Dow is Refocusing its Efforts Through the Lenses of Inclusion and Diversity
By Adam Lansdell
Under the guidance of Karen S. Carter, chief human resources officer and chief inclusion officer, the Dow Corp. is placing people at the heart of all it does to create a workplace unlike any before. Recognizing shifting cultural dynamics, Dow reengineered its focus on being an innovative organization to meet the need for a socially conscious, innovative and inclusive workplace for all.
How is Dow going above and beyond to create a workplace for all?
We are institutionalizing inclusion into everything we do – from hiring to who has a seat at the decision-making table to the way we brainstorm. Inclusion is becoming part of the fabric of every function and business at Dow.
Dow has 10 employee resource groups, or ERGs. In 2018, Dow held EMERGE, our first-ever all-ERG conference in Houston, Texas. More than 500 Dow colleagues from over 35 countries and diverse job roles attended the highly interactive three-day event, which enabled Dow leaders and colleagues to share their passion for diversity and their commitment to ensuring a strong culture of inclusion at Dow. The conference resulted in goals and action plans to drive more cross-ERG collaboration and to advance business strategy through ERG advocacy, customer engagement, supplier diversity and community impact.
Through Project SEARCH, a 30-week internship program first developed at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Dow is helping young people with developmental disabilities transition to the workplace by providing skills coaching and real-life work experience in Dow labs, plants and offices. Eighty-five percent of alumni from Dow’s Project SEARCH programs – currently available in Midland and Freeport and Houston, Texas – have gone on to achieve long-term employment.
Our Women’s Innovation Network – WIN – held a workshop in Midland with Catalyst’s MARC, Men Advocating Real Change, about empowering men to engage in workplace inclusion.
Diversity and inclusion have become a bigger part of social and workplace conversations in recent years – with many companies now taking firm stands for or against certain issues. How has Dow managed to act on and be a part of those conversations?
Dow actively participates in discussions around inclusion and diversity through formal events such as external conferences that may include peer companies or customers. We organize inclusion forums and events worldwide – many of which include customers, representatives from academia and industry organizations. Just last year, I was part of a panel at the United Nations, where I shared the business case for inclusion and diversity and how we’re taking deliberate steps to weave inclusion and diversity into the DNA at Dow. There are many organized venues in which Dow colleagues are interacting with peers in the industry, with academics, with NGOs and others on the topic of inclusion. We are sharing what we have learned, and we are learning from others.
In 2017, Dow was one of the original 175 signers of the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion Pledge, which has become one of the largest CEO-driven business commitments to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We have engaged on major legislation in the U.S. impacting the LGBTQ+ community. We have called for a comprehensive U.S. federal framework to ensure fairness and opportunity for everyone such as the Equality Act. We have joined America Competes and hosted several Human Rights Campaign events at our Latin America offices. And we have participated in several movements to support LGBTQ+ and human rights in locations around the world.
You were recently recognized as a 2019 Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality – could you touch on Dow’s history in supporting the LGBTQ+ community and what this award means to you and the efforts being made overall for equality?
We have a long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and we are proud to be at the forefront of equality efforts worldwide. Dow was among the first companies to offer domestic partner benefits and is proud to play a leadership role in advancing benefits policies that support workplace equality.
Being recognized as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality is a great affirmation of the work we are doing today. GLAD, our employee resource group created for LGBTQ+ and ally team members, has been championing diversity for nearly 20 years. We have approximately 40 chapters in 30 countries around the world. And interestingly, about 90% of the members of GLAD are allies – meaning that they are not LGBTQ+, but they support the issues that impact people who are. There are about 3,400 people in GLAD – so you can see how this would create a sense of inclusion and belonging for LGBTQ+ people at Dow. Everyone has a basic human right to be who they are.
What are some efforts that Dow supports or ways they engage with communities within the Midland and the Great Lakes Bay region specifically?
We are committed to all of the communities where we do business, including the Great Lakes Bay region where we are headquartered. We support many nonprofits. Some of these include Hidden Harvest, Habitat for Humanity, West Midland Family Center, Bay County Project Connect, Underground Railroad, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Project Lead the Way.
Dow also sponsors and supports athletics in the area and supporting venues – for example, the Great Lakes Loons and Dow Diamond, The Dow Event Center, Dow Bay Area Family YMCA, Dow Tennis Classic, and Saginaw Spirit. This year we will host the first Great Lakes Bay Invitational LPGA Tournament in Midland, with 144 players from more than 55 countries.
