By Karen Henry, Sr. Vice-President of Human Resources, Wheels
I am a Black woman and I have worked in the fleet management industry for almost five years. In my role at the new Wheels, I am responsible for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). In March, I attended NAFA for the first time to participate in a panel discussion about building an effective DE&I strategy.
I enjoyed the opportunity to share my experience as an HR leader at the new Wheels—a company which is undergoing a three-way merger. I was originally asked to write about how we are working together here at Wheels to create an incredible culture by learning from each other and building relationships.
Blending three corporate cultures to create a new one is no small feat. It is a challenge, but it is also an amazing opportunity to lay a strong foundation for a welcoming, respectful and equitable environment. Traditionally, diversity refers to demographics such as race, gender, religion and age. These are certainly relevant groupings, but I also think it’s important to consider diversity of thought and culture.
Diversity means so much more than the technical and legal description. To me, diversity is not only about different ethnicities, genders and ages–although those things are of paramount importance. To me, diversity has a more global meaning as well, addressing the various constructs, experiences, upbringings and educational backgrounds each of us brings to the table.
When we come together in the workplace to achieve goals, plan projects and pitch ideas, we need to tap into those differences and capitalize on them. And our culture needs to welcome, encourage and facilitate the sharing of ideas and curiosity among colleagues so that one person’s idea is the catalyst for others’ ideas and the result is a rich, unique process, service or product. This is called divergent thinking.
Although we are benefiting from our current diversity of thought, we also need a continuous and steady incoming stream of even more diversity. When it comes to recruitment, I often hear, “I want a person who has fleet management experience” and my response is very simple: “But why?” People from other industries have the skills and the intellect to perform well when they switch, from say, telecommunications to retail. Onboarding an employee who has the passion to learn a new industry and new products and services is a great way to invigorate innovation.
Hiring from outside the industry is one way to address diversity. But I don’t want to ignore the more traditional meaning of diversity – demographic diversity. By default, people of different races, genders, ages and ethnicities have different experiences which can and will enrich an organization. We must get better, especially in this industry, at proactively seeking out and recruiting from these diverse groups. Innovation is at stake and we cannot compromise on it.
So how is it done? How do you make sure you are encouraging diversity of thought by fueling your organization with even more diversity? I don’t have all the answers, but my advice is to start somewhere whether it is establishing employee forums, coaching leaders, setting up committees or hiring a DE&I leader. It starts with speaking up. It starts with valuing and appreciating diversity and seeing people for who they are. Once you start, you are already that much closer to achieving your goals. Stephen Covey famously published his book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ in 1989. Habit number two is ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ And this is what I want you to do. Be the voice.