Kellogg's Wendy Davidson Invites Perspective, Encourages Taking Risks

(Kellogg Company (No. 30 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) was recognized on February 28 as one of the 2017 Top Companies for Executive Women by the National Association of Female Executives).

Since I joined the company and moved here three years ago, we’ve worked to raise the profile of Kellogg as an employer in the Chicago area. I often brag about our company, why I think it’s a great place to work and why I chose to join the team. One thing I was impressed with then, and continue to be, is that who we are as a company is as important as what we do. Diversity is the core of who we are.

When you look at the gender balance of our leadership teams, for example, it’s really quite remarkable it’s uncommon for a company of our size to have so many women on the board and in global leadership positions. Having gender-balanced leadership teams and people from various backgrounds and experiences is just good business. We’re reflecting the customers we serve, we’re tapping into the real creativity of our teams and we’re putting ourselves in a position to continuously grow and learn.

I learn a great deal from the people around me and I work to make sure I surround myself with people with different perspectives who don’t have the same experiences as me. I learn from shared challenges and debate and from people who share their personal experiences.

Being part of HOLA, our Latino Employee Resource Group, has been a wonderful experience. A highlight for my family and me has been attending the summer picnic. Sharing new cultures, foods, games and interacting with the team has been a great experience for us. Earlier this year, I kicked off our K-Pride and Allies event inChicago and spoke on a panel at the Out and Equal event in Orlando in October. Through these experiences I’ve realized that people need to know that, even if your life experience is different from theirs, you are curious and you care.

I studied abroad in college, have hosted exchange students in our home and have worked across global regions in other jobs and I’ve learned people are more alike than they are different. And what we share is our love for food, for family, a desire to do better, and to make an impact, not just on the world, but our own world the people around us.

As for my leadership style, my team is probably a better judge of that, but I’ll tell you what I intend to do. I try to be very authentic and genuine. I want my team to know me not just the decisions I make, but also who I am as a person, because that’s what shapes my decisions.

I want to know them. I want to know what motivates them in their personal as well as their professional lives. I want them to feel comfortable not just working on a business challenge but sharing what they did on the weekend. I think who we are as a person drives our decision-making, and I want people to feel comfortable bringing their whole self to work. We try to coordinate social events a few times a year with the team and their families, because I want to know the people important in their lives and to share my family with them as well.

In terms of running the business, I strive to set a broad vision and give people freedom to work within a framework. The people on my team are going to bring thoughts I would not have considered. Their exposure and access to customers and the marketplace will provide the “how.” I encourage the team to take action, to challenge “how might we,” and to take risks.

There’s a great book called The Oz Principle that Amber Jefferson, my Human Resources lead, suggested to me. The premise of the book is that outcomes are the result of your actions; actions are the result of your beliefs; and your beliefs are the outcome of your experiences. It’s not our job as leaders to focus on outcomes and actions; it’s to generate experiences that will encourage the team to grow, which will change their belief in what is possible.

In the case of some of the risks we’ve asked our team to take, if I say it’s okay to take the risk even if the results aren’t there I want the team to know I have their back, so they’re more willing to step forward and take action because I’ve already proven through prior experiences that I trust them. The team on their own is then taking action because they believe in where we’re headed and in what’s possible.

Wendy Davidson will soon be honored by the National Diversity Council (NDC) with a Top 20 Business Women in Illinois award for her leadership excellence, business results, and commitment to diversity and community service.

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