Golden Woman Holding Sword and Scales

Enduring Principles of Human Equity: One Company’s Success Story

July 24, 2020
By Stan Sewitch and Dr. Hei-ock Kim

Nine years ago, WD-40 Company implemented a systematic approach to increase diversity in the company. Today, employees thrive in an environment where inclusive practices and fair opportunities to succeed are firmly entrenched in the company culture. Five key elements contribute to this environment: intention, continual self-evaluation, strategic principles, education and vigilance.

As a result, the company has made good progress in diversifying its population throughout the career progressions while openly acknowledging there is much more to be done.

WD-40 Company’s guiding principle is to be a meritocracy. Its leaders have systemetized their commitment to eliminate behaviors that interfere with that principle. This core value is emphasized to every incoming employee, but it is the ongoing reinforcement that has transformed WD-40 Company’s culture. Decisions about hiring, development, promotion and creating experiential opportunities for their people are focused entirely on a person’s competencies, contributions, character and behaviors that are consistent with the company’s six values. The company’s values are embedded in job descriptions, the performance evaluation process and in all commercial decisions. Candidate evaluation methods focus only on behavioral measurement of the person’s character, knowledge, skills and abilities. Non-job-related language, biases and even unthinking behaviors that demean, devalue, exclude, insult or ignore any person for any reason are identified and eliminated. Leaders also proactively model acceptance of the full spectrum of human character, behavior and identity. This includes everything from ethnicity to gender identity to self-expression within the context of a business.

Honest self-evaluation is the cornerstone of effective change. WD-40 Company relies on both quantitative and anecdotal data to reveal inequities and create informed strategies. For example, senior leadership is gender imbalanced, even as it has improved. Due to low turnover and a relatively low hiring rate, it takes time for people to enter the company, develop, and advance into senior roles. Most of the leadership positions are filled internally, so the company has focused on ensuring the people who are invited into the “tribe” represent the future diversity that will be realized once those people have an opportunity to advance in responsibilities. This necessitates playing the long game, which includes conducting gender-based analyses of opportunity and compensation to ensure fair advancement and pay in all job levels. Continual assessment identifies the areas where progress is slower than desired, in order to focus on those challenges.

WD-40 Company’s equality program is the product of careful curation. “We are not prescribing for the world. We know what works in our company, which is a global business with employees in 16 countries, delivering our products to 176 nations”, said Stan Sewitch, VP of global HR. Focusing only on the issues specific to its own organization allows company leaders to design efficiently effective programming and use consistent metrics to measure progress. The strategic principles include being a meritocracy, the idea that everyone who can live the company’s values and contribute to the organization’s collective success belongs to the tribe, and that each individual is accountable for their own future. A key strategy is to constantly communicate that each person is capable of accomplishing what they are willing to work for, and that their future will be determined by their own actions.

Inclusion is actively promoted as a cultural imperative. Employees enjoy educational opportunities that openly challenge them to question and evolve their beliefs and behaviors. Offerings include a course entitled “The Psychology of Inclusion,” based on neuroscience and evolutionary psychology research. In fact, the company houses an internal faculty for their Learning Laboratory, all with advanced degrees in organizational psychology and related fields. With over 20 individual Lab courses across a spectrum of leadership and professional development topics, the company offers access for development to any interested tribe member, no matter what their role in the company is. The company also follows a philosophy of servant leadership. Managers are called “coaches” because, in WD-40 Company’s culture, a leader is first and foremost a teacher who is responsible for helping others succeed in their job and career. As Sewitch summarized, “We invest in people who demonstrate they will invest in themselves.”

Decades of research clearly correlate gender equity with company prosperity, and WD-40 Company’s hard work has paid off. Women hold senior leadership positions now, in roles that were historically male-dominated. The leader of the company’s largest commercial region, the Americas, is a woman. Women are country managers in Canada and China. The company’s board of directors will have four women by the end of the year, aiming for 50% of the board as retirements proceed. Every year, the company conducts a global gender pay equity study that analyzes whether there are statistically significant differences between men and women (there aren’t), and also looks at absolute differences within job families and within salary grades to question whether or not those differences are explainable by job-related factors of competencies, contributions and behavioral demonstration of the company’s values. This annual study is shared with senior leaders and the board of directors.

The company has identified where equal opportunity, and equal representation of the population according to local demographics, need to improve. The diversity challenges in the United States are much different from those in China, Italy or Mexico. One size does not fit everywhere, so customization of diversity objectives and methods is essential. WD-40 Company has also joined the Kim Center’s Gender Equity Collaborative, where members pledge an ongoing commitment to care about gender equity, share resources to support the cause, and dare to make change.

Stan Sewitch is vice president of global organizational development, which is the CHRO role for WD-40 Company.

Dr. Hei-ock Kim is executive director of the Kim Center for Social Balance, which helps employers accelerate gender equity through data-driven action.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *