By Priscilla Tuan, Senior Director – Marketing
I bite into a warm chocolate chip cookie while checking in at the Doubletree Chicago – site of Diversity MBA’s 9th Annual Diversity Leadership Conference and Awards. As I head towards the elevator, the desk clerk hands me a second warm cookie and an extra key. This is a good beginning.
During the event four of us from Clorox received the Top 100 Under 50 Executive and Emerging Leaders Awards: David Cardona, Suzanne Henricksen, Shaunte Mears-Watkins and me. Four Clorox leaders nominated. Four Clorox leaders awarded. Batting a thousand.
Being somewhat of a skeptic, during dinner I ask how awards are vetted: Two separate committees independently review more than 300 nominations agnostic to the other committee. Awards recognize leadership excellence, education and civic achievement. Conclusion: An objective, rigorous selection process.
On the walk back from dinner I ask myself a second, harder question: Why should I be skeptical that four people from Clorox could rank in the top 100 in the country in the same year? Conclusion: The answer lies at the heart of why diversity and inclusion matters. It could be reason and logic. It could be a tinge of imposter syndrome. Perhaps a mix of both.
Clorox is ranked No. 3 by Diversity MBA Magazine’s Best Places for Women and Diverse Managers. When I recruit newly minted MBAs to Clorox, my answer to why I came to Clorox is the same as why I’ve stayed 1) Professional challenge and personal growth (I now lead Brand for a billion dollar business), 2) Clorox’s deep commitment to the community (I recently became a Clorox Foundation Trustee) and 3) the people (my conviction deepens each year).
And yet, while on one hand I’m honored by the award, on the other hand, it’s a reminder of the questions and complexity that people who look or feel different in the workplace face — on top of their day job. For women, people of color and LGBT friends, perhaps you can relate.
I know when I walk into a room most people see me as a woman and an Asian-American first. First impressions may include adjectives like: soft, inscrutable, unusual leader, and then may evolve to surprisingly strong, brave and insightful. Perception is reality. This is a truth. So where does that put diverse leaders?
As an Asian American, I am a mesh of cultures. I believe in hard work, that good work should speak for itself and I tend to work issues behind the scenes to “save face” for my co-workers. I’m also inventive with fresh ideas, feel compelled to speak my mind and have an infectious passion for my brands and business. Sometimes these traits are valued and celebrated in a Fortune 500 environment. Sometimes they are misunderstood or misattributed. Sometimes there is “unconscious bias” like the well-meaning person who asks me “What do your people eat at Thanksgiving?” and I feel challenged to bring my whole self to work. And sometimes you and your very worthy colleagues get a nice award and you graciously accept over a fancy dinner.
There is a time coming when we can all bring our whole selves to work every day. To get there requires personal courage and vulnerability on all of our parts. It requires organizational intention to create a work environment that isn’t just diverse but inclusive. This is how we will harness the power of our collective potential. My six-year old daughter, Amaya, is fifth generation Asian American. I look at her and commit to forging new ground for this generation and the next.
Clorox, this is a good beginning. Now, we have serious and important work to do. Next year let’s make Clorox No. 1.