March is not only Women’s History Month, but International Women’s Day is on March 8, so it often becomes a time for a conversation about women’s role in society — and, more specifically, the workplace. But it’s a conversation that should be happening year-round, and many of the top female executives across industries are leading the charge.
Michelle Peluso, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer at IBM; Alicia Tillman, Chief Marketing Officer at SAP; and Sonia Cargan, Chief Diversity Officer at American Express, share their views on diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
How does diversity and inclusion come to life in your brand values?
Tillman (SAP): At SAP, our vision has always been grounded in a very strong purpose – to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. Our customers are a reflection of our diversity — our diverse workforce allows us to best serve our customers by bringing many points of view to the table in how we think, innovate, see opportunities, and the way we solve challenges.
Cargan (AMEX): Creating an inclusive and diverse environment is at the heart of American Express’ culture. This is actually one of our brand values, “We believe we are a better company when each of us feels included, valued, and able to trust colleagues who respect each of us for who we are and what we contribute to our collective success.” Ensuring we have a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture is integral to backing all our colleagues because we know that the best way to back our customers is to back our people.
Peluso (IBM): IBM has such a rich history of inclusion. Starting in 1953 with Policy Letter #4, which declared that IBM would always hire the best talent, regardless of race, color or creed. That’s why it’s so important for us to speak out on issues regarding education, transgender rights, underrepresented minorities, women. It’s why we’re proud of programs like P-Tech and Corporate Service Corps that help shape the future of the workforce. This is a vein that runs deep, it’s part of the estate of the brand. It’s not temporal. It’s not ephemeral. This is the DNA of IBM.
Have you ever had a moment, personally, in your life that has highlighted to you the need for inclusion?
Tillman: I grew into a leadership position early in my career and made a commitment to myself that anytime I saw a situation where there was not a diverse set of employees present when a critical decision was being made, or someone was being overlooked, I would flag it. If we can all, as leaders, make this kind of personal commitment, then we will start to see things happen as they should and not have them called out in a reactive manner.
Cargan: As a woman of color growing up in the UK, I knew I wanted to feel included in my school and in my community. I grew up with the understanding that people should be treated fairly and with respect, and I have taken this understanding with me through life. I know I can perform my best when I feel comfortable. Knowing that I work for a company that values my perspectives and experiences and makes me feel valued and included is essential to me.
Peluso: Whether I was an entrepreneur, a CEO, CMO, a board member, I was always a woman in male-driven environments. In every case, I’ve found that the most creative and innovative teams are the most inclusive ones. It was out of personal experience that I grew a bigger and bigger desire to make sure that women and people of color —people of different points of view — weren’t being left behind for any reason in any equation of a company. I made a commitment long ago, as a leader, to make inclusion a priority. That’s the only way we can make progress.
What do you want anyone feeling excluded to hear?
Tillman: We value you. If you don’t feel like you’re being invited to the table where you can add value, or you’re being overlooked for something when you feel you shouldn’t be — talk with someone. You need to be able to take comfort in being able to have direct conversations with your leader or someone else you can trust. Every leader has a responsibility for creating an inclusive workforce; speak up when something doesn’t feel right and role model the change necessary.
Cargan: The first thing I would say is, “I know how you feel.” No matter who you are, there has likely been a moment in your life when you’ve felt like an outsider. The next thing I would say is, “Your experiences are important to the success of your company.” I would encourage them to speak up and share their experiences with their leaders, colleagues and teams. I would also tell them about the correlation between diversity and a company’s success. It’s imperative for the organization to listen to them and for them to be heard.
Peluso: We need you. We need your voice. Not just because it’s the right thing, but because it makes our company stronger. It makes our society stronger. It makes the world better. If you feel excluded, the most important thing is to know that you are valued. Progress is possible and it’s happening.
This post is sponsor content from IBM and was created by IBM and Insider Studios.
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