Long before Uber or AirBnB, Amway was creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to build their own businesses by selling nutritional and home care products. Amway Business Owners (ABOs) and the staff that support them are an incredibly diverse group scattered across the globe. We’ve had the privilege of partnering with Amway to ensure their diversity and global presence is a driver of success. I recently sat down with Lynnette Collins, Amway’s key leader on all things related to diversity, to talk about how Amway uses cultural intelligence (CQ) and unconscious bias as part of their strategy for growth.
What’s your role at Amway?
I lead the team responsible for developing practices that enable high performance teams that are diverse, inclusive and focused on ABO success. That includes things like Amway University, Inclusive Leadership programs, Inclusion Networks, Gender Partnership Series, Diversity & Inclusion Champions and much more. It’s a dream job for me.
You joined Amway 20 years ago. How has the company changed since then?
From a vision and values standpoint, we have remained the same. We have an unrelenting belief in people and we want to help others fulfill their potential.
From a strategy standpoint, we continue to quickly evolve and change to meet the needs of our ABOs, their customers and the communities we serve. We are also much more global in the way we work today than when I started. Back then, each affiliate did what was best for their own market. Today, each market has to consider the impact of decisions on not only its own market, but on the entire enterprise across the world. This means we have to have to think, behave and work very differently than we did 20 years ago.
How does Amway approach diversity and inclusion (D&I) and how is it tied to your strategic vision and mission?
There are two overarching reasons for D&I at Amway – one is long term, the other is shorter term.
The long-term focus is weaving diversity and inclusion into the fabric of our entire Amway culture. Every one of our values has a connection to diversity, inclusion, or both. We can’t help people fulfill their potential unless we address their diverse needs. And the more they are included in the Amway family, the more that drives the potential for all of us. So, it’s really important that we think about diversity and inclusion as a lever to help us drive the culture we aspire to at Amway.
The shorter-term focus is considering the D&I implications for any strategy we pursue. It starts with hiring, developing, and promoting a rich, diverse pipeline of talent. We especially care about having diversity in key decision making roles, because we believe diverse perspectives bring more innovative solutions to support ABO success. And the more our leadership reflects the diversity of our ABOs, the more likely we will be a fast, agile organization to meet the needs of them and their customers.
What forms of diversity are you addressing most across Amway?
All dimensions of diversity are important to us, but we are currently focused on four that are most directly relevant to ABOs and our customer base: gender; race and ethnicity, generations, and workstyle.
Over 70% of our ABO businesses are run solely by or in partnership with women. We operate in over 80 countries and territories around the world. The millennial population will quickly become the largest population in the workforce. And as a sales organization, we are drawn to extroverts – but know we may be missing out on talent who would describe themselves as being more introverted. This is why we prioritized these four dimensions of diversity.
However, one thing I’ve noticed is that some groups can feel left out if our application of D&I doesn’t directly affect them. So we also discuss the concept of cultural identity, recognizing that we all have different elements that make up who we are. This has helped everyone become more eager to get engaged in the dialogue and actions to create a more inclusive environment for everyone.
You’re based in a small Midwest city in the U.S. yet 90% of your business is global. How does that influence the way you approach D&I?
When we first started, my global colleagues would say, “Diversity is important for you in the U.S., but it doesn’t apply to us”. I believe this was because people were defining diversity as simply race or ethnicity.
Many of our markets don’t experience racial or ethnic differences in the way we do. The experience of under-represented ethnicities in Brazil or China is very different from here in the U.S. As we started to define diversity more broadly, it became more apparent to my colleagues that diversity was relevant to everyone. And it really resonated globally when we began to define inclusive leadership and talk about specific ways to address the blind spots that come from unconscious bias and using CQ to work more effectively in any cultural context.
As you know, last year, we certified 29 facilitators (21 outside of the US) to implement our Foundations of Inclusive Leadership workshop, an interactive session for leaders that addresses unconscious bias and building cultural intelligence. Our colleagues from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia embraced it. Our goal was to have every leader of people in the U.S. complete the inclusive leadership program the first year and leaders globally to do so in years two and three. Within weeks of being certified, teams across the world were holding sessions with top executive leadership teams and making plans to roll out more broadly in 2017. It’s been very exciting to be a part of the momentum and we are thankful for the partnership with the Cultural Intelligence Center. We couldn’t have done it without you!
“Cultural Intelligence” was an optional workshop at Amway for quite a while. But then you decided it needed to become a non-negotiable, leadership program. How and why?
We’re incredibly diverse across Amway. But we believe diversity without inclusion doesn’t work. To be an effective leader at Amway, you must be able to work across any cultural context to enable employees to perform at their highest potential. And, you don’t have to work across geographies to work across different cultural contexts! Finance has a different culture than HR, who has a different culture than Marketing, who has a different culture than R&D or Manufacturing – yet, we all need to work together to achieve business results. That’s where CQ comes in. It allows our leaders to work effectively, whatever the “cultural” difference. So this had to be more than an optional offering.
As a result, we knew that we had to start with our leaders. They had to understand the realities of unconscious bias, know how to interrupt and manage their biases, and develop the skills (CQ) in themselves and others to work across the never-ending differences we encounter all day long at Amway. And if we want to be innovative and move quickly to find the best solutions for our ABOs and customers, we need diverse talent that feels valued for their uniqueness as well as a sense of belonging within the team and organization. That will only happen when we ensure that all of our leaders are equipped to lead with cultural intelligence.
What’s a misperception people consistently make of you?
I can’t escape being on the receiving end of unconscious biases people may have about me.
Personal – I have two bi-racial children and when people see me alone with them they assume either they are adopted or that they have different fathers or that I wasn’t married to their father. All untrue.
Professional – I am an introvert and someone who is very attuned to others’ feelings and emotions. Because of this, it doesn’t take much for me to cry. Because I’m very expressive, sometimes people interpret that as weakness. Also untrue. For people who know me, they know I’m one tough lady – not afraid to take on a challenge, not afraid to have an unpopular opinion, not afraid to take risk.
I agree Lynnette. You’re one tough leader who cares ferociously for people, no matter what their background and story. Is there anything else you would like to share before we wrap this up?
We want to take full advantage of the various perspectives that come from having such a rich network across the Amway family. Developing inclusive leadership goes beyond a workshop. We have incorporated tools to help interrupt unconscious bias in recruiting, talent identification performance evaluation and how rewards are determined. This is one way to ensure the conversation is continuous and practices are implemented.
In just over a year, we have seen the shift in conversation amongst our leaders where they are calling out bias with respect and confidence, and its positively impacting the decisions made around talent. Our senior executives have taken a prominent and visible role in these discussions and have been willing to be vulnerable, share where they are developing and ask other leaders to join them on this journey as we take bold action for change. We are getting into some tough conversations around gender, race and ethnicity, and we are all better for it.
For 2017, we are continuing to build on inclusive leader capabilities, but are also bringing employees into the conversation to focus on inclusive culture. We are excited about the progress we have made and recognize we have a way to go to fully arrive to our aspiration, but we are confident we will get there!
Director, Talent Development Enablers,
Diversity & Inclusion