Setting the Diversity Agenda

As a child growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey, Sandy Harris was surrounded by people of many different ethnicities. When her father would take her to visit his federal government workplace, what she remembers most strongly is how comfortable he seemed with people at every level of the organization. “My father is the type of person who acknowledges all people,” she says. “Everyone—everyone—deserves respect.”

Today, Harris is the director of corporate diversity at Medtronic, serving its 45,000 employees in 120 countries. DW talked with her about her approach to promoting diversity.

Diversity Woman:
What got you interested in working on diversity and inclusion issues?
Sandy Harris: I was fortunate, early in my career, to work for a company that really “got it.” It was Xerox, back in the early 1980s. They did a lot of things right: they showed up on campus at the Multicultural House and did outreach. My manager, my first day there, said, “There’s this group, check them out.” Who knew? It was one of the first employee network groups focused on minority employees. And he provided me with a mentor who was also a black female. She helped me understand the unwritten rules. The company made sure I had the resources I needed to get comfortable and be able to be successful.

DW: What’s been happening with 
diversity and inclusion at Medtronic over the past couple years?
SH: A lot of good work. We launched our global mentoring program. And we executed our first all-employee survey focused exclusively on engagement and inclusion. It provided feedback to all people managers with five or more direct reports responding to the survey. That was a big deal. Also, we formally launched the Medtronic women’s network.

DW: Can you tell me 
more about the women’s network?
SH: Our strategy includes ensuring that we have a cross section of people, including at the senior level, representing the diversity of the markets and customers we serve. The network leadership team is a senior-level strategic group focused specifically on how we increase representation at senior levels: what needs to happen to attract, retain, and advance talent?

DW: What is the greatest challenge in trying to promote corporate diversity and inclusion today?
SH: Sometimes systemic change is slow. Because we do this around the globe, anytime we update a system or integrate something new into a system, we have to educate everyone about what that means, how that works. But when you do it right, it’s worth it. Then it’s not this extra thing sitting over there. It’s woven into the tapestry of your people, systems, and processes.

DW: As you do this work, who or what inspires you?
SH: Lightbulbs go off for people. This work can allow people to experience a sense of awakening to other ways of being, to other worldviews, to new possibilities. When you do this work well, it affects people’s hearts and spirits.

Katherine Griffin is a writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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