Diversity Series: Embedding D&I into business operations with Chris Rowland│Ep. 38

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In the third of four BizTimes MKE Podcast episodes with diversity leaders from the Milwaukee area, Beth Ridley of The Brimful Life talks with Chris Rowland, global diversity officer at ManpowerGroup. Their conversation touches on embedding D&I practices into business operations. They also discuss responses to those who argue companies should just hire the best person for a role without regard for diversity and inclusion efforts.

“It makes my skin crawl and I think we’ve all heard it from time to time,” Rowland said. “There’s a subtle tone, not even subtle, that the best person for the job is not someone who is diverse.”

Rowland also said diversity can look different around the world, as a global company, ManpowerGroup sets goals for universal categories like gender and then operations in each country set their own goals specific to their area.

As far as responding to critics of D&I efforts as preferential treatment for certain groups, Rowland said he emphasizes that the companies need to hire the best and focus on diversity, not one or the other.

“They’re not mutually exclusive,” he said.

Rowland acknowledged for some select roles, there may be a limited talent pool to draw from, but in most cases there is talent available from a wide variety of backgrounds.

He suggested it is important to bring those potential skeptics into the conversation early on to understand hiring goals and what can be done to bring more people into the pool of applications.

Overall, he said D&I efforts need to start from the top of the company.

“It absolutely starts at the top with leadership, can’t be delegated, can’t be put off,” he said. “There has to be an understanding that it’s a business imperative, not just an ethical imperative.”

Embedding those efforts within the daily operations requires a conscious choice for the company.

“There is always a natural tie to embed it into business or organizational priorities and so thinking intentionally about that, on a regular basis, kind of building the muscle that it’s always a part of the conversation, even if it’s not your typical D&I practitioners who are driving the strategy of, that’s what we’ve found to be highly effective,” Rowland said.

“I’ve been surprised at how often individuals who didn’t think that they were D&I experts actually have solutions to some of the D&I challenges,” he added.

Ridley’s conversation with Rowland is the third of four episodes in the BizTimes MKE Podcast diversity series. Previous episodes included:

The fourth episode with Devona Wright Cottrell of Baird will be available Thursday.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.