Contributors

The Face of the Workplace

Jackie Kane brings a deep and earned experience to her leadership of the workforce at Clorox. A native of the Midwest who today works at offices in Oakland, CA, she put herself through Chicago’s DePaul University at night back in the ’70s and now helms the ship of labor for one of America’s truly iconic companies.
 
 
One of Kane’s paramount priorities is diversity. But not—at least on the face of it—out of an airy philosophy. No homilies on the pursuit of progressive social policies attend her articulation of the goal.
 
 
“It’s important for us to understand the evolving demographies that we work in and compete in for products,” says Kane. “This is not just about hiring FTEs like many years ago. It requires thinking through capabilities, whether borrowing, making, or buying those capabilities. Beyond attracting and retaining the right workforce, we need to align the whole operation with the megatrends that are most important to Clorox.”
 
 
Of course, those megatrends include a consumer base with greater environmental concerns than ever before—hence the company’s Green Works product line and its 2007 decision to acquire Burt’s Bees as it expanded into natural personal care products. (Although the latter has received some criticism from purely financial standpoint, the Clorox reputation among environmental leaders whom I’ve talked to is quite robust.)
 
 
That said, Kane is more focused on demographic than environmental megatrends. She endorses “diversity and inclusion” in the context of corporate responsibility initiatives, but her main reason for giving the issue primacy is that she believes it to be a “business imperative.” Asked for a concrete example of diversity’s practical return to the company, she doesn’t even pause.
 
 
“We established employee resource groups,” she says. “Our Asian resource group, for example, added Asian sauces and marinades, and we then acquired Soy Vay [Enterprises, Inc.]. So that’s exactly how we’re blending consumers with attracting, engaging, retaining talent, and incorporating it all into development. Also through our supply chain. We have four percent of spend to women and minority-owned businesses, and we have a strict process for certification for the ownership of those suppliers.”
You have to like a company that buys the product of a Chinese-Jewish partnership. A line called “Soy Vay” is about as Bay Area as it gets.
 
 
But, as the recent debates over immigration—and the Presidential election turnout generally—have demonstrated, the diversification of the populace is hardly restricted to the Bay Area. Nationally, the Ozzie and Harriet market is receding faster than my hairline. (Never mind, that battle was lost a long time ago.) The United States will be a “majority-minority” nation by 2042, according to projections by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2011, more than half of the children born in the United States (under the age of one) came from minority groups.
 
 
What Jackie Kane knows—and what most chief HR officers who track engagement metrics and customer satisfaction and corporate responsibility know—is that the old networks are of decreasingly value. President Obama has declared that he will pursue a Cabinet that looks like the face of the nation. It’s time for CHROs to pursue a workforce that looks like the face of their customer base.
 
 
By Dirk Olin

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