Diversity and Inclusion Is Essential to Innovation and Fosters Stronger Business Outcomes
Retired Army Lieutenant General Robert S. (Bob) Ferrell was recently named Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I).
Retired Army Lieutenant General Robert S. (Bob) Ferrell serves as Vice President of Public Sector Strategy at World Wide Technology (WWT), a position he has held since September 2017. In September 2020, he was also named Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I).
D&I is a concept that should be embraced company wide. It is everyone’s responsibility in the company to do what they can to foster diversity and inclusion. Our leadership is enthusiastically embracing D&I training to empower them to create open dialogue among their teams.
Bob recently spoke at length about what it means to be a D&I Leader and about WWT’s commitment to D&I initiatives.
What does it mean to be a Diversity and Inclusion Leader?
FERRELL: First, I think being a good diversity and inclusion leader is built on several important skills and traits. In many cases, these are the same skills we want to see in leaders across our organization, regardless of the position they are in.
For example, it means:
- The ability to listen. Listening is at the forefront of our diversity and inclusion effort.
- It means the ability to respect, appreciate and truly understand the perspective of other team members.
- It means seeing the unique value in every individual.
- It means having a strong commitment and belief in the idea that diversity truly is a strength.
- It means viewing diversity and inclusion as absolutely vital to the growth of World Wide Technology and our team members.
- It means connecting diversity and inclusion to the broader business and strategic goals of WWT.
I believe it also means being humble and understanding that achieving diversity and inclusion goals is a journey — a journey that we are all on together. On a more detailed level, being a D&I leader means looking at everything we do, from our highest-level strategies to our everyday business practices, to ensure WWT lives and breathes a commitment to being a diverse, inclusive, open, welcoming and professional organization for our workforce. Ultimately, we want WWT to remain a “Great Place to Work for ALL” and to be a premier example to our communities and throughout the global business environment we operate in.
Could you tell us what this extended role means to you?
FERRELL: Of course, it is truly an honor to serve as VP of D&I for WWT. It’s extremely important because I know that developing and sustaining a diverse and inclusive culture will impact every individual in WWT, along with all our partners and customers, and the communities we live in and serve.
I believe WWT has a tremendous opportunity to be a true global leader in diversity and inclusion and to set the standard for our industry. We’re moving forward from an already strong starting place with a corporate culture that is recognized for its strength and commitment to D&I.
For me personally, it is a tremendous opportunity to lead an effort of this magnitude. I look forward to collaborating with our executives, leaders and team members at every level to ensure WWT remains a global leader when it comes to D&I initiatives. This is also another way to serve our WWT team. I hope down the road, other organizations, both public and private sector, look at WWT as an example of the kind of company that ‘Gets it,’ the kind of company that ‘Does it right’ when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
What has WWT done to make a concerted effort or commitment to Diversity and Inclusion?
FERRELL: I am proud to say that WWT is ALREADY a diversity and inclusion leader. It is rooted in our beginnings. Our company was founded on diversity by leaders from different backgrounds and experiences who built a strong foundation from which the company has grown.
We have a long-standing commitment and record of success when it comes to engaging with our communities and key stakeholders that share our diversity and inclusion goals. WWT continues to be at the forefront of diversity across the IT industry. The leadership within WWT is very passionate about this issue and has taken ownership of D&I.
WWT wants to continue to bring in the most talented people in the industry and at the same time be intentional in ensuring we consider diversity at every level of our recruiting, development and mentoring efforts. We are advancing our D&I efforts through 8 key building blocks centered around listening, learning and taking action.
Company executives want to ensure that WWT can take advantage of a multitude of perspectives. We want to put a variety of world views into one room, because we believe we will come out the other side with better ideas. Our D&I program should enhance creativity, increase productivity and improve performance. We want to encourage and support the kind of open discussion that reinforces WWT as a leader in diversity and inclusion — and at the same time, remain focused on moving our business forward.
What is on the horizon for WWT’s Diversity and Inclusion Program?
FERRELL: We are establishing a comprehensive D&I effort comprised of initiatives across the WWT enterprise that are tied to our three pillars and eight initiatives.
The three pillars are: Workforce, Business Impact and Community Outreach.
Our eight initiatives are: Listening Tours, Storytelling, Tracking Diversity Statistics, Employee Resource Groups, D&I IML Training Module, Community Outreach, a Dedicated D&I Leader and Mental Wellness.
