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Welcome to the Dance

Jan 25, 2021
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Women Leaders on Diversity & Inclusion

The direct selling channel has always represented an opportunity for all—and is even described as the “democratization of entrepreneurship.” But in today’s world of inclusion and diversity, are companies being good stewards of that heritage value? We asked some of today’s top direct selling leaders to share their thoughts on diversity and inclusion efforts at their companies.

Deborah Gibbins, COO, Mary Kay Inc.

Our initiatives were out there as part of our overall ten-year goals from a corporate social responsibility (CSR) perspective. But certainly, they have taken on a new sense of urgency and relevance. Each one of the senior executive leaders at Mary Kay has sent a message out to our employees, being clear about the actions we are taking corporately, and then leader by leader and function by function. So certainly in the last year, it has become a huge part of our broader strategy.

We are fortunate in Mary Kay that it is our heritage. It is our roots. We were founded by a woman who wanted to create opportunity for other women. That was the whole reason why Mary Kay Ash started the company. She had been passed over for promotion after promotion after promotion. She got tired of training men to do a job that she was able to do, and she got frustrated by it. And so it is in our DNA and we are fortunate as a company that it has translated over the years. We are going to be very transparent about our own statistics and where we stand in terms of what employment looks like at Mary Kay at all levels—whether male, female, people of color—and having conversations, being open first on where we stand, and then holding each of our leaders accountable for different objectives.

Even if your statistics are great and your diversity numbers reflect your broader community, there are always things you can be doing. We have been working, for example, with the United Nations on several initiatives. One is a women’s entrepreneurship accelerator. Part of that is empowering women entrepreneurs all around the world. One of the tactics is changing your procurement methodology. While my teams have great diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) numbers, we can always be better. The functions that I lead have great statistics when we roll them up. One area I could do better in is procurement and how do we bring more women and women-owned businesses and people of color-owned businesses into our procurement landscape. That is just one way we are thinking about it in terms of weaving it into our whole CSR strategy.

Jane Edwards Creed, President & CEO, WineShop At Home

I think that, in our channel, we have all developed such strong cultures. Each company is a culture unto itself. We live in a nation that is so divided, one side or the other side. What we really found ourselves guided by is a strong desire to be united without judgment of others. We call ourselves One Wine Nation. That’s one of our taglines—Wine Shop At Home, One Wine Nation—No Red, No Blue. Just great wines that unite us in a shared experience. And that message really seems to be resonating, especially in these times. What we have found is that in the past year we have attracted more people of color and more people from diverse backgrounds, which I find absolutely wonderful and fascinating. And it also really behooves all of us to understand the cultures around us—whether it is the MeToo Movement or the Black Lives Matter Movement—to know that diverse people—race, gender, philosophical—are welcome in our business. It is our job to know what their expectations and aspirations truly are, way beyond politics. We do not ever want to be a political organization, but we want to make sure people’s voices are heard. One of the things I wound up doing was bringing together roundtables with our women of color, with our men of color, so they would know that, yes, indeed, our doors are truly open. Our channel has that great opportunity to be a truly equal opportunity employer in times of great turmoil in our country. Our doors are open, and it feels just great.

Joni Rogers-Kante, Founder & CEO, SeneGence International

One of the many things I love about having a global company is the diversity of people we get to work with daily. We do not make judgments based on what country someone is from, what religion they practice, or their financial status. As a corporate employer, we identify and recruit smart, hard-working people. That is what matters to us. Our offices look like the United Nations at every level, and that includes our chief officers. However, I have fallen short on keeping up that standard within our salesforce, and I had to do some reflection and soul-searching. Our diverse product line provides variety for all skin colors, but once we processed the analysis, our leadership and salesforce did not represent that. I take complete ownership of that. At the time I stopped working in the field, I wanted to build a much-needed diverse leadership within the field. But there were other pressing issues happening. Moving forward into 2021, I am initiating a Diverse Mentorship Program, where women representing diversity across the country can apply to be guided and mentored personally by me and become leaders within our salesforce.

Kirsten Aguilar, Executive Vice President of Global Marketing, SeneGence International

The role of diversity in the sales organization is the responsibility of both company management and the salesforce, but it cannot be forced. I think we need to work every day to turn off our filters and really strive to see every person with the same potential to succeed. But especially as marketers, we must be aware of the perceptions that we are putting out in everything we produce, from products to print collateral to verbiage on your website. Today, we must be more careful than ever before, because the potential to offend or be misinterpreted is greater than ever. And it is a good time to listen more and speak less; but, at the same time, encourage our salesforce to find more effective ways to formulate and share their thoughts so they are heard, especially the negative ones. We need to be open to the criticism, finding that there is always an opportunity to learn and do better. I think every company in our space wants to be open to more diversity, expanding our product lines, seeing people of every age, race, and lifestyle representing our brands.

So figure out little steps every day to get there, whether it is focus groups, discussion panels on diversity, or just picking up the phone and having those open conversations with somebody that maybe had expressed a negative experience with your brand in the past. I know that we are all reflecting on some of the intense moments that have happened, but it is important, and it is healthy.

