Celebrating, elevating, and giving greater visibility to executives from marginalised backgrounds is needed now more than ever.
Executives at the world’s largest companies employ millions of people, helping to shape their lives and well-being. Ensuring diverse and inclusive leadership is paramount to tackling some of the most pressing issues of the day, including racial injustice.
Every year, diversity and inclusion membership organisation INvolve, supported by Yahoo Finance UK, publishes the EMpower ethnic minority executives ranking, which celebrates 100 senior people of colour who are leading by example and removing barriers to success for ethnic minority employees.
The executives on the list are all within at least three levels of the chief executive at large companies, or the leaders of smaller organisations.
The winner of the 2020 list is Mauro Gregorio, president of performance materials and coatings at Dow (DOW), a chemicals and materials company with over 50,000 staff.
Gregorio leads one of the most diversified business units at Dow, which is a cultural amalgamation of two large historical mergers.
‘Education is THE accelerator of Inclusion’
Gregorio was born and raised “humbly” in Brazil, he told Yahoo Finance UK, and feels “really fortunate” to be able to promote diversity and inclusion at Dow.
“Dow has had this culture for decades,” he said. “If you look at our boards, they are either mostly female or those from different ethnic background.”
Gregorio initiated an accountability programme where each leader in his team adopted a global site with the aim of fostering inclusion, improving working conditions and raising employee engagement.
With customers spread around the world, Dow’s consumers and suppliers are asking for diversity.
Gregorio always considers business innovations that could help: for example, developing materials for use in skin care that match and enhance a diverse range of skin colours.
He credits the company’s advancement in inclusion to his ethnically diverse and gender balanced leadership team, which he believes helps boost self-confidence across the organisation.
“The moment someone gets an award, has a new business going, are promoted or gets exposure and looks ‘like me’ — it helps build someone’s self confidence somewhere,” he said.
Gregorio felt this keenly when he visited a school in Houston around eight years ago. 95% of the community that attended the school only spoke Spanish. Often students would feel “disconnected” when speakers came in who didn’t look or sound like them. They couldn’t see a path to emulate the speakers’ success.
Gregorio’s parents helped him to realise his potential when he was younger.
“My parents are tremendous role models,” he said. “My mother didn't finish elementary school but she [and my father] always gave me confidence and taught me to invest in self-improvement, education, and that everybody deserves a seat at the table.”
A strong believer that “education is THE accelerator of Inclusion,” Gregorio is active in education programmes for students of colour and those from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Activities range from engaging with African-American universities to providing scholarships to fundraising for community colleges.
He has consistently supported a local community college through the Possible Dream Programme, which provides scholarships for underprivileged but talented youth. Students of colour and those from diverse ethnic backgrounds are highly represented. Gregorio is the honorary chair for the Possible Dream Fund Raising Event.
Gregorio is also a member of the USA-Brazil CEO Council and meets regularly with high-level officials from both governments to discuss actions to improve trade and collaboration in educational programmes, which create bridges for social advancement.
Why collectively we can all do more
Despite a strong track record on diversity and inclusion, Dow doesn’t rest on its laurels.
“We always pause, go back, and look to where to make continuous improvements,” Gregorio said.
There is always more that needs to be done — especially in light of the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many other black people at the hand of police.
“[George Floyd’s death] gave a platform for the black community and all of us from marginalised communities to expose racism and make [the issues] even more visible,” Gregorio said. “We have collectively [as a society] not done enough and we haven’t been strong enough with our advocating.”
Dow recently announced a new strategy in response to the current moment — ACT (Advocacy, Community and Talent).
“To some extent, many people are learning all over again [about racial injustice] but it doesn’t matter where we were, we need to accelerate what we are going to do about it,” Gregorio said. “Sentiment is not enough.”
The company is also running sessions with employees to discuss further actions it could take to promote inclusion. These sessions draw up to 2,000 people.
Action must come now, Gregorio said, “because tomorrow is too late.”
We need to all address gaps in education, speak up, and find opportunities to elevate and give opportunities to those who are marginalised, Gregorio said. Above all, we must unify to bring about change in our own communities, schools, and families.
“We must act in every place we go.”