25 Aug Leading With Purpose
While growing up in Osceola, Arkansas—a region where the economy suffered and the racial divides were blatant—Reginald J. Miller was a standout student from an early age. As a result of his strong academics, he was placed in classes for students identified as “gifted and talented.” However, something seemed a bit off to Miller. He quickly noticed that he was one of the only people of color in these classes.
“That feeling of being different from everyone else remained in my life and career,” he says. “I wanted the same opportunities as my peers, but due to circumstances, that was not possible. That experience taught me the importance of equal opportunity—to showcase what someone can do with no restrictions. This has inspired me to fight for others.”
Currently, Miller is the head of global inclusion and diversity for VF Corporation and its nearly 70,000 employees. VF is one of the world’s largest apparel and footwear companies, with over 30 brands in its portfolio, including Vans, JanSport, Timberland, and the North Face. At VF, Miller directs, develops, and executes the company’s global inclusion and diversity strategy.
Miller holds a BS in education in HR development and a MS in education in workforce development from the University of Arkansas, as well as an MBA from Webster University. Prior to joining VF, Miller served as director of diversity strategy and support for all Walmart stores in the United States, and recruitment and D&I leaders at Tyson Foods. A veteran of the US Army, he served as a supply sergeant and was deployed to Germany, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. Miller’s impressive career has been a reflection of his commitment to diversity and inclusion and to opening avenues of opportunity for underrepresented groups.
Diversity Woman: How has your understanding of diversity changed since you took your current role at VF Corporation?
Reginald J. Miller: I have learned a lot since joining VF. Because VF is a global organization, our approach to diversity and inclusion has to be different. During my first six months with the company, I spent a lot of time visiting our brands, many at offices in different regions of the world. What I discovered during those trips was that belonging and inclusion are very personal emotions for associates. How an organization supports those emotions within its teams has to be carefully considered. Our approach has been to make our inclusion and diversity strategy globally consistent, yet locally relevant. At VF, we are committed to inclusion and diversity. The marriage between the two is crucially important.
DW: What are some recent trends in recruiting and inclusion practices that you’ve noticed? Are there any that you see coming in the near future that will be especially impactful?
RM: There is a lot of buzz right now about what to call this field of work. Each organization has its own take on how to define it. In the past, it was simply D&I, but now some companies and organizations are adding equity or equality into the mix. Others are adding justice. And we continue to hear about belonging and culture. What we’re not hearing or seeing is engagement or purpose. Engagement and purpose are seemingly taking a backseat to other concepts as the nature of D&I work expands. Although it is obviously embedded in the work from a lot of companies, it is not being elevated in the ways that concepts like belonging and equity have been over the last couple of years.
There are a number of opportunities available within the D&I space as companies and organizations get more serious about inclusion, partly because of the demands of the next generation of workers. In the past, many companies have made mistakes in this area, and consumers are demanding more accountability. As opportunities start to arise, D&I practitioners are looking for companies that are serious about making an investment in inclusion. Companies should look for practitioners who are serious about doing the hard, strategic work once hired.
DW: You served in the military for eight years. Are there any lessons that you took from your experience that you apply to your work today?
RM: I learned the importance of camaraderie and discipline from serving in the military. I also learned that great planning leads to proper execution. My approach to inclusion has always been to implement it like a strategic operation. The way to achieve results is to work toward continuous improvement and measurable successes. I am currently teaching my team to adopt these principles while adding their own individual outlook.
DW: What is VF doing to shape its workplace culture?
RM: We have been very intentional about our commitment to improving the entire employee life cycle, and we are in the process of revising our employee value proposition. The work we’re doing to shape our workplace culture is making a difference. We have seen positive results with our workplace flexibility and respectful workplace policies. In addition, we are currently evaluating our benefits, including expanded adoption and leave of absence, and other enhancements. We continue to look for ways to drive our inclusion strategy and will look for ways to better support all aspects of inclusion and diversity.
DW: Are there any initiatives that you’ve implemented at VF that you’re particularly proud of?
RM: I am particularly proud of the commitment and support we’ve received from our leaders regarding our I&D efforts at VF. Through their efforts, we’ve successfully launched our Executive I&D Council led by our CEO. Our leaders immediately created individual action plans leveraging the key pillars of our Strategy for Inclusion. Their actions have helped to accelerate the importance of I&D within the company and gave us the permission to engage in difficult discussions that we were uncomfortable having before. We are still learning and growing in this space, but we are on the right path.
DW: Is there any advice you would give to men who want to help women succeed in the workplace?
RM: It is very important, as a leader and as a peer, to be an advocate for women in the workplace. It begins with a basic understanding that our associates are individuals first. No group is the same in their opinions, needs, or perspectives, and that is equally true of women. If men take the time to understand what the women on their respective teams need, then it is easier to support them. Advocating for women in the workplace requires you to lend your voice and political capital to support their cause. Men should not be afraid to do this.
DW: Who are the leaders that inspire you?
RM: I am inspired by a lot of people, but my true inspirations are my mother and my grandmother. The sacrifices they made along the way, the life lessons that I learned, and the morals and values that they instilled in me have helped me in how I engage with others and what my wife and I try to impart to our kids. I would not be the person I am without them, and I hope to make them proud in how I honor their legacy in the work that I do. DW
Eddie Lee is the assistant editor of Diversity Woman.