The day after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, not more than 20 minutes from Ecolab headquarters in St. Paul, I was still just beginning to process what happened.
My phone was on fire with texts from my young adult daughters as we shared feelings of shock, anguish and outrage. But I also had work to do, so I put the incident in a box, so to speak, and planned to deal with it emotionally at the end of the day. That was until a fellow leader asked for my thoughts on how Ecolab should respond.
Respond? It was a jarring moment. I was so focused on how I was going to get through the day that I hadn’t considered how many of my colleagues were also on an emotional rollercoaster, trying to go about “business as usual” but knowing full well that wasn’t really possible.
It was a reminder that what I was compartmentalizing wasn’t just about me or African Americans. It was much bigger than that and demanded open conversation and a purposeful response. That response required allyship, the support from others that I’m grateful to say is a core value at Ecolab and one of the reasons I’ve been with the company for 17 years.
Within two days of my colleague’s question, I was helping to facilitate a meeting of 80 members of our EcoEssence Employee Resource Group (ERG), which I co-founded 15 years ago as a way to advance the recruitment, development and retention of African American associates. The meeting, kicked off by then-COO Christophe Beck, who has since become our CEO, provided an opportunity for associates of all ethnicities to listen and learn, to process, and to advise. It was emotional, personal at times, and absolutely essential.
That meeting served as a catalyst for a company-wide Day of Understanding, a town-hall style event and listening circles focused unapologetically on race in the U.S. The event, attended by more than 4,500 people, was the first in a series meant to provide a forum for candid conversations about challenging topics and develop real strategies—collectively—to address critical DE&I issues both internally and externally.
Having this dialogue isn’t easy, but that’s the point. We are at our best when we can be our authentic selves, when we are able to break down barriers and use our diverse experiences and perspectives as a force for greater good. At Ecolab, we have a solid framework and mechanisms in place to make it happen.
The EcoEssence group I’m proud to have co-founded was the first of 10 ERGs we have in place today, representing cultures and backgrounds from around the world with nearly 5,000 members. Our ERGs are just one piece of our broad, multi-faceted commitment to DE&I, which is championed by our leadership and incorporated into our DNA. Christophe, for example, has long been a leader of the EcoEssence group and has chosen to remain in that role as CEO while also supporting bolder DE&I efforts. Our Executive Diversity and Inclusion Council is leading that charge, pledging to provide more opportunities for real conversations about race, increase learning opportunities for leaders around inclusion, and ensure our partnerships align with our values.
Christophe told me recently that he hopes we remember 2020 as a turning point, for our company and the world. For all we have accomplished to this point, I agree. This is no time to be complacent, but rather a time to recognize the need for urgent action and accelerate our initiatives.
We don’t have all the answers and we will continue to face challenges—I don’t doubt that there will be hard days ahead. But we’ll face them together.
This article first appeared in Savoy Magazine. Click here to read the article on Savoy's website.