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September 4, 2013Catalyst’s new study, Anatomy of Change: How Inclusive Cultures Evolve , follows the progress of Rockwell Automation as the traditionally male-oriented company strives to become more inclusive for women and minorities. “Change only becomes possible when leaders are courageous and skilled enough to create an environment where all employees can talk candidly about the impact of gender and race,” says Jeanine Prime, PhD, Vice President, Research, Catalyst. In this blog, a sales manager at Rockwell Automation shares how his team learned to talk more honestly about their differences, and how that helped make their workplace more equitable.

Jeff McGee I’ve always considered myself a fairly enlightened guy when it comes to understanding people who are different from me. I grew up in a suburb where inner-city students were bussed into our schools. In college I was part of a singing group composed of people with different ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and sexual orientations. All of this shaped me before I even began my career.

In my job as sales manager at Rockwell Automation–where the culture  of the company and the industry as a whole has been traditionally white male-dominated—I  thought I was doing all I could to be supportive to my team.  But I learned that there were times I hadn’t taken opportunities to stand up for female colleagues and people of color.

A few years ago, in an effort to become more inclusive, Rockwell Automation had employees participate in learning labs developed by White Men as Full Diversity Partners  (WMFDP).  It was one of the most moving and impactful experiences of my life. The conversations we had in the labs were tough; men and women gave each other some really raw and honest feedback. But we had to have those hard conversations in order to move to a place of greater understanding, where we could continue to feel comfortable talking about sensitive issues at work. 

The learning labs opened my eyes to the privileges I have as a white male leader, along with how I could be an agent for change. There’s always been an “old boys’ club” mentality at Rockwell Automation.  Teams often gathered after work at sports bars and other places where women wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable. In meetings, women’s ideas weren’t always acknowledged. And often sales leaders (usually white males) would present projects to senior management, instead of letting their team members do it. We weren’t intentionally leaving others out—it’s just that we never thought of doing it any other way.

Now I suggest lunch meetings instead of drinks after work. I make sure that everyone’s ideas are heard in meetings. And I recently supported our mostly female operations team as they presented their great work to sales management.

I encourage my team to talk to me about issues anytime they need to, and in monthly review meetings I leave room for discussing whatever is on their minds. Over time this has led to deep, meaningful dialogues and more trust from my staff.  When one team member came to me about a religious obligation, we had a long discussion about our beliefs, and about what Rockwell Automation might do to be more supportive. When a female team member felt uncomfortable with a group of male customers, she felt safe sharing that with me.

In the past, these frank conversations would not have happened. And people may have wound up leaving because they felt unsupported. Being inclusive helps us to recruit and retain top talent. It’s also the right thing to do. We can’t completely change the work culture overnight, but we’re on the right track. The real proof of change will happen when we can look at our organizational chart and see diversity in the leadership. I want to be part of that culture!

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More Men Who Get It: Watch Lee Tschanz, Vice President of North American Sales for Rockwell Automation, describe how having honest conversations about differences has changed him and his company.

Watch the video introduction to Catalyst’s new report, Anatomy of Change: How Inclusive Cultures Evolve.

Read more about the report and its methodology.

For a summary of the data, view the infographic.

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