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1 October 2020

It’s Time to Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable


Posted by Jeff Simmons | 01-Oct-2020

Now a week post Elanco’s annual Multicultural Summit, there are some overarching themes still on my mind. I’ve heard from a lot of employees throughout the week how impactful this summit focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion was for them and how it deepened or changed their perspective on many things related to DE&I.

While we had 10x more participation than we had last year and the listening and engaging we do together at the summit is important, it’s not nearly as important as what we all CHOOSE TO DO with our experience last week. 

As I engaged in the day with hundreds of team members from all around the globe, I noticed that the more raw the conversation was, the more applicable it became.  For instance, I had prepared to share a story of inclusion that became a key leadership moment in my career. By the time it was my turn to speak, I threw that story away entirely and talked about the time I realized a colleague was hiding elements of their personal life to avoid making people at work uncomfortable.  That is ultimately the moment when I realized Elanco must create a safe harbor and culture that you can be ALL of who you are at work.  

But Elanco and many other employers need to get better about not stopping that momentum prematurely. I’ve noticed most companies take three common steps, then stop. We need to push for what I would call the LAST STEP - making DE&I  part of our personal story. It’s only when you make your learnings an integrated part of your personal lifestyle that change will happen. The first three steps include: 

Step 1: DECLARE IT.  Call out the injustice as wrong. Too many organizations worry about political correctness and miss the big point.  When it’s wrong, call it out. In our company, and in our communities, we will stand for equality. Any global human inequality will not be accepted by Elanco, period! 

Step 2: PROCESS IT.  As a leader, you need to listen, let your teams talk, be real and hear it all.  You are not processing until you hear stories that are hard to tell and you are left in disbelief.  You and the company grow together when you process together. 

Step 3: MEASURE IT.   We need to create public accountabilities around our goals.  Elanco must achieve gender parity. Until the goals are aspirational AND public, change is incremental.  This has been Elanco’s past problem. 

But then so many companies and people stop here.  We move to our next initiative or get back to business.  I believe we must take a fourth step.  The fourth step is the most critical.  

Step 4. PERSONALIZE IT.   We must make it part of our story.  We must integrate into our life. If it does not change how we live, then diversity in our life becomes something that is ‘over there’ and we work on it as needed.  Ultimately, we all need to get to a place where we can move from ally to accomplice – an activist for what’s truly right.

That’s also what will make Elanco the safe harbor for employees that we want it to be – when DE&I becomes integral and people start getting comfortable being uncomfortable. Here lies the issue with getting people to make it personal – no one likes to be uncomfortable – it’s hard. Who wants to consistently be pushed to a place that makes you feel unsure and unconfident?

Well, that is the feeling experienced by women, people of color and/or of the LBGTQ community, sometimes daily.

Elanco still has work to do, but here are a few things we’re working on.

  • Continue progress toward our long-term goal of gender equity moving from 26% female leadership in 2013 to 37% today; ultimately moving to an organization with gender parity; 
  • Naming a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion leader at Elanco;
  • Alter the paid company holiday schedule to include culturally relevant commemorative days like Martin Luther King Jr. Day;
  • Commit to completing and publishing Elanco’s pay equity assessments as well as women/minority representation in recruiting and hiring;
  • Ensure employees have paid time off to vote and make their voices heard in local and national elections.

These efforts are works in progress - I ask you to hold us accountable. Ultimately, we must get there. We have to get comfortable being uncomfortable so everyone can experience bringing their whole self to work, every day. For Elanco employees, I want this summit to be more than just widening perspective and thinking. It starts there, but this needs to be the catalyst for action, the action that unites us all in effort to make everyone comfortable standing up when they see injustice.

Take the fourth step – make it YOUR story, because then it’s OUR story.


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