The murder of George Floyd was a sea-change moment for diversity, equity and inclusion at companies across the country. The role of Chief Diversity Officers took on a greater level of importance as companies pursued DEI initiatives with greater intentionality and vigor. What followed has been a pivotal period of time for CDOs as companies attempt to make pledges and promises into reality.
We’ve been catching up with CDOs who have moved into their current positions in recent years to discuss their experience, what the move has done for them, the work they’re doing and the advice they have for other aspiring or current CDOs, DiversityInc spoke with Alveda Williams, Chief Inclusion Officer at Dow (No. 15 on DiversityInc’s 2022 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list).
DiversityInc: You’ve climbed the ranks with Dow to take on your first C-suite diversity and inclusion role. What has that experience been like and what advice would you have for folks who want to ascend that ladder but don’t want to move companies to do it?
Alveda Williams: “I always knew I had a passion for science, which is why I pursued a Ph.D. in Chemistry and joined Dow as a Senior Research Chemist over 20 years ago. I was enjoying a great career as a researcher, but from the very beginning, I noticed that I was bolting on work that played to a secondary passion of mine – a passion for people.
“Because I was open to change and willing to try new things, it was a single step into Human Resources nearly 11 years ago that paved the way for the role that I now have as Dow’s Chief Inclusion Officer.
“I had the benefit of serving as the Corporate Director of Inclusion for the past five years, so I was at the table when our first strategy was developed, in the background when some of the most critical decisions were made and in the forefront on the development of key programs. So, there’s a lot about the new role that is not new. The vision that we have at Dow to be leaders in inclusion, diversity and equity is still clear. The strategy did not change with the change in guard and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
“My advice to those who want to ascend the ladder is simple – bloom where you are planted. Delivering visible results and meaningful impact builds credibility and credibility opens the door to new opportunities. Know where your passion, purpose and skills intersect and pursue relentlessly and without regret.”
DI: What advice do you have for aspiring or current Chief Diversity Officers who are just starting out? What are the big issues they need to be ready to speak to in the future?
AV: “I would offer a few pieces of advice to CDOs who may just be starting out:
“There is always a lot that can be done in this space. It is important do the initial work up front to understand the current state of your workforce diversity and the sentiment around I&D. Evaluate the data, assess gaps and identify low-hanging fruit to make an impact.
“Learn from what leading organizations are doing. So much of this work is industry agnostic and you don’t have to go at it alone. Other CDOs are often willing to share their experiences and ideas. At Dow, we have been able to accelerate our progress over the last 5 years because we had other companies and CDOs that were willing to spend time with us, share their stories and exchange best practices.
“Invest in your employee resource groups. Our own internal data validates that ERG participants are the most engaged employees and experience higher overall satisfaction with the company. ERGs can be true catalysts for change. We have been hard at work to make sure our ERGs continue to provide space for community and connection, while also strategically shifting to ensure alignment of our ERGs to company priorities such as well-being, talent needs, supplier diversity and our decarbonization and growth strategy.
“Finally, be ready to think beyond the traditional elements of DEI work (e.g. compliance, diversity metrics, employee sentiment). Again, the boundaries have expanded. Understand what issues are important to the full ecosystem – employees, Board of Directors, community members, investors, etc. Be attuned to how external events may directly or indirectly impact the people and present opportunities for your organization to provide support and take action.”
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