Keeping Diversity Alive: Diversity Champions

With the economy in a tailspin, many corporations have slashed jobs and put diversity efforts on the back burner. But history has shown that in order for a business to survive—and thrive—through tough times, innovation is key. Now more than ever, a diverse workforce, with a broad range of ideas and perspectives, is a critical source for innovative thinking.

The 16 women in this article are Diversity Woman’s Diversity Champions. They have been at the forefront of the mission to keep diversity alive and, in turn, maintain the flow of fresh ideas. There are, of course, other reasons that diversity must be championed in the workplace. To put it simply, diversity programs provide the underrepresented the opportunity to succeed and work in an environment that sees beyond employees’ race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. It’s not an easy task.

Some of DW’s diversity champions, like Edie Fraser, have advocated diversity for decades, through good economies and bad. Fraser’s days have always involved promoting diversity and inclusion—from her career to the businesses she’s started, to how she volunteers her time. Others, like Pat Harris, chief diversity officer at the Golden Arches (McDonald’s), have pioneered their way to the top and made it easier for others to climb the corporate ladder while proving that inclusion also makes business sense.

Join Diversity Woman as we applaud these 16 leaders—and, perhaps along the way, pick up a few tips for your organization.

Rohini Anand, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer, Sodexo (Gaithersburg, Maryland)

With a Ph.D in sociology and a phenomenal track record, Rohini Anand is a renowned expert on organizational change and designing inclusive workplaces. By skillfully implementing successful programs at Sodexo, Anand made the company synonymous with diversity. Diversity and inclusion are so important at the country’s leading food provider and facilities management company that 25 percent of the executive team’s bonus is attached to meeting diversity goals. To sweeten the deal, those bonuses are paid out even if the economy fares poorly. The results have been dramatic when it comes to representation in the upper ranks: 45 percent of women and 24 percent of minorities hold management positions.

Anand’s clout extends outside headquarters. She is widely quoted, and last year she shared her insights in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence. Anand has also produced numerous publications on the topic. To say that her work is her passion is an understatement. “My job is both my vocation and my avocation—and when I retire, I would do more of the same,” says Anand.

Recognition has come in various ways. In 2010, Sodexo was given the National Restaurant Association’s Faces of Diversity Award and also earned the top spot on DiversityInc.’s Top Companies for Diversity. Anand has been named a top diversity champion by Diversity Edge Magazine and was a recipient of the Diversity Officer Leadership Award by Diversity Best Practices. Further evidence of a job well done materialized in the form of a promotion: Three years ago Anand was promoted to global chief diversity officer at Sodexo, with responsibility for replicating that success for 370,000 employees in 82 countries.

Cindy Brinkley, Senior Vice President, Talent Development and Chief Diversity Officer, AT&T, (Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas)

If there is no greater asset than a company’s staff, then Cindy Brinkley has a big job. Brinkley is at the helm of AT&T’s efforts in growing the talent pipeline and ensuring that the employee population and suppliers reflect our multicultural world. “Diversity and inclusion are means to that end, and it requires focused leadership, discipline and execution—and it has to be managed and measured, just like other business priorities,” says Brinkley.

When it comes to representation at the top, the numbers are pretty telling: Two of its four business unit CEOs are people of color and 7 of the 12 board directors are minorities or women. AT&T is also known for spending massive amounts on minority-owned businesses—to the tune of $6.9 billion, a figure that grew by $1 billion from 2008. Recently, AT&T celebrated reaching the $50 billion milestone for their supplier diversity spending.

Outsiders have taken notice. AT&T ranks among the top five inclusive companies to work for in the Fortune 100. It is also a mainstay on Diversity Inc.’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity in 2010, ranking third.

Candi Castleberry-Singleton, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Candi Castleberry-Singleton is like the Harry Potter of her field. She’s got a knack for turning skeptics into believers and ambassadors of diversity. This is why it’s no surprise that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) hired her in 2008 to become its first chief diversity officer.

