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A Seat at the Table: Inclusive Teams Build Business

Karen Dybis

Last fall, Midland-based Dow hosted more than 500 people from 30 countries for Emerge, its first employee resource group conference. 

Emerge brought the materials science company leaders together in for three days in Houston, Texas with a mission: elevate the role of its 10 employee-led resource groups — such as the Disability Employee Network and GLAD, the chemical industry’s first LGBTQ+ group — which were designed to drive change in the culture and business success for Dow. Workers met executives such as Dow’s Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Inclusion Officer Karen S. Carter, listened to keynote speeches, and participated in intense strategy sessions.  

Carter is using her more than two decades at Dow and her new role as chief inclusion officer to push the company further and faster. In 2018, Dow invited “high potential” employees to Emerge. This year, Carter said workers can nominate themselves to attend the conference which took place in September, and was live streamed so more employees had access to it. 

“This is not about special opportunity, this is about equal opportunity,” says Carter, who became Dow’s champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion in July 2017.  

The three principals have evolved through the efforts of companies such as Dow to become a business must. Research has shown how a commitment to diversity in hiring, inclusion across a company, and equity in opportunity not only boosts employee engagement but also overall financial success. 

As Carter puts it, “It’s not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing.” 

These efforts are having an impact. For example, Michigan-based companies including Dow, Ally Financial, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Consumers Energy, and General Motors Co. all earned a perfect score as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2019 Corporate Equality Index, a respected survey of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.  

“If you have a culture of caring and a culture of support, that goes hand in hand with organically implementing all of these strategies,” said Regan Hall, the first inclusion and diversity leader for Southfield-based Plante Moran.  

Hall, who is going into her second year as a diversity, equity, and inclusion leader, looks to companies such as Dow and trailblazers like Carter herself as inspiration. 

Dow considers its investment in diversity, equity, and inclusion as a “business imperative,” Carter said, which helps the company compete to hire the best talent and also retain current employees. It created measurable goals and an annual inclusion report, SHINE, to track its progress. Dow has three inclusion councils for the president, senior leaders, and employees to help implement its strategies.  

Carter said Dow’s office of inclusion has become part of the company’s DNA. A through line in the company, Dow emphasizes a diverse leadership team at its corporate level so employees can see “proof of diversity” and has inclusion initiatives within its operations, suppliers, and supply-chain levels “to permeate every corner and crevice of the company,” Carter said. 

“It’s about psychological safety. If employees feel they’re part of an inclusive culture, they bring their best ideas. They bring their whole selves to work.”

Karen Dybis is a metro Detroit-based freelance writer.