Diversity Lessons From Leaders Who Have Lived Them

Amidst the social turmoil of the spring of 2020, many companies promised to bring greater diversity to corporate America. Today, many of those are having a hard time following through. My solution for them? Just spend a day or two with Charlene Wheeless and Gloria Puentes. These two strong female leaders provided personal perspective about implementing DEI programs at the recent Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement.

Charlene Wheeless: You Are Enough

From the moment I met Charlene Wheeless, then vice president of communications at Raytheon, I knew there was something special about her. Never mind that she loved correlations and math and data. With all her brains, stature, and strength, she was also kind, funny, authentic, and empathetic. We were fortunate enough to continue working together when she moved on to Bechtel, and have stayed in touch ever since.

Today she is a successful author and motivational speaker. At the recent Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement she wowed us all with her honesty, her openness about her experience as a successful woman of color in male-dominated industries, and her great advice. If you haven’t yet bought and read her book, You Are Enough, it will change your perspective, if not your life. 

It should be mandatory reading for every CEO of every company. In fact, reading it should probably be a prerequisite for getting a job in communications.

What she gave us at the Summit, along with so many great stories, was essentially a long list of Dos and Don’ts relative to diversity—all based on her own professional experiences. For many of us there were some eye-popping encounters, read her book for details. In general it was a pretty good guide to how not to deal with diverse employees. She recounted countless microaggressions (and bigger aggressions, as well) that she faced while being a smart, educated, Black woman in an industry (defense) not known for its diversity or gender equality.

Gloria Puentes: Sodexo does DE&I around the world

Gloria Puentes provided us with the counterpoint: how to do DE&I well. While Sodexo is unique in its approach, it is as much by necessity as by design. Founded in France in 1966, it has had one singular mission ever since: To improve people’s lives.

Today that cultural foundation continues. It now impacts 100 million consumers all over the world, and employs thousands of people from multiple countries who speak multiple languages. The brand is familiar to many of us because they ran our school cafeteria, or the hospital or nursing home cafeteria where we waited for news of loved ones. But it turns out that they do a whole lot more, including managing facilities in Antarctica and on off-shore oil rigs in the North Sea. Right now they’re busy helping companies reopen their facilities in a post-Covid world. Also helping organizations clean up after the numerous climate crises we’ve experienced this year.

To do that they have to find, hire, train, and retain thousands of employees all over the world. which is why diversity has to be in their DNA. What makes their system unique, as Gloria explained, is their uniquely collaborative approach. Rather than launch initiatives that someone thinks sound like a good idea, they have established a large network of partnerships with experienced local community groups to identify, train, and help people who need the kinds of jobs that Sodexo is trying to fill.

Looking at this chart gives you a glimpse into the diversity of their outreach. But even more importantly, it’s a bottom-up design. They have created employee business resource groups within the company, each with a specific focus for specific initiatives. There are resource groups for veterans, people with disabilities, African Americans, pan-Asians, veterans, the LGBTQA community, Latinos, Native Americans, Indigenous communities, and more. So whenever a new employee joins, they have a built-in support community to ensure they feel included. Another key element to Sodexo’s success is a continuing series of webinars, training, and written guides on how to talk about ethnicity and race with team members. ∞



About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.