Railroad CEO’s Personal Passion Creates Real Diversity Results

November 21, 2011 11:09 am

Michael Ward, CSXIf two heads are better than one, why not draw in more people with varying viewpoints and backgrounds? Michael Ward, president and CEO of CSX (No. 23 in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50), says, “With different points of view you’ll get a better answer … It’s important to hear all views, but you have to move forward as one.”

This philosophy allowed Ward to transform the railroad company (in a very traditionally white male industry) into an extremely diverse organization and helped CSX earn the DiversityInc 2011 Special Award: Top Company for Diversity-Management Progress.

Ward spoke during a Q&A panel session with DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti at our November 2011 event in Washington, D.C., on “Why Visible Leadership Matters.” He offered insights on how his personal investment in diversity management has benefited CSX.

Watch the exclusive, full-length “Why Visible Leadership Matters” video below.

The railroad industry is one of the oldest industries in the nation, founded in 1827. Ward first realized the importance of a diverse workforce when CSX came out of a 20-year hiring freeze following the industry’s bankruptcy in the 1970s. About of a third of the older workforce was retiring, and an imperative need for talent arose.

CSX needed to tap into all potential talent, but railroads carried a stodgy stigma. “We had to transform it and make it an attractive place for diverse people to come to. We had to make ourselves a welcoming place, show others that ‘there are people like me succeeding in this company,’” explains Ward. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but we’re building a lot of momentum.”

Ward reports that their transportation department is headed by one woman, Cindy Sanborn, while the HR law departments are also headed by women. A majority of people running the railroad on a daily basis, as well as the sales and marketing, are Black. For more on CSX’s talent-development strategies, watch our Diversity Web Seminar on Talent Development with Susan Hamilton, assistant vice president of diversity at CSX.

1. Enhancing skills: To facilitate better diversity throughout the company, some employees were reassigned to new disciplines and areas of the company. It took them out of their comfort zone so they could learn new skills and other areas of the business.

Ward notes that diversity at CSX is more about ways of thinking than ethnicity. He says, “If you do right by your people and customers, you will last—it’s a byproduct. If you don’t do the right things, you don’t get the results.”

2. Community outreach: It’s important to relate to the communities your organization operates in, and CSX has been more focused in the last eight years on its role. “A lot of these communities formed because our railroad was there,” Ward says. “People want you to be responsive to their concerns, so we need to reach out and make sure we are relating to them.”

CSX engages in several methods of corporate philanthropy within the 23 states its rails run through, and it seeks to make a difference there. For example, CSX hosts a service day where its executives interact with the community (this year in Norfolk, Va.) by painting the trailers together.

3. Supporting veterans: CSX is the only two-time recipient of the Department of Defense’s Employer Support Freedom Award, and Ward has a personal commitment to veterans (he gave $1 million to the Wounded Warrior Project).

About 25 percent of CSX employees are currently in the service or are veterans. “It’s a great match for what our business does, as we are extremely focused on safety,” says Ward. “We as a company make sure their pay is constant and health benefits are maintained. Recruitment of women and Blacks in particular is a focus.”

The company has a military employee-resource group and is involved with Wounded Warriors and the Warriors to Work program. CSX transports a lot of military materials each year to ports for deployment as well. Hear more about CSX’s military recruiting strategies in our Diversity Web Seminar on Veterans in the Workplace with Margaret Downey, military and diversity recruiting, CSX Transportation.

4. Accountability for diversity: CSX sets goals that focus on initiatives to ensure that key opportunities come up for a diverse candidate pool, such as maintaining continuous recruitment with schools.

“Diversity is a longer-term game,” says Ward. “The differentiator for you is your people, and we are making that investment so it’s a part of our longer term.”