I’ve been with Perdue almost forty years and, throughout that time, when I attend events for agriculture and animal production, I see a lot of people who look like me. That worries me because, as CEO, it is my responsibility to help ensure that our company stays relevant and innovative. To do that, we need to attract, retain – and, most importantly, engage – a workforce that is as diverse as the world outside our four walls.
Signing on to CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is part of recognizing that our company and industry need to do more. I want to help our company continue to move from accepting diversity to celebrating diversity. As CEOs, we have the responsibility to create expectations and accountabilities that go beyond equal opportunity.
We have a workforce of about 20,000 people and I see in our production environments – which have long attracted a diverse workforce – inspiration. I think to the aftermath of the Bosnian War, when both Bosnian and Serbian refugees came to the Shenandoah Valley, many finding work – and later, friendships ― at our Bridgewater, Virginia, facility. If a workplace can turn people who were mortal enemies into coworkers and friends, we have the potential to create a truly inclusive workplace in which everyone is empowered. But, it takes action. Inclusion is not a passive policy.
At our plant in Cromwell, Kentucky, the workforce includes immigrants from close to two dozen countries, with at least 13 different languages. All of the world’s major religions are represented, and a breadth of cultures. Refugees and immigrants work side-by-side with fellow associates who have been in western Kentucky for generations. Diversity is what comes to us. Inclusion is what we make of that diversity.
Our two Delaware plants, both of which have a dozen more different nationalities, each host a Diversity Day celebration. Associates from different countries set up booths where they share their food, dress in clothing to honor their heritage and dance to their music. The events are also open to community leaders, fostering deeper understanding within our communities. This is a grassroots-driven approach to promoting inclusion. Everyone learns about everyone else. By celebrating differences, our associates build unity.
Of course, there is much more to diversity and inclusion than such obvious differences as ethnicity, race and nationality. There is diversity of thought, diversity of experience and diversity of perspective. We need to create an environment where everyone feels welcome regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. We have to do more. That includes increasing the representation of people of color and women in senior management positions, as well as continuing to identify, encourage and promote from within our diverse hourly production workforce.
We have within our employees the foundation to celebrate diversity and foster inclusion. We want to make sure that the talent outside of our walls knows they have an opportunity inside our walls. As leaders who have accepted the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge, it is our responsibility to build upon those foundations. It’s also part of our fiduciary responsibility to build productive workplaces for all.
In this series, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ signatory CEOs share their dedication to acting for workplace diversity and inclusion to make impactful changes that benefit both business and society. Follow along with #CEOAction and learn more at CEOAction.com