Following the deaths of George Floyd and others, Jean Francois, Head of Strategic Partnerships for Shipwire, an Ingram Micro brand, joined the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at the information technology company. Now a leader of the company’s diversity taskforce, Francois participated in the Company Culture session at ISRI2021, ISRI’s virtual convention, and provided insights into how companies could transform their culture from a DEI perspective. Scrap News spoke with Francois about the DEI work Ingram Micro is championing, and why DEI is best for business.

Can you tell me about your background and your current roles at Ingram Micro?

I’ve been part of Ingram Micro for about seven years. Back in July 2014, I was running an e-commerce store and the founders of Shipwire recruited me from New York to California to be one of their first outbound sales guys. Simultaneously, Ingram Micro was acquiring the company. Over the past seven years, I’ve held a few different roles, starting out as a Sales Executive. Now, I’m the Head of Strategic Partnerships for our Shipwire business unit. I also lead the diversity taskforce for Commerce North America, which is a bigger division within Ingram Micro.

Why did you want to join Ingram Micro’s diversity taskforce?

I got involved last summer because of how I felt following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. Ingram Micro had already been talking to consultants and rolling out a DEI plan. After the events of last summer, Ingram Micro decided to take a different approach to how we communicate with each other at work. The company knew it had to take a look at ways to facilitate a discussion on belonging in the workplace.

The leadership in our business unit tasked me with putting together what we called at the time an anti-racism task force. We wanted to develop an action plan for our business unit to make DEI part of our business goals. Our CEO, Alain Monié, espoused the same viewpoint that diversity is part of our business as a whole, and an infrastructure was put into place. Right now, we’re developing our employee resource group (ERG) and picking emerging leaders to help with our efforts, focusing specifically on training around inclusion, how to hire, etc. We’re putting our money where our mouth is to make an action plan we can stick to, and is part of our business goals.

What are some of the biggest obstacles the company has run into when trying to improve its DEI efforts, and how were they addressed?

We’re a very, very large company. DEI means different things in different areas and regions. Right now, the biggest challenge is putting together the infrastructure to execute DEI best practices. For example, laws are different in different parts of Europe versus the United States, so it’s tricky to deploy a standardized template everywhere because you have to be mindful of what’s going on in various regions.

We also have a lot of associates. In operations alone, Ingram Micro has around 14,000 associates. In total, there are more than 30,000 associates across the globe. The challenge is deploying infrastructure, but we’ve been able to do it. I recently spent 40 hours training on how to be a facilitator to deliver our inclusion training to some of our managers in our operations facilities. We’re going to roll that out very soon. That’s a big win for us, and it’s happening across the globe.

How big is the taskforce, and what’s the process of developing and implementing new initiatives companywide?

The taskforce started with around 150 people. It’s evolved. We’re beginning to see a whole new diversity infrastructure. Now, we have our Together Ingram Micro Multifunctional initiative that includes the ERG deployment, and is led by our HR champions. That’s the main mechanism we’re driving employee engagement, on top of the deployment of training at the line of business level.

We’re lucky to have a very sophisticated HR team that’s deployed a lot of technology around learning and people management. We’ve been able to engage our teams on using those tools to further their education, and deploy our diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging calendar to celebrate our associates in different regions. The cool thing about the taskforce model is we selected regional champions like Mina Izadi, head of partnerships for our recycling team. She’s been phenomenal in getting regional representation of employee diversity, which is important for celebrations and facilitating discussions. We’re trying to replicate that across lines of businesses and geographies.

What advice would you give to organizations looking to strengthen their DEI efforts?

Start with listening sessions. Everybody has a story to tell, and if you don’t take the time to listen, you’ll never know what it is. You can’t have a true employee engagement strategy that doesn’t include listening. It should be the cornerstone of the employee business strategy.

If you don’t have in-house experts on DEI, get outside help if you can. There are tons of resources companies can use to build internal resources to help support their associates. Keep an eye on your operations associates. They often don’t have as much visibility as the people working in corporate.

Why should every organization care about DEI and make it a priority? 

The statistics speak for themselves. Diversity is good for business. McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, conducted several reports showing diverse organizations outperform nondiverse organizations by double digits, in revenue and profitability. You can understand why. The more people you have from different backgrounds contributing to a project, the more diverse experiences you have when tackling a problem. It’s very practical to implement diversity simply because it’s worth it in the rewards.