‘Diversity Is a Leadership Expectation’: Case Studies of CEOs of Ameren, Rockwell Collins

November 27, 2012 7:56 pm

By Barbara Frankel

CEO Commitment to Diversity Roundtable: Clay Jones, Tom Voss, Joy Fitzgerald, Sharon HarveyDiversityInc Top 50 data shows a direct correlation between a CEO’s visible support of diversity—and emphasis on accountability—and results, measured in human-capital demographics and marketplace gains.

To explore successful CEO best practices on diversity management, we asked two chief diversity officers–Joy Fitzgerald, director of Diversity and Workforce Effectiveness at Rockwell Collins, and Sharon Harvey Davis, vice president and chief diversity offer at Ameren–to tell us about their relationships with their CEOs: Clay Jones, CEO of Rockwell Collins (No. 34 in the DiversityInc Top 50), and Thomas Voss, CEO of Ameren (one of DiversityInc’s Top 7 Regional Utilities).

Synopsis: Why They Are Exemplary Diversity Leaders

Both of these CEOs are very public in their belief that diversity drives business gains. Clay Jones, chairman, president and CEO of defense contractor Rockwell Collins (who was interviewed in our last issue), vowed to earn a spot on the DiversityInc Top 50 two years ago and has succeeded, personally driving initiatives throughout his company. This year, the second in which Rockwell Collins made the list, the company is No. 43. Read our Q&A interview with Rockwell Collins’ Clay Jones and watch the video below to hear Jones speak about his diversity journey.

Tom Voss, chairman, president and CEO of St. Louis–based utility company Ameren (interviewed in our spring issue), has literally changed his organization’s corporate culture to create an inclusive and supportive environment, including LGBT rights. Read our Q&A interview with  Ameren’s Tom Voss and watch the video below to hear Voss speak on diversity and innovation.

CEO Best Practice No. 1
Holding Direct Reports Accountable 

CEO signs off on executive compensation tied to diversity

Both of these CEOs and the majority of the CEOs whose companies are on the DiversityInc Top 50 list—ensure their direct reports are equally supportive of diversity-management initiatives. They establish specific diversity goals for their executives and link compensation to meeting those goals. Goals can include company-wide progress (more diversity in executive ranks, increased percentage of procurement to supplier diversity) or individual progress (being executive sponsor of a resource group that contributes to the business, being a cross-cultural mentor of a mentee who is promoted).

Rockwell Collins: It is our CEO’s commitment that diversity is a leadership expectation, not a choice. If you are going to be a leader at Rockwell Collins, you will demonstrate inclusive behaviors. You will create an environment where people feel welcomed, valued and respected. He holds his senior leadership accountable, and that accountability is driven throughout our organization and permeates our culture.

He requires that each of his direct reports sponsor a resource group. We are starting Diversity Speed Mentoring: 35 of the most senior leaders including Clay and all his direct reports have people from underrepresented populations come in for five-minute mentoring. This developed from luncheons and meetings with Clay. They wanted more.

Externally, he has been a leader in setting up an organization in Cedar Rapids called Diversity Focus, which works to get more diversity in the community. Clay has personally sponsored a lot of those efforts. He encourages senior leaders to be involved.

Ameren: There is no one who reports to Tom who doesn’t know and understand the importance of diversity. We recently revamped resource groups, and the members of the executive leadership team were asked to be sponsors. Every one of them joined. On a quarterly basis, I present to the executive leadership team. Once a year, DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti comes in and presents the benchmarking findings. That creates the focus areas for the next 12 months. I report quarterly to the executive leadership team on progress. For example, last year, the focus was on increasing diversity in new hires. This year, it is increasing diversity in promotions.

Tom holds his direct reports responsible for results in those areas.

CEO Best Practice No. 2
Be a Role Model of Visible, Personal Support 

Diversity Websites: CEO has a personal statement

 These two CEOs, along with the CEOs at the top of the DiversityInc Top 50 list, are public and very personal in their consistent support for diversity as a business driver. They discuss freely their individual connection and they work internally and externally to create cultures that value diversity and inclusion.

Rockwell Collins: He owns it. This is not a strategy he wants to delegate. He wants to be the voice for our organization, internal and external. One of his commitments is to help educate and develop leadership, to build bench strength around capabilities and understanding what diversity means as a business imperative.

