Clorox CEO Benno Dorer on Fostering a Culture of Inclusion

By Benno Dorer

At Clorox, we’re passionate about innovation in every aspect of our business, and that includes our workplace culture.

That’s why we’re expanding our definition of diversity to include other dimensions like thinking styles, perspectives and experiences. We’re also putting a stronger focus on inclusion.

Clorox CEO Benno Dorer believes that for any company, differences are not something to divide people. Rather, they’re necessary to succeed in today’s marketplace.

Benno recently signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge. Here, he shares his thoughts on how — and why — Clorox is evolving its inclusion and diversity strategy.

Clorox CEO Benno Dorer Miriam Lewis, Clorox Inclusion & Diversity principal consultant, discussed why inclusion is a strategic priority for Clorox at a recent gathering of employees.

Q: What is your vision for Inclusion and Diversity at Clorox?

Benno: First of all, we’ve come a long way. I just reviewed our most recent representation metrics. We set really aggressive targets, and we’re meeting them.

I have eight direct reports, and five of them are women. That’s unusual in today’s world. At the board level, we are far ahead of our peer group on gender and minority representation.

We’ve received tremendous recognition of our progress in this area: a 100 percent rating on the Corporate Equality Index naming Clorox a great place to work for the LGBT community. We’re one of top 100 corporate citizens per Corporate Responsibility magazine. Diversity MBA magazine ranked us No. 7 on its list of the 50 best companies for women and diverse managers to work. And the list goes on. So our foundation is strong.

Clorox sees diversity as a business strength.

While we are doing pretty well in diversity and want to continue making progress, the big focus for Clorox this year will be on inclusion.

I want to make sure our culture isn’t conformist. I don’t want to talk about people needing to be a certain “fit” because that implies we want to hire people who are just like us. We do want certain capabilities, passion and smarts — of course we do, but I don’t have any preconceived idea of what that looks like. At Clorox, we want to attract top people with truly different ways of working and thinking.

Q: How does Inclusion & Diversity support a company’s business objectives?

Benno:  In order to have good debate and make the best decisions, you’ve got to have a diverse group of people in the room. If everyone thinks the same way, you’re not going to get a lot of disagreement.

Having diversity of thought, styles and backgrounds better connects companies with their diverse consumers. We can make better business decisions. An important part of success is stretching beyond what’s familiar or comfortable or safe to get to better business decisions, and inclusion and diversity are key enablers of that.

Q: What are some ways we can all be more inclusive, every day?

Benno: Here are three things.

  1. Everybody’s motivation at work is pretty different. So do you really understand the person working next to you, what motivates or makes her or him happy? Start there. Let’s first understand each other as people. When I say Clorox is a people company, that’s part of what I mean — that we take time to understand who’s around us and how to empower them as individuals.
  2. Second, focus on what needs to be done by when and less on how. That means if you’re a manager, set the direction of what we’re trying to accomplish and in what timeframe, but don’t tell people how to do it. That gives people freedom to experiment and to take ownership of the work.
  3. I recently learned of something really interesting in our Product Supply organization called “Plus One.” We all work in teams, and most teams lack a certain thinking style or background or experience that could make the team stronger. Product Supply leaders are looking at whether there’s an opportunity for a “plus one” on each leadership team, someone to enhance the diversity and capabilities of the group. I love this concept because it’s so simple and can apply to any project team.

Q: You are one of 150 CEOs from across the globe who signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. How can Clorox continue to cultivate a workplace that supports open dialogue on complex, sometimes difficult, topics and makes it really clear we are committed to inclusion and diversity?

Benno: The first thing is to make it strategic. Many companies call diversity and inclusion a priority; it’s something they do. But is it part of their corporate strategy, seen as contributing to business outcomes?

The Clorox people strategy is to engage employees as business owners. Every year, we identify strategic priorities where we want to make significant progress. This year, we’re focusing on inclusion and fostering a bolder culture.

Hopefully, making inclusion a strategic priority will spark more conversations like this one. The work we’re putting into evolving our culture so that being bold is embedded in our day-to-day thinking, planning and execution is critical. If everybody feels free to be themselves rather than trying to “fit” some supposed norm, if we value our differences rather than seek people who are the same, we empower people to be bold and unlock bigger or better ideas.

It starts at the top, but it requires everybody’s commitment to act like owners of a company and be a little more courageous, bold and inclusive.