Broadening the Talent Pool to Drive Innovation

Men at Work: S. Shariq Yosufzai

By Janell Hazelwood

22.MenatWorkAt Chevron, diversity is part of the corporation’s core values. One of the world’s leading energy giants, the company has earned numerous accolades, from achieving a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index, to being recognized as one of the best places to work for LGBT equality, to landing honors from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council for providing opportunities to women entrepreneurs. The company has also been the recipient of the National Society of Black Engineers’ Corporate Diversity Leadership Award for its strategic efforts in creating an environment to attract and support minority professionals.

“It is important for people to have role models, and customers want a deep understanding of a company’s values and whether they’re adhering to those values,” says S. Shariq Yosufzai, vice president, global diversity, ombuds, and University Partnerships and Association Relations. “Doing things the right way has always been a hallmark of the ‘Chevron Way.’ That’s been the guiding light.”

Yosufzai shares with Diversity Woman what’s behind the company’s strategy, his own personal commitment to innovation through diversity, and his tips for managers and executives seeking to boost not only their companies’ bottom lines but the success of their diversity initiatives as well.

Diversity Woman: You’ve been on a long and successful career journey with Chevron. What is the best part of your job?

S. Shariq Yosufzai: It’s seeing Chevron become a place that is an aspirational destination for the best and brightest. It’s been a really rewarding experience for me to see people who have been mentored—whom our processes have [helped in their growth] and the talent we have attracted.

It’s also seeing Chevron recognized with all the multiple awards we’ve received, whether the HRC rating [or the many others]. Seeing people grow and blossom—that’s the best part of my job.

DW: Diversity seems to have been vital part of your life as a professional through the years. How has it personally played a role in your own career?

SSY: I’ve had 41 outstanding years at Chevron, and I can go back to the very first day. I walked into a Port Arthur, Texas, refinery center and an African American gentleman took me under his wing. I was assigned to his unit as a process engineer, and [at the time] he and I were the only two people of color in that unit. He taught me great lessons about people and respect, and that’s something that I have carried throughout my career. When I became president of global marketing, which was a very large strategic business unit, I thought that in order for us to be effective, it was critical that we look like our customer base. We operated in about 60 countries, we had about 10,000 people, and over time, my leadership team became diverse, because not only was it the right thing to do, but that is how we increase performance and innovation.

DW: You also serve, in your current role, as the executive sponsor of Chevron’s university partnership programs. Why are such programs important in ensuring diversity?

SSY: The first step in building a strong workforce is to drive innovation and to identify and recruit the best and brightest. That’s why we’ve developed the University Partnership and Association Relations [UPAR] group.

We have, through UPAR, forged strategic relationships with nearly 100 colleges and universities, including historically black colleges and universities, and we have relationships with 30 associations, including the NAACP, the National Urban League [NUL], the National Society of Black Engineers [NSBE], and the National Action Council of Minorities in Engineering [NACME]. And that’s just in the United States.

Internationally, we have [built] relationships with organizations and institutions in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, and more.

We attract top talent through these strong relationships. For example, we are a company of engineers, and unfortunately, the percentage of minority engineers in US schools in the past 10 years has declined. The way we attract talent to our company is through our UPAR programs, and they’re a critical success factor of innovation. Cost and spending are important, but you can’t just cost-cut or spend your way to competitive advantage. You have to out-innovate. To out-innovate, you must have a diverse workforce, and that’s what UPAR provides us.

DW: Numbers still remain low in terms of minorities and women in STEM (science, tech, engineering, and mathematics) careers. What are some of the challenges you’re seeing, and what are your insights on combating those challenges?

SSY: Let’s look at the US on that issue for a second: African Americans have made up only 4 percent of students in the engineering disciplines, and the number has not changed over the years.

As an employer who hires a lot of engineers and analysts, that’s a big problem. We’re working through NACME and NSBE, but more than that, we’re spending about $130 million in STEM education that we have earmarked over the past few years to increase the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering by creating pathways, scholarships, and role models.

We’ve started the Chevron Engineering Academies, and we came to the realization that if you look at your community colleges, in many cases—such as Texas, with colleges like Alamo College, Texas Southmost College, and Dallas and Houston community colleges—they’re over 80 percent diverse. Challenges related to finances or family can mean that brilliant [minority] students are not able to go to Texas A&M University or other engineering schools. Through a grant offered through Texas A&M, the academies were launched where students enrolled at participating community colleges take their first few years of courses with Texas A&M engineering professors, and that accelerates a pathway into the engineering school. It’s one way of looking at data and forging solutions.

We also have programs, processes, and initiatives that are guided by the “Chevron Way.” It has a few strategies: Invest in people. Grow profitably. Execute excellence. What diversity at Chevron means is that we learn from and respect everyone, we demonstrate respect for the uniqueness of an individual, and we have an inclusive workforce that embraces diversity.

DW: What advice do you have for midlevel managers and executives who want to launch impactful diversity initiatives?

SSY: Don’t think of diversity as something extra. Think of it as integral to your business success. The only way to create sustained success is to outperform the competition, and the only way to outperform the competition is to out-innovate the competition. Innovation comes from diversity.

Some people might think, Well, this is not about producing another barrel of oil or another widget, but it really is. We know from data that diverse teams create higher value, however you measure value, whether it’s [metrics like] safety, performance, or earnings per share. When you have an engaged workforce that’s respected, you’re going to have innovation, and if you have innovation, you’re going to succeed. It is core to our values. DW

Janell Hazelwood is an award-winning writer and editor and is chief consultant for The BossMoves, which provides business development strategy services to minority and women entrepreneurs.

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