Julie Cabinaw, Vice President of Marketing, Tastefully Simple

Tastefully Simple is a twenty-five-year-old company in rural Minnesota. Not exactly a hotbed of diversity. We are just a few hours away from Minneapolis, which was such an epicenter for everything that happened in 2020. I think the biggest lesson that we can take away from this is that if a prospective consultant or client cannot see themselves in our brand or our company, it starts with us and extends into the field. All our fields are a makeup of so many different people and experiences and cultures and races. And we can make choices as a company to listen. We can create spaces for conversation. We can choose to make products that have a better appeal from a diversity standpoint.

Tastefully Simple has always offered simple products, two ingredients or less, and some of our choices in flavor palates have come from wanting to be family friendly, but could be spiced up to represent what family means today and what different families’ palates expect. Food is an equalizer. If we cannot use food to connect, then we have not taken advantage of, perhaps, one of the best ways we can connect.

We can also choose to amplify the voices of diverse experiences to improve the overall impact. And that does not mean artificial amplification. There is nothing more transparent than artificially trying to appear to be something you are not. We must be true to who we are, but also choose to amplify those voices where it is authentic, because then it becomes our truth and our story.

I read a quote that says, ‘Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to dance. And belonging is dancing like no one’s watching.’ We must make sure that everybody in our business is welcome and they feel like they belong and that they can be themselves. And it will take every one of us to make this happen."

—Candace Mathews, Chief Reputation Officer, Amway

Ashley Collins, Executive Vice President of Marketing, USANA Health Sciences

It is changing our mind-set a little bit about wanting to be open and not afraid. We worked with an influencer and during this, she was angry with our company, and sent us a message. We got on the phone with her and talked and just said, “I want to hear you. We do care. Tell me.” And really, it turned her around. She is here for life. She believes more in the company. You must be open to learning. And if you are coming from a place of truly wanting to, you must be willing. I think people can see if you are not. Those unconscious biases—we want to let them go.

USANA is almost thirty years old. We are headquartered in Utah, but we are global. So dealing with cultural differences is part of the business, and it is essential for growth. If you think about our model, too, associates typically talk to people who are like them. That is how it started, bringing people in, but it is now about opening up and trying to ask questions, learn more, and be receptive. It is hard. It is fearful. But instead of being afraid, if we are willing to be open and have harder conversations, learn where people are coming from, I think it could change, and for the good.

Candace Matthews, Chief Reputation Officer, Amway

I think there are so many great things that come from having diverse thinking as a part of your organization. The ability to not only bring diversity but to make people feel included is the role of all of us. It is not just the company. It is not just Amway independent business owners. It is all of us. And it is going to take all of us to bring change. I read a quote that says, “Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to dance. And belonging is dancing like no one’s watching.” We must make sure that everybody in our business is welcome, they feel like they belong, and that they can be themselves. It will take every one of us to make this happen.

As for incorporating diversity training into our salesforce development, yes, absolutely. I think it is important for us, and we are doing so in our internal organization. We are also sharing it with our leaders so that they can share it with their organizations as well. I would also go as far as saying that this is something we all as companies must do. I think we, as an industry, need to embrace it and say, “How are we as the DSA going to make sure that we are helping all of our companies and all of the fields in our member organizations?” So it goes beyond our individual distributors. It goes beyond the individual companies. It is our entire industry.

Sheryl Adkins-Green, Chief Marketing Officer, Mary Kay Inc.

When Mary Kay Ash started her company in 1963, her goal was clear: create a company that offered opportunity for women who had been denied it in corporate America. Mary Kay Inc. is committed to empowering women, and we are also committed to embracing various forms of diversity, including racial diversity. From day one, Mary Kay Inc. championed equal opportunity for all women, particularly at a time when women of color did not have the kind of career opportunities that their counterparts did. I agree that the tone at the top makes a difference, but it really is about everyone’s efforts. I also believe that everything speaks. Our commitment is not only the words that we say, but the actions we take and the programs we support. It is how we embrace and celebrate all beauty and diversity within our marketing materials. It is having rewards, recognition, and celebrations that speak to a wide variety of preferences. One of my favorite quotes from Mary Kay Ash: “Picture an invisible sign around each person’s neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ ” So yes, regarding inclusiveness, it’s in our DNA. It’s about valuing and respecting the unique gifts that each individual can bring.

In terms of sales support, we are always looking to make sure that we understand the business needs of the Mary Kay independent salesforce, and to meet them where they are. That encompasses providing them with access to a broad range of digital tools and product education materials to support the success of their business. A key element of inclusiveness is anticipating the needs of our customers—independent beauty consultants—and making sure that everyone has what they need to be successful. And when I say everyone, it is not about catering to individual whims, but rather, understanding success factors and making sure that the playing field is not only level, but it is fair, so that everyone does have the opportunity to achieve their business goals.

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  • January 2021