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June 9, 2021 | by M. Robert Weidner, III

Building a Business Case for DEI

“Many conversations about diversity and inclusion do not happen in the boardroom because people are embarrassed at using unfamiliar words or afraid of saying the wrong thing — yet this is the very place we need to be talking about it. The business case speaks for itself. Diverse teams are more innovative and successful in going after new markets.”
– Inga Beale, former CEO of Lloyd’s of London

How many times during this pandemic have you longed to go back to a time before COVID-19 hit our shores? How many times over the last dozen years have you thought politics is too divisive and that it would nice to retreat to a more patriotic time?

I’ve had these wishes. But then I remember: bygone years weren’t kind to everyone. In fact, they often were cruel. Would I sacrifice the last year’s lessons to go back to another time?

No.

As an association, as a community, we’ve grown over the last 16 months. And we’ll continue to grow, particularly when it comes to our diversity, equity, and inclusion journey.

MSCI has established a DEI Task Force. Our Board has approved a mission statement that pledges our commitment “to reducing bias and enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within our association and throughout the metals industry.”

That is progress. We are learning. Through a series of fireside chats this year we’ll continue to explore the importance of DEI. Our inaugural discussion was in May with Lt. General Nadja West (ret.) and Nucor President and CEO Leon Topalian.

West is a trailblazer. She was the first Black Army Surgeon General, the first Black female active-duty major general, the first Black Army female lieutenant general, and is the highest ranking woman to have graduated from the U.S. Military Academy. There were just 62 women in her freshman class of 900 at West Point.

During our discussion, West said it was her class community that helped her through those grueling undergraduate years. There were members of the “old guard” who didn’t want women on campus — who wanted to go back to a bygone era — but the men in her class supported their sisters in arms.

Community matters. It facilitates successful careers.

Like Inga Beale does in the quotation you see above, West gave our listeners advice to those, like me, who sometimes struggle to find the right words. She said we all must remember it’s “the heart” that matters. Even if we cannot find the right words, if we come to the table with humility and honesty, we’ll make progress. Topalian also acknowledged what many of us feel. He said our DEI journeys are “just getting ramped up.”

To increase diversity in the workforce, both West and Topalian suggested companies encourage women and people of color to tell their stories.

Why? It creates community. West discussed how, at West Point, she struggled with self-doubt. We’ve all suffered from imposter syndrome at points. Fostering a sense of belonging is essential to attracting and retaining quality employees.

If you missed our first fireside chat, you can find it here. The second discussion is June 16. Ginny Clarke, former director of executive recruiting at Google, will discuss the root causes that lead to a lack of diversity and will offer solutions anyone can use to affect change in the workplace.

These conversations are crucial for the future health of our industry.

McKinsey & Company has found companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. In the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, companies in the top quartile outperformed those in the fourth by 36 percent.

Those numbers are convincing, but so are personal stories. In addition to listening to Nadja West’s last month, I recently read this piece from Kathy Mazzarella, president of Graybar, a St. Louis-based electrical distributor.

Mazzarella started at Graybar at 19, without a college degree. As she wrote, company leaders supported her at every turn. Mazzarella said, “I would have never had this opportunity if they were so narrowly focused that you had to have a four-year education.” She advised that companies “look at the entire person and all the complexities and all the wonderful things that folks can bring to our organizations if we can tap into their gifts.”

Investing in employees means something. In Mazzarella’s case, it meant the company’s future. To attract a more diverse workforce, we must strive to create workplaces in which all individuals are respected, valued, and feel a sense of belonging.

MSCI’s mission is “to build a community of industrial metals companies and related organizations that support the membership.” Our DEI journey is an important part of fulfilling that vision. I look forward to moving forward to build a stronger, more diverse community. I welcome your counsel, and you, to join us in our journey.