Diversity, equity and inclusion (D,E&I) has long been front of mind for logistics giant UPS. Currently, the company’s board of directors is 46% women, 31% non-white. In addition, 40% of the executive team are women and 30% are non-white. This puts UPS ahead of many of its Fortune 500 competitors, and far beyond most of the FTSE 350.
At UPS D,E&I has only become more important in recent years, and particularly in the ongoing war for talent, dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’.
According to vice-president of corporate affairs Cristina Falcone, UPS is highly aware that “employees want to feel that they’re working for a company that has purpose. Employees want to understand that their companies are doing the right thing”.
Linked to this, “D,E&I Is something that we continue to hear is very important to employees” – they want to be able to bring their whole selves to work.
Having an inclusive workplace is key at UPS because when workers feel “happy, at home and connected”, they are going to be more engaged and productive, and therefore “serve our customers even better”, notes Falcone. “Happy employees make happy customers”.
Leaders must champion D,E&I
D,E&I commitments can only be successful if leadership understands why having a diverse, inclusive workplace is good for employees, as well as business outcomes.
According to Falcone, this is the case at UPS. While leaders championing D,E&I progress is crucial to success, it is also essential that the whole company work together to put “strategic programs into place to really accelerate and drive” change.
UPS is working to make sure “you’re getting excellent ideas, engagement input from your talent to drive things forward”; the employer ensures that all workers are involved in advancing D,E&I.
One of the ways that the logistics giants is working to link leadership policymaking with employees’ ideas through its business resource groups. It launched its first one in 2006, and that was the women’s leadership program.
But UPS did not stop there, the women’s leadership resource group has “facilitated so many other programs” and now the logistics giant has 200 chapters across 11 categories – examples include LGBTQ+ workers, millennials and African-American employees. The newest one in Europe is “our abilities resource group”, which includes neurodivergent workers.
The idea is to allow employees to design their own programs, but also have access to “senior executives, and it gave them more exposure to senior staff”, notes Falcone.
“For these programs to be beneficial to everyone, you have to have buy in from senior leadership”; they all have leadership sponsors, and they are given significant budgets to run their programs.
During the pandemic, UPS worked hard to transition these business resource group meetings form in-person to online with the help of Zoom technology (the next action is to move them over to Microsoft Teams).
Falcone believes that while digitalization was forced upon UPS, it has actually been positive to level the playing field. It ensures that everyone, no matter the type of job they do or where they work, could get involved with these groups and have access to senior leadership.
This is why as UPS figures out its hybrid future of work it is still going to continue with virtual resource group meetings.
D,E&I is everyone’s responsibility
This leadership prioritization of progress means that D,E&I is not just HR’s responsibility at UPS, but it is everyone’s.
Falcone has really taken this to heart, meaning she decided, despite not working in HR, that she wanted to be play a role in driving UPS’ D,E&I progress.
“I’ve had the advantage to have some amazing managers; they’ve really helped to give me exposure, give me opportunities, and then be sponsor. I am really appreciative for that,” notes Falcone.
For her, “a good leader is not just someone that performs well within their specific function”, instead, they drive “the right type of change” – “I made a conscious decision that I was going to be one of those leaders”.
She wanted to continue to push UPS to be even better by “addressing those areas where we could improve further”. So she got involved in the women leadership business group, and then she became a sponsor for the millennials group.
“This just grew and fostered over time, because I recognized that building the best teams, [including] in corporate affairs required diversity, so I have a role to play in that”.
While Falcone is focused on playing her part on making real change within UPS, she is also keen to work to drive D,E&I progress externally too, including by working with external organizations, such as Rise & Lead Women.
Her partnership with Rise & Lead began in 2019, when Falcone was invited to speak at one of their events. Now she is the chair of the organization’s advisory board, and UPS is a corporate partner of Rise & Lead.
Falcone explains: “I immediately got a sense from this organization that they were doing something very different. They really were making a conscious effort to bring diversity into the conversation”, not just at leadership level, but throughout people’s entire careers.
“I thought this a great place where I can bring my talents and my time to continue to pursue what I see as part of my purpose: helping to embed diversity and have different people around boardroom tables, and in leadership roles”.
Inside Rise & Lead’s balanced leadership awards
This year at Rise & Lead’s 2022 summit, the organization launched a new award for balance leadership. Falcone was on the judging panel, alongside external D,E&I experts like Dagmar Schumacher from UN Women.
Among the organizations nominated for the award are Ahold Delhaize for its gender balanced leadership initiative, Allianz’s #sheleads program, and Engie’s Fifty-Fifty project.
Engie’s program aims to achieve gender parity in management by 2030; it includes a leadership upskilling program for both men and women, the idea is to “help men become gender balanced leaders”, as well as address any unconscious bias they might have.
However, it was Allianz’s #sheleads program that won the award. As a result of the program, the financial services giant has increased the numbers of women in leadership from 16.6% to 24.9% over the last seven years, which demonstrates that the program has had a targeted impact on moving the needle on female development.
Rise & Lead’s founder and president Ebere Akadiri commented: “With #sheleads, Allianz sets a standard for effective gender-balanced policies at work.
“In giving this recognition, Rise & Lead aims to inspire organizations and the executives who lead them across Europe and beyond, that intentional efforts can drive meaningful progress towards diversity and equality.”
In her UNLEASH interview, Falcone agreed with Akadiri and emphasized the aim of the award was to “motivate more companies in Europe to really take a look at what they are doing internally”. For those without these types of programs, maybe now they will be buoyed to really drive change.
This begs the question, what are the learnings that Falcone can take away from the summit and apply to UPS?
She notes: “We’re doing a lot of great leadership in this area, but, of course, we’re always learning. The value of being part of these types of networks is that you can share best practices”.
“At UPS, we want to further enhance women’s involvement in leadership, particularly in our operations. We are constantly looking at new programs; how can we get women interested? How can we recruit? How can we expose them to opportunities?”
While UPS is discussing some solutions internally, “we’re always interacting with external companies to gain ideas, and to share ideas”.
Stay tuned, evidently UPS is far from finished with its D,E&I journey.
Want to find out more about development at Allianz, the winner of the Rise & Lead balanced leadership award? The manager of the #sheleads program and global head of AllianzU Heather Duttweiler is speaking at UNLEASH World in Paris. Find out more about tickets here.
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