Diversity & inclusion: insights from American Express, Cargill and Prudential Financial about internal programs and what works.

Author:Heffes, Ellen M.
Position:DIVERSITY - Panelists Cheryl H. Reese and Patricia Rowell - Discussion

The subject of diversity and inclusion remains a "hot-button" issue, as study after study show that women and minorities are still not being compensated as highly or treated similar to white male counterparts. While there is "inclusion" to some degree, diversity expert and author of Building on the Promise of Diversity: How We Can Move to the Next Level In our Workplaces, Our Communities and Our Societies, Roosevelt Thomas, opines that diversity in the workforce continues to be a work in progress.


"Diversity is essentially stuck primarily on representation and relationships," he says, adding that most corporations are just beginning to think about diversity in the "nonrepresentative sense." Thomas also wrote: "We need to got to the next level, which involves learning how to empower this diversity through quality decisions and strategic diversity management."

Often, organizations implement diversity programs when forced to--due to addressing a succession challenge or via external force, such as litigation.


A panel discussion on this subject was part of the Women's Financial Leadership conference on "Inclusion and Diversity: Finding Common Ground for organizational Action," which was presented last September, in New York, co-sponsored by American Express Co., The Coca Cola Co. and Financial Executives International.

The Panel comprised speakers representing large, brand-name, global companies with full-fledged diversity programs. Each of them emulates an example of the effective diversity and inclusion programs within the corporate giants they represent.

The panelists included: Cheryl H. Reese, vice president, Diversity, Prudential Financial Inc.; Patricia Rowell, vice president, human resources relationship leader, Finance and Worldwide Staff Groups, American Express Co.; Scott Van Orsdel vice president and controller-Administration, Cargill Inc.; and Kathy Waller, vice president, Internal Audit, The Coca Cola Co. The panel was moderated by Ellen Heffes, editor-in-chief, Financial Executive magazine.

The following distills some of the responses to questions posed to Reese and Rowell, who specifically address diversity and inclusion as related to the Finance function and staffing at their firms.

Define diversity.

Reese: Diversity is valuing all the ways we are similar and different; I define diversity in terms of inclusion and integration into every aspect of the human resources and business processes.

Rowell: Diversity is about valuing and respecting differences. It's not about requiring people to "fit in," but rather, truly appreciating differences and seeing how differences in culture, gender, ethnic background and work experience enhance creativity, engagement and productivity.

Describe what you identify as the most serious challenge in diversity and inclusion that you currently face or have faced in your company.

Reese: Initially, we spent a lot of time putting forth the business case for diversity; most didn't see it as a business imperative. Today, the challenge is to make sure women and people of color rise in the organization, and that there are proper tools, resources, mentoring and other networking opportunities available to help in...

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