Q&A with Karen Brown, Global Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Monsanto

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Karen is an HR Executive with multi-industry and rich multicultural global experience and, a pioneer in Inclusion & Diversity and External Relations. She has a proven track record an for leading change in profit and non-profit organizations by developing and implementing innovative strategies and solutions to support and enhance business priorities and operational goals. Karen has a passion for inclusion and diversity, with accomplishments in leading 3 organizations to be 1 of top 50 companies for diversity, designing award-winning mentoring programs, creating innovative scorecards and education, chartering and leading inclusion and diversity councils and business resource groups.

Q In the space of diversity and inclusion, what do you see are the main challenges and opportunities going forward for business?

Over the years, I’ve observed some consistent challenges for diversity and inclusion that can impact its overall effectiveness. One of the key challenges is not having enough thought leaders in the diversity and inclusion space and relatively high industry turnover of these people.

The second challenge is an opportunity. That is helping leaders to see the value of diversity and inclusion as an enhancer of business success. Diversity and inclusion should not be treated as HR programs, but rather a function of the organization, similar to finance or IT, that requires the appropriate resources and people to lead for success.

Lastly, organizations need to have the patience and fortitude for building a long-term strategy for diversity and inclusion. This requires change management strategies at all levels and an understanding that success can, and will, take time to develop. After all, this work is about a journey and not a destination.

Q From your experience, what are the attributes required from our leaders to gain their commitment in engaging our community and driving forward the diversity agenda?

I don’t see diversity as an agenda – it’s a business imperative. The sooner we are able to grasp and see it as such, the sooner and more effective our leaders can drive change. As such, a few key attributes that are essential for success are: business acumen, strategic thinking, critical analysis, influencing without authority, being mission critical and pragmatic.

QAt Monsanto, you have been highly recognised for making diversity and inclusion a strategic imperative. What are some of the initiatives you have put in place to create truly inclusive culture? What part does recognition play in this?

With a focus on integration and change management, we don’t label what we do as initiatives or programs. Rather our diversity and inclusion business case and strategies are deliberately aligned to support our business and people priorities.

We aspire to be a great place to work globally, to do that we need engaged, innovative people that can bring their true selves to work everyday. One of the ways we have assisted this effort is to expand the reach of our Business Resource Networks globally. These networks allow our employees engage with both similar and vastly different colleagues around the world. This leads to higher engagement levels and inspires innovation around the world.

We are proud that our work has been recognized by many organizations. However recognition is not our end goal. We do what is right for our employees and if that garners recognition, all the better.

Q Have you seen an impact on your engagement results?

Numerous studies show that when employees feel more included, they are more motivated and engaged, which impacts our business performance. In our most recent organizational survey, we saw engagement levels approaching 90%. We feel this data shows our actions are indeed impacting our employees positively.

QYou’ve been personally recognised as an outstanding woman in leadership. What ways can we build the female talent and leadership pipelines and does it start with shifting mind-sets of our leaders as well as our female employees?

What words of wisdom as a female leader can you offer to our future female leaders in overcoming obstacles that you have been confronted by in the past?

Building any talent pipeline successfully requires three things (1) using data analytics as insights to make a solid business case that’s tied to the business, (2) having a clearly articulated strategy that’s practical within the organization and national cultures, and (3) providing the tools and resources that will enable all stakeholders to understand roles and expectations.

My words of wisdom are the following – have a clear understanding of your passion and align your career/work accordingly. Have your own board of directors – these are people you implicitly trust, who are admirable and can offer the critical feedback all leaders need for success. Lastly, be your authentic self and have an inquisitive mind that’s interested in doing the hard work, while bringing others along.

Q What measurable impact is your strategy having on Monsanto’s drive for innovation?

We are laying the foundation now to clearly make a definitive correlation between our actions and impact on innovation in the future. However, right now we are making more deliberate and concerted efforts to ensure that our teams include diverse backgrounds, experiences and ideas in order to have more diverse critical input before decision-making.

QHow do we integrate diversity into talent management strategies?

Integration requires focusing on what matters within your organization’s culture and the priorities at any moment in time. For instance, work life flexibility is often cited as an area to address for many organizations. One may wish to look at the utilization of the work life benefits offerings by gender. The result will allow you to make decisions regarding the actions to take.

Q With an aging workforce and a demand for new, young talent, the age gap in the workplace is only going to increase. How are you bridging the gap across generations and ensure knowledge is shared?

We’re working to send a clear and consistent message that all talent is needed in order to support the growth of our business. Specifically, we’ve aligned senior business leaders to assist all our Business Resource Networks (BRN), inclusive of our Young Professionals BRN. This relationship creates a great reverse mentoring opportunity for all stakeholders.

You can hear about these topics and many more at our next HR Vision conference.

HR Vision is the elite, boutique style event, where HR leaders gather to discuss core business strategy.

Visit www.hrvisionevent.com to discover the next upcoming conference date and venue most suitable to you.


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