Diversity and inclusion

Michael P. Duncan | TLT President's Report December 2019

Think the ideal employee is your clone? Think again.

It’s tempting to hire a team of people like yourself, but you’ll miss many critical perspectives and opportunities. 
© Can Stock Photo / NomadSoul1

I used to believe a company full of Mike Duncan clones would be very successful. And why not? I have a doctorate, I’m a passionate R&D chemist, hard-worker, work long hours, goal oriented, organized, good problem solver, relentless drive, quick decision maker, strive every day to get better, work well with others who also work hard, don’t easily get distracted—and a Republican. 

What I have learned about myself though is: I am impatient and can be perceived as tough or unapproachable, tend to focus on tasks rather than people, don’t always listen to others, don’t delegate enough, don’t praise enough, don’t teach enough, expect a very high level of competency and efficiency from others, don’t tolerate excuses or failure, rarely apologize, don’t compromise enough and don’t believe in redistribution of wealth—I’m not a Democrat (yet my wife, children and parents are). In addition, I guess you could say I am more conservative (holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation) than liberal (open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values). 

I became aware of diversity and inclusion in the early 1990s with acknowledgement of sexual harassment and its existence in the workplace. It started in 1991 (preceding the current Me Too movement), when sexual harassment was the focus of Anita Hill’s testimony during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings. During this period, companies quickly trained their employees on the subject, and most everyone (except those culpable in the recent Me Too movement) realized the importance of providing a non-harassing environment in the workplace. 

Sexual harassment was a type of discrimination so it just made sense that this would not be tolerated. Also in the 1990s, I joined a company where the R&D team of men and women were separated, the men in one laboratory and the women in a separate laboratory. This separation was not just a room but in completely different buildings. I quickly realized that the team would function better if it was combined in the same building and laboratory. 

In 2001 I began working for a major oil company and received wonderful training, including D&I. I remember a training course on D&I that included a story about paying for gas (petrol) at the pump using credit cards. It was quite a capital expense for the company to replace all its gas pumps with new credit card-reading pumps. As the story goes, this company was the last to install pay at the pump card readers because it didn’t see a benefit to this large capital expense. 

This company had no women on its board of directors and did not realize how parents with young children felt about the convenience of having a card reader at the pump. This company also did not seek the advice from women on the decision. If they would have reached out to parents with young children, they would have found that getting small children in and out of a car seat and taking a sleeping, screaming or crying child into the gas station to pay for the gas is very inconvenient. 

So why don’t you want an organization (R&D laboratory) full of Mike Duncans? 

No. 1. You want a variety of perspectives to form and collectively agree upon the planning and correctly executing the strategy of the company.

No. 2. You will gain creativity, innovation and new ideas through the various perspectives, backgrounds and experiences of the people in the organization.

No. 3. You will have more problem-solvers. 

No. 4. You will have people to challenge your opinion and ideas. This will make you think about your decisions and the problem more thoroughly and validate it before implementing the ultimate effective solution.

No. 5. You will have better listeners to understand problems to resolve them quicker and more efficiently.

No. 6. Innovation and quicker and better solutions translate into increased profitability.

No. 7. Employee involvement and engagement lead to happier employees (feel valued, appreciated, respected and accepted).

No. 8. Happier employees lead to better retention, positive company reputation and success.

Today D&I is critical to a company’s reputation and success. A successful D&I program is important not only to attract but keep good employees. With the aging population and workforce challenges to employers around the globe, this will bring even more culturally diverse individuals into your workplace. 

Don’t be afraid to hire someone different than yourself. Don’t worry about the color of their skin, their age, their ethnicity, their religion, their gender, their body shape or color of their hair. Ask yourself the questions: Do these individuals have the passion and desire to achieve? Can they bring additional experiences, ideas and perspectives into the team? Are they of high moral and ethical character? 

One of my best chemists today has purple hair. Thirty years ago I might not have hired this individual because she looked different than what I expected an R&D chemist to look like. I would have made a big mistake.

Mike Duncan is executive vice president of technology of Daubert Chemical Co. in Chicago. You can reach him at mduncan@daubert.com