We did an employee survey with several questions tied to diversity. He said he wanted to dive deeper and he cleared his schedule so he could attend knowledge cafes to really understand the data. And he asked that senior leaders from the executive diversity council be there. He said he wants a safe environment where people can feel free to tell him anything and not necessarily see him as a chief executive officer but as someone who is trying to make our organization a better working environment.

Ameren: Tom Voss is involved in a way that is genuine, sincere and credible. What that looks like at Ameren is that we have four female vice presidents and Tom has personally promoted three of them. We have one African-American CEO in our company, the first one. Tom personally promoted him.

Tom has served on our diversity council. He comes and speaks to all our groups. He had our African-American women who were managers at a dinner at his country club, just to talk. He connects on a people-to-people basis.

He talks in his bio directly about his diversity involvement. A lot of CEOs will talk about how they’ve impacted earnings per share, but Tom talks about diversity because it is a part of who he is.

In St. Louis, I don’t think there is a CEO more visible in the diversity community. He will show up at anything from chairing a dinner sponsored by a gay/lesbian organization and asking his executive team to come sit at his table to being the president emeritus of Dance St. Louis, an organization he’s taken from being a European classical dance organization to a very, very diverse organization. 

CEO Best Practice No. 3
Uphold Values at All Times 

Senior execs sit on boards of multicultural nonprofits

When there is a fear of a backlash, some CEOs back down. These CEOs remain true to the values of inclusivity at their company, whether it’s involving LGBT people in the United States or women or other underrepresented groups globally. They express those values clearly and consistently.

Ameren: We have had some pushback on our support of LGBT rights. Tom not only shows up at a dinner for a local LGBT organization but he chaired the dinner and invited his direct reports to sit at his table. He is really sending the strong message that he’s going to live this value, and he has the expectation that you live it too.

CEO Best Practice No. 4
Chief Diversity Officer Has Frequent Access

 Whether or not the chief diversity officer reports directly to the CEO, he or she must have frequent access and the ability to weigh in on crucial business strategies.

Ameren: I report directly to Voss. The relationship is a friendship. We got to that point by going through some tough times together. You have to be candid with each other. Usually CEOs don’t come into diversity knowing all the answers. So you have to be a mentor and a coach. You have to help lead them in ways that don’t cause them embarrassment or discomfort. You have to be somewhat protective of your CEO so you can make sure he has all the tools he needs whenever he goes into a situation to be able to handle it. 

Rockwell Collins: I report to the senior vice president of HR, who reports to Clay Jones. I have access to Clay; he’s actively involved, not through emails or voicemails but face-to-face in his office. 

CEO Best Practice No. 5
CEO Leads Executive Diversity Council 

How many CEOs chair their diversity councils?

The CEO’s personal leadership of the diversity council, as well as holding senior executives accountable for company-wide results, has a direct impact on the success of the council’s goals.

Rockwell Collins: Our executive diversity council is comprised of the leadership team. Clay felt it was important that each one of them has an active role in sponsoring, driving and holding our diversity strategies accountable throughout the organization. He is very involved in helping set the strategies on a yearly basis. We look at specific target areas based on data and demographics and determine focus priorities, such as the future leadership pipeline. They meet quarterly to assess these strategies. Being that we work with the government, we need to know what the business needs from us and what our emerging global footprint is. We leverage that executive team to really help us understand our business strategies and connect what is the foundation around diversity. 

Ameren: Our council has been in place for 10 years. Tom originally was the executive sponsor (he was not the CEO yet). So he had an opportunity to grow with the council. He’s now the emeritus chair and he comes in a couple of times a year.

CEO Best Practice No. 6
Succession Planning: Ensuring Continuous Support for Diversity

Diversity at the Top: What Companies Have Non-White CEOs?

These CEOs know the diversity efforts must be sustainable, even after they leave the organization. They are ensuring that their successors have as deep a commitment.

Ameren: Tom is in his 60s, and we know he will retire in the relatively near future. He has made it very clear that the road to being the CEO at Ameren is through diversity. He has identified the potential next CEO to lead the diversity council so that if that person succeeds him, he will have a strong diversity footing in place. Tom recently moved my position to an officer level. He wants diversity at the highest level of the organization. He’s putting things in place.