Hershey's Kevin Walling: Three Lessons in Diversity and Inclusion from Leading Companies

The Hershey Company is a DiversityInc Noteworthy Company.

(Originally published on LinkedIn Aug. 31, 2017)

Kevin Walling

August is a busy time at Hershey as we prepare for the important holiday retail season. But it is also a time when we celebrate and honor the many cultures, perspectives and backgrounds of our remarkable people at Hershey at our annual Inclusion Day. It’s a day I look forward to each year and this year it also was a time for me to reflect on Hershey’s growth and evolution in light of the many events that have highlighted the differences among us.

At Hershey, it’s simple. We bring goodness to the world through our iconic brands, our remarkable people and helping children in need. And we do that with a One Hershey mindset – that bringing together diverse people to work alongside one another to deliver on our promise of goodness makes us stronger.

Too many companies approach diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a business project versus ensuring it is engrained in every aspect of their organization. D&I is central to the success of a business in today’s global marketplace as it brings together individuals of different backgrounds and experiences, builds a more collaborative work environment and reflects the consumers, customers and communities that support the business.

Diversity in the workplace has been defined as race, gender, age and many other characteristics. But today, companies are rethinking how they define “workplace inclusion.” It’s not a one-size fits all term. To me, inclusion means creating a culture where individuals are welcome to be who they are, regardless of how they identify. Achieving a truly diverse and inclusive workforce, however, is challenging and it is constantly evolving as we shift into a new, digital-heavy world where traditional practices and standards may no longer be enough.

So, how do we get there Here is some food for thought on best practices:

Start at the Top

According to the United States Department of Labor, women represent about 47 percent of the total U.S. labor force. The Washington Post calculated that only 6.4 percent (or 32 women) are in a CEO role at Fortune 500 companies. Furthermore, the pipeline for top female executives, excluding the CEO, is only 16.5 percent. This is an area where Hershey stands out, with industry-leading female executive leadership. Hershey has a female Chief Executive, Chief Financial Officer, General Counsel and Chief Growth Officer.

Women have always been at the heart of Hershey, from Milton Hershey School co-founder Catherine Hershey to Michele Buck, who became the company’s first female president and chief executive officer in March. Earlier this year, she signed a pledge to support Paradigm for Parity, a movement of leaders who are committed to achieving a norm in corporate America in which women and men have equal power, status and opportunity.

Listen and Learn

Good ideas don’t only come from the most senior leaders. And good leaders know this. At Hershey, our new CEO and many leaders across the business take time to meet with employees to hear what’s on their mind. What’s working, what’s not and how might we be better. We also have regular leader and employee forums where we talk about important business matters and what might be getting in our way. Early this year, we hosted a forum where individuals from different backgrounds talked about their experience living and working in Hershey. Others are doing similar things to actively expose issues and talking about not just the “what” of the business but the “how.”

Texas Instruments is another example. Their diversity and inclusion director keeps up with real issues by doing “listening rounds” going from building to building and area to area, making herself available to talk. They also ensure topics for their internal diversity blog come from real people and openly address issues such as gender and racial differences, religion in the workplace, navigating organizational dynamics, bullying in the workplace and more. The blog is one of the most popular, regular features on the TI intranet. This is what diversity and the future is all about.

This “all levels” approach welcomes new thinking and truly embodies inclusion by valuing all employees making them feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.

Take Time to Reflect

A company’s workforce gives them either a competitive advantage or disadvantage. At Hershey, our employees are undoubtedly the secret to our success.

According to a McKinsey study, companies in the “top-quartile” with strong gender-diversity were 15 percent more likely to outperform other companies and 35 percent more likely to outperform when employees are ethnically-diverse. Building a strong pipeline of diverse talent not only makes your company a great place to work, it strengthens business, business relationships and your connection to customers. It is crucial to look at where you have been and where you are now so you can reflect on where you’re succeeding and where there is room for improvement.

The road to being a more diverse and inclusive company is not an easy one, but if we stay committed to growth and embrace different perspectives, the journey will be an impactful one. At Hershey, our goal is to be a premier industry leader in D&I by 2020 and that includes continuing our peer-leading gender representation.

I look forward to sharing more about The Hershey Company’s growth in the space and would love to hear in the comments: what D&I practices have you found most impactful at your company

Kevin Walling is the Chief Human Resources Officer at The Hershey Company.

Learn more about careers at The Hershey Company.

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