It wasn’t long before Castleberry-Singleton worked her magic. Within months, she launched the Center for Inclusion in Health Care, a formal resource center for UPMC’s 50,000 employees and the organization’s partners and patients. That same year, she spearheaded the launch of the Dignity and Respect Campaign, which asked staffers to sign a pledge promising to treat others the way they want to be treated.

The campaign has been so effective that it’s practically a movement. Not only has Castleberry-Singleton received letters from patients thanking her for positively changing their experience at UPMC, but a handful of organizations has also signed up, including the Pittsburgh Foundation. Pittsburgh even declared October to be Dignity and Respect month. More praise for the campaign came from the Profiles in Diversity Journal, when the publication awarded UPMC the Innovations in Diversity prize earlier this year.

What makes Castleberry-Singleton so successful is her approach to addressing common workplace issues. “A long time ago, I realized diversity training often makes people feel as if they didn’t do something right. My goal is to make others feel empowered, not guilty.”

Daina Chiu, Corporate Diversity Officer, McKesson (San Francisco, California)

When McKesson, the largest drug distributor, was looking for someone to establish the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts, it turned to Daina Chiu. Chiu was McKesson’s assistant general counsel and worked on mergers and acquisitions and regulatory issues, but jumped at the opportunity. “As a woman of color, I have always had a personal and professional interest and stake in diversity,” says Chiu, “so when I was approached about leading and establishing the diversity and inclusion strategy for McKesson, I felt it was an opportunity to make an impact and a difference in something I am passionate about.”

Chiu has been formalizing McKesson’s diversity and inclusion efforts. She formed the Chairman’s Diversity Council, established to create visibility and accountability. And Chiu is proud. “For the first time in our company’s history, we have our most senior executives aligned around a shared diversity and inclusion agenda, pointed in the same direction, focused on shared goals, and being held accountable for results.” Next up: starting employee resource groups.

Lois Cooper, Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility and Inclusion, Adecco, North America (Melville, New York)

Lois Cooper is charged with building partnerships that allow Adecco not only to support minority communities but also to tap into their talent. So far, the company has more than 75 diversity partnerships. “Connecting new sources of talent to the industry was, and continues to be, a business necessity,” says Cooper.

Thanks to Cooper’s performance of instituting effective diversity initiatives, the company has received numerous honors, including the Henry Viscardi Jr. Legacy Award for hiring people with disabilities and being named one of the Best Companies to Work For by Savoy magazine in 2009. The former is an honor given to companies with diversity efforts that are aimed at helping blacks and are built into every function of a business—from senior management representation to community outreach to philanthropy.

Cooper has also been named to The Network Journal’s 25 Influential Black Women in Business and featured as a woman to watch by the Diversity Journal.

Pat Crawford, Senior Vice President, Head of Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion, Wells Fargo (San Francisco, California)

As a trailblazing young adult in the 1960s, Pat Crawford decided to attend an all-white school. Undeterred by what some might call one of the most uninviting learning environments, she managed to graduate third in her class. It’s an experience that has shaped her career.

“To me, diversity and inclusion mean reality. The world is diverse, and if we don’t consider everyone and everything, we’ve missed the meaning of life,” says Crawford.

Wells Fargo has been on board for years: upper management reviews the company’s diversity progress and results twice a year, it’s offered health benefits for same-sex partners since 1998, and the company directs 26 percent of its philanthropic budget to multicultural organizations and LGBT and disability nonprofits. With Crawford’s help, the company recently restructured its Enterprise Diversity Council (which is led by the CEO) and Team Member Network program—both of which are instrumental in ensuring Wells Fargo is diverse and inclusive.

For the effort, Wells Fargo has garnered accolades from a variety of publications and groups, such as Diversity Inc., Essence, and Latina Style. It has also a received a perfect score, several years in a row, in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index. “The thing that excites me most about diversity and inclusion is the fact that it touches everyone—all generations, all cultures, all races, and all ethnicities. Nothing and no one is left out,” says Crawford.

