Diversity Series: Engaging employees with D&I – a discussion with Baird associate general counsel│Ep. 39

Last updated on June 18th, 2020 at 01:50 pm

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In the fourth of four BizTimes MKE Podcast episodes with Milwaukee-area business diversity leaders, Beth Ridley of The Brimful Life talks to Devona Wright Cottrell, associate general counsel and director at Baird.

Wright Cottrell also co-founded Baird’s African American employee resource group, chaired it for six years and now serves as an advisor to the group. The conversation focuses on engaging employees in diversity and inclusion efforts, including how to best structure employee resource groups for success.

Wright Cottrell said Baird’s groups work best with leadership from the top of the company and from within the organization.

She also pointed to three specific approaches to helping sustain momentum for groups, which typically run on volunteer efforts of employees.

Those approaches included allowing each group to develop in its own way, having clearly defined terms for leaders, usually two years, and creating multiple leadership opportunities within groups. She recommended having more than one leader, perhaps as a co-chair or vice president, and creating leadership positions for specific areas like communications or professional development.

“Look for some of your up and coming talent, some of your high performing leaders, who might be in an individual contributor role where they’re not able to advance vertically. Allow them to develop skills horizontally and leadership skills within an (employee resource group),” Wright Cottrell said.

She also said a group’s trajectory can be altered by something as simple as how it is presented to the entire organization. Baird’s African American Resource Group saw membership double after changing its name to Prism in 2010.

“We realized the name was more exclusive than it was inclusive,” Wright Cottrell said, noting the original name came from having a critical mass of African American employees to start it but needed to evolve to bring other people into its work.

“We can’t do this alone, right?” she said. “We need others at the table to help us on this journey and we need to create an environment that is inclusive where our allies can feel apart of this and they can help us to bring us along.”

Previous BizTimes MKE Podcasts on diversity and inclusion included:

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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.