiences. It is a normal part of how humans make decisions. It's a "mental shortcut" that fills in gaps in our knowledge with similar data from past experiences and cultural norms. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but that bias can lead to bad decisions. 

So, invite a male colleague to diversity-related meetings or NEW events. It’s a great way for all of us to learn, grow and progress together.

Remember: Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. To succeed, we all need to dance!

Blog Author Bio

Erby Foster is director of diversity and inclusion for The Clorox Company and treasurer of the Network of Executive Women.

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