Edie Fraser, Senior Consultant, Diversified Search, founder of Diversity Best Practices and Business Women’s Network, and author, Do Your Giving While You’re Living and Risk to Riches: Women’s Entrepreneurship in America (Washington, DC)

Edie Fraser is driven by the belief that everyone deserves the chance to succeed, and every aspect of her life has always involved breaking down barriers for others. By the time she was 20, Fraser had already partaken in four foreign exchange programs, including one in Africa.

Seemingly inexhaustible, Fraser has even dedicated her business ventures to cracking glass ceilings and getting women and minorities promoted. As founder of Diversity Best Practices, she designed the CEO Diversity Leadership Program and created an award to recognize distinguished corporate leaders who foster diversity and inclusion. Fraser also served as publisher of CEO Magazine and The Diversity Officer and launched the Business Women’s Network, an organization devoted to helping female entrepreneurs. Today, Fraser works at the largest female-founded and -owned search firm, where she matches talented minority executives with top corporate spots. “Differences are an asset to making an organization better,” says Fraser.

Fraser’s track record is impressive: she has worked with more than 100 CEOs in support of diversity practices, including founding and serving on the Women’s Advisory Board of Office Depot.

For her lifelong commitment to progress for minority groups, Fraser has garnered an impressive 35 diversity-related awards, including America’s Top Diversity Advocates given out by, an honor shared with Oprah Winfrey and Jimmy Carter.

Tracey Gibson, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Cargill (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Tracey Gibson was working in finance at Cargill when she had an epiphany that would completely change her career path. “I want my legacy at Cargill to be about making changes and creating an inclusive environment where people can thrive because they are able to be themselves at work,” says Gibson.

By implementing well-received diversity programs, Gibson deserves a hand for ensuring that the word enriching isn’t a concept that only applies to the agribusiness giant’s products. For instance, to tackle basic communication issues, Cargill offers on-site English classes for employees and Spanish classes for managers at some of its U.S. cattle-feeding and meat plants. Cargill has also partnered with an external company called Novations to offer efficacy courses. These courses, which focus on gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, help employees focus not just on the environment in which they work but rather on their response to that work environment. Efficacy training helps employees understand how they can change their mindset and their responses in order to accelerate and grow in any environment. Another program, called Mentor Up, pairs a senior executive with an employee of the opposite sex, or race, or with a staffer with a disability. “It gives the senior leader an opportunity to learn from a different viewpoint,” says Gibson.

Gibson’s legacy-making efforts don’t stop at the office. Feeling compelled to do something about the dismal graduation rates and lack of science and math scholars among minorities, she also chairs the board of the Robert Allen Math and Science Academy in Minnesota. In June, the school celebrated its first graduating class.

Antoinette Hamilton, Director, Diversity and Inclusion, L’Oreal USA (New York, New York)

Antoinette Hamilton took a less traditional path than most of her peers. She began her career successfully dabbling in just about every imaginable position—from communications and sales, to recruitment, to training and development—at INROADS, an organization dedicated to advancing minority students by placing them in businesses. Eventually, she made her way to Japan to promote language and culture under a program directed by the Japanese Ministry of Education and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Today, Hamilton is busy working with corporate and divisional leaders at the U.S. subsidiary of the French cosmetics company L’Oreal to promote a culture of diversity and inclusion both in and outside the office. She manages a program that collaborates with the Coalition of 100 Black Women, which works with young women from local schools and provides professional development workshops, mentoring, and a stipend for school. Hamilton also spearheaded L’Oreal’s first Web portal on diversity and inclusion. “Today’s society is very technologically advanced. Thus, it’s crucial to stay abreast of the various mediums used not just for communication but to build and sustain our communities,” says Hamilton.

Hamilton’s work has been noticed. Earlier this year, she was named one of The Network Journal’s 40 Under Forty, a recognition given to top minority executives.

Pat Harris, Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer, McDonald’s (Oak Brook, Illinois)

When Pat Harris started to work as a secretary at McDonald’s, she had no intention of sticking around. More than three decades later, she has proven her way to the top and affixed herself to the company’s history in a supersized way: she is one of four people with an award named in their honor. Every year the award recognizes a distinguished McDonald’s leader with the highest diversity result. “I want an environment where people can bring their whole selves to work and where everyone feels respected—whether it’s walking into the restaurant as customers or serving our customers,” says Harris. “It’s on both sides of the counter.”

