By Leading with Inclusion, Kimberly-Clark Drives Change from the Inside Out

May 25, 2021 9:00 AM ET
Article

For Erin Mitchell Richeson, the COVID-19 pandemic and global social justice movement reminded the business world that “employees can’t just log off from reality when they log on or show up for work.”

This simple acknowledgment only strengthened Kimberly-Clark’s commitment to lead with inclusion – with employees, supply chain partners, and in the communities where it operates. Kimberly-Clark wants to leverage the power of its more than 46,000 employees across six continents to build inclusive communities, using its strength to help navigate a better way forward when racism and bias persist.

“Inclusion is our glue and ties back to our mission and values,” said Mitchell Richeson, Kimberly-Clark’s vice president of inclusion and diversity. “We’re making the conscious effort to ensure that our workplace culture is one that empowers authenticity and embraces diversity — where everyone is inspired to do their best work, and where differences are not only recognized but valued and utilized.”

Inclusion is the global unifier across the company

In 2019, Kimberly-Clark updated its inclusion and diversity strategy and launched a four-pronged approach that focused on creating a culture where people feel that they can bring their authentic selves to work, giving leaders the tools to incorporate inclusion into all of their actions, hiring, promoting and developing a workforce that reflects the diverse array of consumers that the company serves, and understanding how to extend the inclusive mindset to strengthen the communities where it operates.

In the midst of a global social justice movement that began last year, Kimberly-Clark hosted virtual town halls for employees to discuss the impacts of racism and bias. The company also accelerated ‘Caring Conversations’ around the world to provide employees with a safe space to share their feelings, fears and questions while learning from one another.

In addition, Kimberly-Clark developed a robust library of educational resources for employees, led a Global Inclusion Week with 75 sessions translated in numerous languages, and hosted inclusive leadership training for all leaders to help them more effectively engage and support their team members.

Employee resource groups (ERGs) play an equally important role in connecting with employees, and the company’s 10 ERGs include the Women’s Interactive Network, Latin American Network for Diversity, Salute (veterans-focused), African Ancestry Employee Network, Asian Professionals for Excellence, and Capabilities First. These ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that are designed to help drive inclusion and diversity within Kimberly-Clark and foster a greater understanding of different perspectives and backgrounds through cultural events, panel discussions, mentorship opportunities and volunteering.

Brands address social injustice and racial inequality

Kimberly-Clark’s brands have activated the company’s commitment to combatting social injustice and racial inequality. For example, Cottonelle® is partnering with the nonprofit BLKHLTH to help reach Black consumers with critical information about colorectal cancer, which impacts the Black community at greater rates. They are working together to encourage colorectal cancer screenings and have distributed thousands of free at-home colorectal cancer screening tests.

Kimberly-Clark’s Poise® brand partnered with Buy From a Black Woman to form the Idella Scholarship, which supports Black female business owners who have decided to go back to school. Scholarships were awarded to three recipients in 2020, ranging between $5K-$10K each.

The company also created brand responsibility guidelines to drive change within its marketing ecosystem through purposeful actions and resources. These guidelines focus on championing inclusion and diversity in brand communications, protecting communities from hate speech, misinformation and exploitation, and ensuring data transparency with a commitment to consumer privacy and protection.

U by Kotex® brought these guidelines to life last year when it partnered with Mindshare to launch a Black Community Private Marketplace to support Black creatives and journalists and provide a voice for underrepresented communities.

Cultivate a workforce that reflects the diversity of consumers

Kimberly-Clark recognizes that inclusion must become the backbone of its culture as it develops a global workforce that mirrors every consumer who uses its essential products.

“Keeping consumers and their diverse needs at the heart of what we do enables us to innovate faster, market more effectively and build stronger, deeper relationships,” said Mitchell Richeson.

One clear measure of progress is that many employees have shown a willingness to be vulnerable and discuss difficult or sensitive topics with their colleagues, she noted.

“We’ve learned that we need to allow everyone to be comfortable with wherever their starting point is and recognize that everyone is at a different place on this journey,” Mitchell Richeson said. “That’s why embedding inclusion and diversity into our culture requires everyone to understand how their own experience plays into it.”

While Mitchell Richeson would be the first to say that there is still a lot of work to be done, she is excited about what’s ahead.

“There’s incredible energy and momentum as people see how this work can really impact the business,” she said. “Strong support from our leaders and board, combined with grassroots efforts from our employees is compelling us to move faster. As we move forward, we’re taking what we’ve learned and activating against it to make an even greater impact within our own walls and in the communities that we serve.”