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Feb 1, 2021

A guest article by Steven Essick, President, Henkel North America

Stronger with each step

Achieving sustainable progress in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Achieving sustainable progress in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

During my 25-year career at Henkel, I have had the pleasure of living and working in Europe, Asia and here in the U.S. As a child, I also lived two years in South America. These were life-changing experiences that helped shape the person I am today.

Having served on many multicultural teams, I have seen the value of diversity first-hand. I learned to appreciate different perspectives and new ways of approaching a problem. I saw how people with diverse backgrounds were often better equipped to challenge the status quo and the assumptions that lie beneath decisions. Diverse teams have been proven to be more innovative.

And we will need to be innovative to address one of the most pressing challenges we face in business and society: becoming more flexible and equitable in terms of how we work together. The human need for flexible, creative ways of connecting became crystal clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, as did the challenges of balancing family and career. At the same time, we are at an inflection point in the challenge to become a more equitable society.

The opportunity before all of us now is to identify obstacles to equity and dismantle them, one by one. That will require honest conversation — and for business, government, NGOs and society to be working toward a more equitable and just experience for all.

As Black History Month begins, we are glad for the opportunity to better understand and appreciate the many contributions the Black community has made in North America, and to our organization. As a company rooted in science, innovation and sustainability, Henkel owes a huge debt to all the innovators that paved our way. One such innovator is Madam C.J. Walker, a 20th century philanthropist and trailblazing hair care entrepreneur who built a multi-million-dollar empire by creating products for Black hair.

Here at Henkel, we have innovators and pioneers of our own who embody the “be the change” philosophy. Our innovators include Bryanna Wallace, whose pain over racial injustice inspired her and her best friend to create a learning resource on allyship that was viewed more than 1.7 million times on Twitter. In Bay Point, CA Senior Chemist Rochelle Miller pays forward the mentoring she received at Henkel by mentoring under-represented students to pursue STEM education.

When you are given an opportunity, you have to continue to blaze the way for others. It’s my responsibility, not just as an African-American woman, but as a human being — to create opportunities.

Increased access to quality education and job opportunities is one lever to help close the equity gap.  This year alone, Henkel is investing more than $600,000 in new scholarship and internship programs to reach students from under-represented populations in North America. Initiatives like this by Henkel and many other companies will strengthen our future workforce, while ensuring the flexibility and diverse perspectives needed to face tomorrow’s challenges — in business and in life.

Inside Henkel, we are accelerating our progress too. Our actions include: providing even more leadership development opportunities, supporting employees in their efforts to drive change and build stronger communities, expanding our network of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and rolling out a comprehensive learning suite for all employees focused on critical topics such as unconscious bias and allyship.  

By building equity into every stage of the employee life cycle process — including opportunities before a person is even hired — we can expand and refresh a diverse environment within our company. Our vision is to create an open, supportive, inclusive environment where all employees feel they belong and are empowered to be themselves.

My own upbringing and diverse career experiences give me pride in the progress Henkel has made on diversity over the years, and a clear commitment to hasten the pace of that progress. We will face hurdles along the way. But on the journey to sustainable Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, we get stronger with every step we take together.