To her credit, Harris has made huge strides in creating that kind of environment. For much of her career, she saw very few people at the top who looked like her. So she pioneered ways of making the iconic hamburger company an example of a diverse and inclusive place to work. Harris was one of the first members of the Women’s Leadership Network and the African American Council. Because of her work, a lot has changed: today women and minorities make up more than 60 percent of McDonald’s corporate workforce.

Recently, Harris documented McDonald’s road to building a culture in which diversity and inclusiveness permeate every aspect of their business. In 2009, she published the book None of Us Is As Good as All of Us, whose proceeds go to the Ronald McDonald Foundation.

Nereida (Neddy) Perez, Vice President, Inclusion & Diversity, National Grid (Brooklyn, New York)

A renowned expert in diversity and inclusion, Neddy Perez has made her name developing and implementing innovative programs for Royal Dutch Shell, Sodexo, and KPMG. “Once people realize that each one of us has something to contribute and we can learn from each other’s perspective, then productivity goes up,” says Perez.

Now, she has brought that enthusiasm and passion to National Grid, an international utility company, where Perez is its first vice president of inclusion and diversity. Already, she has developed a new corporate governance structure for the company’s Global Inclusion and Diversity Council and established relationships with like-minded organizations. She is also busy rolling out company-wide inclusion and diversity training for its 1,500 U.S. managers and is about to implement initiatives that tackle the talent pipeline.

Perez looks outside the company to create change on a larger scale. She serves as vice chair of the National Utilities Diversity Council, an organization that focuses on addressing supplier and workforce diversity. She has also developed and launched a consortium of LGBT employee resource groups in the energy sector, which will officially launch at Out & Equal’s conference this year. Perez’s pursuits include being co-chair of the Asia Society, which is gearing up to launch the first major study on Asian professionals in Corporate America and the barriers they face.

Shari Slate, Senior Director for Inclusion and Diversity, Cisco Systems (San Jose, California)

Once a top salesperson at Xerox, Shari Slate transitioned into human resources to make an impact. Although diversity and inclusion aren’t usually thought of as a revenue-generating venture, Slate draws from her sales background to make a strong case for change. “As innovation becomes even more important, inclusion becomes that much more critical. You can’t be successful if you don’t incorporate those voices that bring you new ideas,” says Slate.

As the former chief diversity officer of Sun Microsystems, Slate successfully integrated diversity and inclusion into every aspect of the business—from recruiting to succession planning to marketing. In February, the enterprising executive was hired by Cisco Systems to come up with breakthrough programs that put the technology company on the leading edge.

Slate is widely recognized for her work and is often invited to speaking engagements and conferences. Her involvement with outside organizations expands her reach in the diversity and inclusion space. Slate currently serves on the Conference Board’s Diversity Business Council and the Diversity Best Practices International Advisors, and she is a founding member of Global Partners program, a consortium of innovative multinational companies committed to the development of diversity programs in Europe. Last year, she received The Network Journal’s 40 Under Forty Achievement Award.

Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Campbell Soup Company, and author, 7 Keys 2 Success: Unlocking the Passion for Diversity (Camden, New Jersey)

For Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, growing up in the 1950s in the south, life was all about exclusion and feeling out of place, something she struggles with to this day. “I’m an African American, lesbian executive. With the exception of the last one, I’ve spent over 40 years adapting, assimilating and enhancing a country that does not know what to do with me.”

Rather than resign, O’Neale followed her parents’ positive example: Her mother was a social worker and her father was a police officer. “I grew up seeing how one person could make a difference, and I was inspired and felt obligated to be that one person,” says O’Neale.

That determination set her off on a career of activism and pushing for equity in the workplace. She landed at MTV Networks and a tech company now owned by Hewlett Packard. O’Neale eventually co-founded a consulting firm, where she helped scores of American and international firms embrace diversity and inclusion. These days, though, O’Neale is crafting and implementing programs at Campbell Soup Company that continue to make it a hospitable company to work for and a culture that generates new ideas, such as the Select Harvest soup line developed by and for women. “Who we include when we select employees, where we will build our factories, when we are opened, how we reward and finally how we evolve—diversity and inclusion has to be embedded in every process and practice,” says O’Neale.