We have already embarked on the listening tour of our WWT enterprise to better learn what the issues are — and to hear recommendations from our team. We are establishing Employee-Led Resource Groups to support WWT’s commitment and vision for diversity and inclusion. There are seven groups. Each group is focused on a traditionally underrepresented community and is sponsored by a member of WWT’s Executive Leadership team — which ensures senior-leader buy-in and commitment from the beginning.
I want to emphasize that these resource groups are truly inclusive. Everyone is welcome to join any group. They are NOT exclusive. These groups are places where our team members are welcome to share ideas, share challenges and make recommendations. We want our resource groups to take ownership of their areas and to truly make an impact company-wide.
We are also developing a three-to-five-year strategic plan to drive our actions to make what is already a great culture even better. The strategic plan will include goals for each of our three pillars — with supporting strategies to accomplish those goals. It will also include metrics to assess our progress towards achieving the goals.
We do not expect to fix everything overnight, this is a marathon not a sprint. We want our efforts to be long lasting, long-term. And we want our efforts to be meaningful and impactful, not bureaucratic or complex.
How has WWT’s foundational history impacted its commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility and to Diversity and Inclusion?
FERRELL: World Wide Technology’s culture is what really attracted me to the company. It reminded me a lot of the military and its focus on people. My son worked for WWT before I did. As I was making my decision, I asked him what he thought about the company. He wrote me a two-page letter about leadership’s focus on its people, customers and community. My decision was easy after hearing that response from a 25-year old!
I can tell you that from the beginning, WWT has been at the forefront of diversity across the IT industry with a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility. Corporate Social Responsibility and Diversity & Inclusion is embedded in the DNA of WWT and is incorporated into our Core Values.
Our D&I program embraces the business and social issues that are important to our employees, customers and partners and extends to the support of our surrounding communities as well. I am proud that our leadership team has a strong sense of service and is committed to the saying “to whom much is given, much is required.”
WWT’s past commitment and visibility on this issue gives us a unique kind of credibility on issues of diversity and inclusion and corporate social responsibility. Our leadership continues to position WWT to take a leading role in this effort — and in the global IT community.
What makes WWT’s Supplier Diversity Program such a critical component of the company’s success?
FERRELL: We want WWT to be as diverse and inclusive as the customers we serve and the global communities we are a part of. We believe that companies that combine outstanding supplier diversity initiatives with other best-in-class diversity and inclusion programs will maintain a competitive advantage. As the largest minority-owned, technology company in the U.S., WWT has always focused on supporting other small and minority owned businesses. Making a positive social and business impact requires a commitment to advance business opportunities and partnerships through our Supplier Diversity Program. This program provides us an opportunity to mentor other small and minority owned businesses while helping them develop good foundational business advantages through innovation and technology.
You also lead WWT’s internal Veterans group. Could you talk a little about what that group is doing or planning in consideration of Diversity and Inclusion?
FERRELL: We are rightly proud of the tremendous culture, supportive environment and inclusive workforce we have at WWT. The Military Veterans who fill our workforce are important contributors to our unique culture and to our global mission. They make great teammates, effective leaders and have a phenomenal work ethic. They bring the dedication, discipline and a ‘can-do’ attitude that has been honed over years in uniform to their mission with WWT every day.
With the full support of WWT’s leadership, our Veteran’s Committee will guide us as we work to provide opportunities for our Veterans and to support them throughout our organization. Our goals focus on hiring, training, retaining and providing leadership opportunities for our Veterans. We are proud to partner with three outstanding national organizations: Wreaths Across America, Hiring our Heroes and NPower. To all our Veterans, I would like to thank you for your service in uniform and for your continued contributions to WWT.
WWT’s Employee Storytelling Program is particularly compelling, as everybody has a story to tell. Could you elaborate on how this program helps Diversity and Inclusion within WWT?
FERRELL: People are natural storytellers and their stories are powerful. Stories are how we inspire each other. Stories are how we teach each other. Stories are how we learn from each other. At WWT, it is no different. Many of our team members have compelling stories to tell as well — stories about their personal experiences with racial or social injustice, stories about how they have overcome personal challenges. We want to listen to our team members’ stories, learn from them and bring people together by valuing the unique stories and backgrounds of each and every member of our WWT family.