Why Not Sooner?
Last summer, many people, myself included, were witness to some deeply disturbing injustices that have occurred in some of our communities far too often, for far too long. Personally, I was full of emotions ranging from anger, to hurt, to fear. Knowing I was not alone, we created environments at Kenway where employees could come together to process our emotions and support one another.
Leaning heavily on Kenway’s long-standing Guiding Principles, which include respecting the uniqueness of each individual and celebrating the diversity that results from being merit-based, these discussions led us to partner with Audrey George Consulting last fall to get expert help in kick-starting a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program. We started with a current state assessment that informed a roadmap of activities, including a robust training program that has continued throughout 2021.
After our last session, one of my colleagues provided positive feedback on the program and asked me why Kenway chose to invest in the training now? It is an outstanding question to which I want to share my response with Kenway’s readership.
Knowing Kenway, my colleague was wondering if we really needed to invest more in employee inclusion activities than we already did. The question was a compliment to the fact that Kenway has always been committed to promoting a culture of respect, openness and inclusivity of which all employees can be proud. In 2009, we documented more than 20 Guiding Principles, including the aforementioned ones focused on respecting the uniqueness of each individual, and avoiding the treatment of people based on a collective.
Our DEI consulting partner stated that our Guiding Principles provided a great foundation for our DEI program, and in many ways, we are diverse. As an example, I could not be prouder of the high percentage of women in leadership positions at Kenway, because that exemplifies how all people can progress in their careers at Kenway based on their performance regardless of gender identity, race, culture, sexual orientation, or any other attribute. With that said, in other ways, we could be more diverse. This was not a result of anything we did wrong, but a failure to realize that we could be doing more.
In addition to respecting the uniqueness of each individual, another of our most foundational Guiding Principles is to focus on the means and not the outcomes. Put another way, focus on what we can control (i.e., what we say and what we do) and accept whatever the outcome may be. Understanding fully the benefits that can come from the myriad of perspectives gleaned by being a more diverse organization, we embarked on our DEI roadmap with a focus on implementing new and improved means to attract candidates from every walk of life. With the help of our partner, some of the important work that followed over the course of this year included developing DEI metrics; reviewing and updating all HR materials and our website for inclusive language; identifying and implementing new diverse recruiting sources; and embarking on a DEI training program for all employees.
The benefits of diverse organizations cannot be realized without inclusiveness, which is a feeling of belonging while being one’s true self. Kenway has always invested in fostering inclusiveness amongst all employees, largely by being very transparent. This was never put to the test more so than during COVID, when we reported business metrics each month that were well below the goals we had set prior to the pandemic. I also write a detailed CEO Summary each month, and hold a virtual roundtable where I share my thoughts and honestly answer any question or concern posed. By being so transparent, the hope is that all employees will feel comfortable sharing anything with their colleagues, leadership included. This free flowing communication between people with different perspectives is at the core of the healthiest organizations.
It is in this exchange of information where I believe our DEI training sessions have been so valuable in helping to further inclusiveness at Kenway. They have provided forums where we have personal conversations with colleagues about topics critical to fostering inclusiveness in both society and in any organization. We have shared our unique perspectives and listened to those of others, gaining further understanding about why people might feel the way they feel. To treat each person uniquely, it helps to understand the experiences and beliefs that have shaped our uniqueness. In seeking to understand and appreciate our colleagues’ differences, I have been struck by the fact that each session has highlighted and reinforced that we also share so many things in common. It has been powerful to discuss how we can capitalize on those shared experiences as well.
We are approaching the one year anniversary of the start of our DEI journey. Are we a better company than we were a year ago? I emphatically say the answer is yes! But getting back to the genesis of the blog, that is not the only reason we invested in our DEI program. That is only one outcome that will result from our DEI journey, and the ultimate goal is far bigger.
Kenway’s Why — our mission — is “To help and be helped,” and it is ultimately how we measure ourselves. By continuing to find new and creative ways to expose our welcomeness to candidates from every walk of life, and by continuing to foster a culture where our differences are embraced and where we can be ourselves and know our opinions will not only be heard but also respected, will further our mission to help our clients and to help each other to the best of our ability.
Knowing what I know now, I only wish we had started this journey sooner.