Cuc Vu, Chief Diversity Officer, Human Rights Campaign (Washington, DC)

As an immigrant from Vietnam, and a lesbian, Cuc Vu knows what it feels like to be out of place. Not too long after Vu’s arrival in the United States, a young boy told her to “get on a boat and go back to where you belong.” Without realizing it at the time, that moment sparked a mission she continues to this day.

When Vu served as director of the immigration campaign manager for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) or worked for the AFL-CIO, she championed the legalization of undocumented workers and promoted their civic participation. Vu found it easy to sympathize with their struggles: As a child, she woke up at 5 a.m. to pick strawberries with her family for $3 a flat. The little she earned was used to buy school clothes. The experience offered some valuable lessons. “It taught me independence and a work ethic,” she says. “I could see the immigrants I represented had a similar story.”

But Vu was just warming up. In 2007, she became the first chief diversity officer for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest civil rights organization working toward fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. And incredibly, Vu has found ways to unite the immigrant and LGBT communities toward a common goal—equality and full citizenship. It wasn’t easy at first. Moving away from what she calls a “transactional model” to one of partnership and commitment made all the difference. HRC’s volunteers work citizenship drives several times a year and show up at rallies for support. In turn, members of the immigrant community get to interact with a group they they might only hear about in negative ways, break down preconceived notions, and join LGBT people in their struggles.

Billie Williamson, Americas Inclusiveness Officer, Ernst & Young (New York, New York)

The workplace wasn’t exactly female friendly when Billie Williamson started her career
at Ernst & Young in 1974. Clients frequently assumed she was a secretary and asked her to make coffee. Despite that, Williamson rose up the ranks to make partner in just 10 years, an achievement shared only by five other women at the time.

Today’s Ernst & Young looks much different: nearly 20 percent of women are senior managers, and 30 percent of partners are minorities. Williamson has worked hard on instituting programs that make the accounting giant a great employer, not just for women but for everyone. “I believe that every person has special gifts and abilities, and I want those individuals to be successful in the way they define success, regardless of color, orientation, or gender,” she says.

Williamson’s approach to making staffers feel welcome has been forward thinking—from supporting health-care benefits for same sex partners to promoting flexible work schedules as a way of retaining new moms. So far, more than 125 employees have been promoted under the flexible arrangement program, a testament to the changed mind-set at Ernst & Young. But after holding focus groups with male partners and managers, Williamson found that the men felt they didn’t know how to mentor their female employees. This led to a program that coaches male managers on mentoring and helping advance female staffers.

For Williamson’s work, Ernst & Young has been recognized as a great place to work by business publications, and it repeatedly receives accolades from DiversityInc. and Working Mother.

Magda Yrizarry, Vice President of Talent Management and Chief Diversity Officer, Verizon (Basking Ridge, NJ)

This Ivy League-trained executive has a strong sense of purpose that applies to her personal life and her career. “We must be good stewards of the talents and oppor-tunities afforded to us, not just for ourselves but for the benefit of others, too,” says Magda Yrizarry. It’s a determination that began at an early age, after her dad’s passing left Yrizarry’s mother to raise her alone.

There’s no question about whether Yrizarry has applied her talent to help herself and others. She spent the early days of her career directing leadership development programs for an organization that helped underprivileged families. But for the last two decades, Yrizarry has also worked on many of the programs that make Verizon a good corporate citizen. As the director of the telecommunication giant’s philanthropic efforts, the bulk of the $75 million budget was doled out to organizations and scholarships for underrepresented groups, such ASPIRA, a non-profit that works with Latino youth. Now, as chief diversity officer, she gets to play a role in how diverse employees are hired, retained, and promoted. But her benevolence doesn’t stop there. Yrizarry tutors and translates at her church. She also represents Verizon on LULAC’s National Education Service Centers Board and the Corporate Advisory Board of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. DW

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