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This interview took place as part of our Inclusion Works pulse report series, looking at how organizations can harness the momentum created by the Black Lives Matter movement to create lasting change at work. As part of the series, we interviewed leading lights in DEI to understand their approaches and key learnings that anyone can apply in their organization. Because after all, we’re stronger together.

Check out the full pulse report Harnessing the power of the BLM movement to create a lasting culture of inclusion at work.

30 minutes with Ronald J. Adams

Financial services, ~7,500 employees

Northwestern Mutual is ramping up its award-winning inclusion work and giving its leaders the tools they need to listen and action sustainable change

Inclusion is familiar territory for Northwestern Mutual — their yearly recurring awards for Disability and LGBTQ+ inclusion can attest to that. After recent events that have propelled the Blacks Lives Matter movement back into international newsfeeds, there’s no surprise that Northwestern Mutual has gone all in with a company-wide commitment to racial equity.

We spent some time with Vice President Ronald J. Adams to talk about the work that leaders need to do now to respond in a way that is impactful and long-lasting.

Northwestern Mutual’s first response to the re-eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement and the emotional events surrounding it was a simple one. They listened. Their CEO held sessions with the sole focus of listening to what people had to say.

As well as encouraging difficult conversations, Northwestern Mutual has given leaders tools to help them to talk about what is happening and created forums for ongoing communication.

Then they took it up a notch by creating a dedicated task force of a dozen leaders from across the country, with the aim of carving out a focus on racial equity and embedding it into the company’s work.

The task force was created because of the current climate, but this is no quick fix. For Adams, sustaining this work is crucial. There are no quick fixes here. A dozen leaders across the company including Adams are on the new Sustained Action for Racial Equity task force, which is chaired by the CEO.

Leaders will need to communicate the expectation of inclusion. This goes hand in hand with a key area of growth for Northwestern Mutual — the need to adjust to keep struggles top of mind and overriding the conditioning that tells us to hide it.

Adams told us that taking a critical eye to our personal processes is integral to feeding this work into the company’s legacy. He says we should spend less time thinking about the plan and more time planning how to think.

An example he gives is how we respond when someone inevitably makes a mistake. Shame is the worst teacher. We need to put our trust in each other and encourage people to do better. “We will never be perfect, but we must be committed to getting better every day,” Adams tells us.

✅ Embed diversity, inclusion and equity (DI&E) into your infrastructure by involving influential figures from across your business in a company-wide effort, not as a side project.

✅ Respond to mistakes without shame and work through the difficult conversations needed to embolden individuals to do better.

✅ Listen to your employees as soon as something happens to take a temperature check and go from there.

Hive Learning Pulse Reports are a series of bite-sized action-oriented pulse checks reporting on the most pressing challenges inclusion leaders face.

Our goal is to uncover the root cause and playback powerful tactics the world’s most innovative leaders use to put inclusion into action on the ground, every day. Because when we learn together and from each other, we can all make progress faster.

If you have a particular challenge that you’d like to see addressed in our next round of reporting, or you’d like to participate in our latest report, get in touch here.

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