Fitzgerald now is director of Diversity and Workforce Effectiveness at the company, No. 43 in The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. She’s using her experience in learning the local and corporate culture—as well as her extensive background in organizational development, training and community service—to evolve the company’s diversity-management strategies.
In this profile, we tell you her story—personally and professionally—and how the support of Chairman, President and CEO Clay Jones has made all the difference.
How She Ended Up in Iowa
Fitzgerald was raised in Memphis, where her middle-class parents emphasized education. While obtaining a bachelor’s degree in professional studies with an emphasis in organizational leadership, she spent eight years leading training organizations in the mental-health field. She opened a homeless shelter for women and children and managed a shelter for people with HIV or AIDS.
After working in the nonprofit arena for several years, she was admittedly burnt out and wanted to move into the for-profit sector. She went to work for the Center for Healthcare Quality and led the organization’s national initiative to reduce healthcare disparities for underserved populations, including Blacks, Latinos and Asians. When George W. Bush was elected president, the center had its funding cut and she needed a new career opportunity. She then led operational programs for Service Master as she and her husband raised their two children near their families in Memphis.
In 2007, her husband, who works in information security, was courted by Rockwell Collins to move to Cedar Rapids. The company was interested in her as well. “Their strategy is to keep diverse talent. It’s a lot harder for two to walk out the door,” she says.
But the idea of relocating to Iowa was not appealing. “I did not plan to move to Cedar Rapids. I thought it was the most un-diverse place I could take my children to and I wasn’t willing or open at that time to looking at that opportunity,” she says.
What Turned Her Around
While she and her husband were checking out Cedar Rapids, the members of the African-American resource group at Rockwell Collins invited them to a picnic. One of the first cars to pull up was driven by a middle-aged white man, who came alone, in casual clothes. It was CEO Clay Jones, who also is from Tennessee.
“He walked up and introduced himself. The impact of having a company where the CEO would take time on a weekend to come to a network picnic and engage—that sealed the deal for me,” Fitzgerald recalls. “I thought that this could be an environment where I could come and bring my skills.”
What She’s Brought to Rockwell Collins
Fitzgerald led the diversity training at the company, working with Jones. After a year, she was promoted to lead the training organization, a job she held until she took over the diversity and workforce-effectiveness organization.
Her new position is a crucial one, both for her and the company, as Rockwell Collins elevates its commitment to being a diversity leader while continuing to struggle with the ability to recruit and retain talented Blacks, Latinos and Asians.
Fitzgerald works with the community now to make Iowa more accessible to people from different cultures. “What the city lacks from a cultural viewpoint it more than makes up in its core values. We try to help people understand the richness to family commitment and values in the city. The people are very open,” she says.
She also works internally to accelerate diversity-management and talent-development efforts, especially using the resource groups. “I don’t think we are leveraging their full potential yet. We really are trying to increase diverse representation at all levels within our organization … I know we are on a journey, but the pace at which the world’s efforts on diversity and inclusion are accelerating makes me sometimes fear we aren’t moving the needle as fast as we can.”