Does Dow have diversity in its DNA?

20:57 PM | July 11, 2019 | Lyn Tattum

Dow VP Jeff Tate (right) accepts Carver-Curie award from
IHS Markit VP Lyn Tattum, Chemist Club president Roland
Stefandl, and CW editor Rob Westervelt (right to left).
Diversity and inclusion has been rising on the agenda for chemical companies facing challenges attracting and retaining talent in the modern work environment. Diversity is about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin.

Dow Chemical is seen as a leader in such issues, partly because CEO Jim Fitterling is himself a shining example—being one of the highest-profile, openly gay heads of global companies.

Fitterling—at the time vice chairman and COO of Dow Chemical—came out in 2014 in a live broadcast to the company’s over 50,000 employees on the National Coming Out Day, inspiring hundreds of employees to join Dow’s LGBT employee resource group and saying that one of his inspirations was to be in control of making himself more open to employees.
 
In July 2017, the company named Karen Carter to the newly created role of chief inclusion officer to strengthen integration of diversity and inclusion with business strategy and results.
 
In March 2019, IHS Markit Chemical Week and The Chemists’ Club presented Dow with the Carver-Curie Award for Diversity in the Chemical Industry, selected by a peer group of industry chief executives. Evaluation criteria included demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion; leadership and board diversity; hiring practices; business conduct and standard; networking groups and opportunities to support more diverse and inclusive workforces; public support and commitments to diversity and inclusion.
 
The award is named after George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery, and Marie Curie, a two-time Nobel Prize winner—two world-famous chemists whose achievements epitomize the benefits that diversity and inclusion can bring to the world.
 
Dow was a popular winner. In the chemical industry over many years, when encountering senior-level people of color or high-ranking females, they would likely be from Dow Chemical. The company merged with DuPont in September 2017, and then demerged again on 1 April 2019 to become a $50-billion entity with an ambition to be “the most innovative, customer-centric, inclusive, and sustainable materials science company in the world,” according to Fitterling.
 
Accepting the award on behalf of Dow, vice president Jeff Tate said that “innovation must be driven from every voice around the table. Three years ago, we began designing the new Dow. We knew this journey gave us the opportunity to build and strengthen our culture around diversity and inclusion.”
 
One former employee of long ago has his own anecdote: Lew Boxenbaum relates how senior executives located in the remote Dow HQ town of Midland, Michigan, back in the 1950s were flourishing via rising stock and growth of Dow. Often, they would make significant contributions to the town—such as building churches of various denominations.The Jewish community was very small in comparison with Protestant and others, but in a gesture of generosity and inclusiveness, a group of senior Dow executives got together and funded the construction of a synagogue for their colleagues—a step which in Boxenbaum’s view demonstrates that Dow had “diversity in its DNA” even back then, all those years ago.
 
Today, the company’s recently introduced Inclusion Report will monitor the metrics on Diversity within the company. Fitterling says, “Inclusion and diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do… studies show that greater diversity leads to greater growth.”
 
We will watch this progress with interest.

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Lyn Tattum is vice president with IHS Markit and publisher of Chemical Week.