We are committed to the Great Lakes Bay region and will continue to help shape the community where a large number of our colleagues live and work.
What drives you and your team to ensure Dow is bar none in terms of a positive experience for employees?
We see inclusion and diversity as a business imperative and a critical component of Dow’s continued success. In fact, there is an indisputable business case for inclusion and diversity. Research by McKinsey, Gallup and Catalyst tells us that companies with greater diversity and inclusion show an 80%performance improvement compared to companies with less diversity. Diverse companies also have 48% higher earnings and are 45% more likely to expand market share.
What is it exactly that makes Dow an unmatched employment experience?
Dow offers a competitive benefits package to employees, and we are proud to play a leadership role in advancing benefits policies that support workplace equality. In fact, Dow was among the first companies to offer domestic partner benefits nearly 15 years ago. And Dow continues to take a leadership position by offering best-in-class policies promoting LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace, including equal benefits for same-sex partners. And Dow is one of the very few companies that offer coverage for transgender surgery and treatment.
Creating an unmatched employee experience is a strategic priority for our company. We are actively implementing a companywide strategy, but also giving the latitude for local customization. We actively listen to colleagues – through formal means like our annual employee survey, and through more informal means like town halls. Colleagues need to feel they are heard and that their feedback leads to action.
I believe that an inclusive culture must be built on a foundation of equality. Inclusion is not about special opportunity; it’s about equal opportunity – giving all people the chance to contribute and demonstrate their value.
Dow released its first Inclusion report in 2018 to promote transparency and showcase progress to both employees and stakeholders. In the report you state that “without an inclusive workplace, diversity is just a numbers game.” Can you elaborate on this?
It’s simple. Inclusion is about bringing out the best in our people – creating an environment where they thrive and contribute. It’s not about counting numbers. It’s about making sure people’s contributions count. Diversity is critical, but we can only reap the full benefits through an inclusive culture.
In 2017 you took on the newly created role of chief inclusion officer and have since grown into your current role. At that time, what was recognized as the need for the position and how have things changed since?
Inclusion and diversity are not new concepts at Dow; we have been working to create an inclusive culture for decades. In 2017 it became apparent to the company’s top leadership that an inclusive and diverse workplace is more of a business imperative than ever. And that is why when Dow’s top leadership created the position of chief inclusion officer in 2017, they sought a businessperson for the role. Inclusion is about business opportunity. Inclusion is about business success. We have an active, three-tiered governance structure that involves everyone from the CEO and business leaders to members of our ERGs.
We are implementing our Inclusion 2020 strategy, which includes elevating the role of our employee resource groups – as a business resource for the company. We’re already seeing a significant increase in our ERG memberships, which is just one sign of an increased engagement in inclusion.
I’m very pleased that for the first time, Dow made DiversityInc’s top 50 list last year. Every day we are assessing the work we are doing. So, it’s great to receive external validation of the progress we are making and the value we are delivering to our employees and to our company.
Speaking on your personal experience, what motivated you to step away from the marketing and business side and begin working on the people side of things? What have been the most rewarding and challenging moments that have come as a result?
Over the course of my more than 20-year career at Dow, I have had the privilege of working in a number of different business roles. I’ve lived in Shanghai and led Dow’s Asia-Pacific team serving the construction industry. And before assuming my current role, I led the Packaging and Specialty Plastics Business in North America as the commercial vice president. As a business leader, my focus has been on helping the company prosper and thrive by becoming more innovative and capturing market share and new customers.
As chief inclusion officer, I am still a business leader. I am still charged with helping the company prosper and thrive and become more innovative. I’m still charged with helping it capture new market share and new customers because our business success is not possible without our people.
One of the most rewarding moments was EMERGE, that three-day event that brought together more than 500 Dow colleagues from over 35 countries. It was not your typical meeting of business leaders. We had colleagues from every job role – from the CEO to the shop floor. It was the most diverse and passionate group I have ever experienced in my career. This business event was focused on enhancing Dow’s inclusion culture and discussed opportunities to elevate the role of employee resource groups as true business partners and change agents to advance the business strategy of our company. This was truly a moment that sparked a movement.
And even though that was an extremely amazing career moment, I get the most satisfaction when a colleague says that the work we are doing in terms of inclusion and diversity has made a difference to them. And because I firmly believe that our people power our success, the most challenging moments are when progress does not feel fast enough.