As a global greeting card company that sells its products in more than 100 countries around the world, Hallmark has the potential to make a huge impact on how our society and culture experiences, embraces and honors diversity. I was excited then, to catch up with Sabrina Wiewel, Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer for Hallmark Greetings and a corporate officer at Hallmark Cards, Inc., to discuss her views on diversity and how she’s helping shape both the culture within Hallmark, and the messages they spread throughout the world. (Interestingly, I was fascinated to learn that Hallmark was founded more than a century ago by a teenage entrepreneur with a couple of shoeboxes of postcards under his arm and a huge vision.)
Wiewel is responsible for managing the distribution of Hallmark products to consumers through a network of 40,000 retail stores in the United States and Canada and through digital solutions. She oversees more than 11,000 field-based employees who service Hallmark customer accounts across the U.S. and Canada.
Sabrina shares below her take on the critical need for embracing and supporting diversity, at work and in the world.
Kathy Caprino: Sabrina, how has your ancestral background shaped your views on diversity?
Sabrina Wiewel: I am an Asian American – specifically Japanese American – woman. My early childhood completely shaped my views about the importance of embracing our differences. My mother, who lived in Nagasaki, Japan, witnessed as the atomic bomb was dropped there in 1945. She and my father, an American, met while he was stationed in Japan for the U.S. Navy. For obvious reasons, the last thing either family wanted was for my mother and father to be together. Those biases persisted during my childhood, to the point where I could not play with certain children. As a result, I grew up not quite fitting into the Japanese or American cultures. Those experiences absolutely shaped the passion I have for acceptance, diversity and inclusion today.
Fortunately, my passion has an outlet at Hallmark where I have the privilege of serving as chair of Hallmark’s Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Council (CDIC) and as executive sponsor for the Asian-American Resource Community at Hallmark (AARCH).
Caprino: What is paramount for you and Hallmark about fostering diversity?
Wiewel: Hallmark’s diversity and inclusion efforts are primarily rooted in:
- Creating a workplace that embraces diversity and inclusion, and empowers employees from all backgrounds to feel safe, respected, understood and able to bring their best work to our business.
- Building a workforce that will attract, develop and retain diverse, skilled, innovative and productive employees.
- Gaining credibility in ethnic and cultural communities so we can continue to achieve brand and product loyalty, and enhance the mosaic of our workforce.
Caprino: Please talk a bit about Hallmark’s leadership and diversity efforts as they impact its business units.
Wiewel: Diversity and inclusion are integrated into all areas of our culture at Hallmark, thanks to the charter set by our founders, the Hall family, and carried through by our present-day leaders Don Hall, CEO, and Dave Hall, President.
Leaders across Hallmark seek diversity during the hiring process. Product development, marketing, and creative prioritize it when producing new products. HR fosters it by creating a work environment in which employees unique qualities are valued. It’s truly a factor and a priority in everything we do at Hallmark.
Caprino: What does Hallmark do differently from other greeting card and entertainment businesses around equality, diversity, fostering women’s growth, the LGBT community, etc?
Wiewel: Hallmark has declared diversity and inclusion a corporate priority for the organization; our leadership believes it to be a competitive advantage. To give you a couple of examples of how this comes to life:
- Hallmark’s Corporate Diversity & Inclusion Council (CDIC) is comprised of cross-functional company leaders charged with re-envisioning how Hallmarkers can advance diversity and inclusion.
- Hallmark has an active women’s group that enables mentoring and sponsoring of women within the company. In fact, across Hallmark, nearly half of the senior and middle managers are female, a figure that’s above average for Fortune 500 companies.
- At its headquarters, Hallmark has an entire conference space dedicated to diversity and inclusion. The space was designed by diverse Hallmarkers and serves as both a functional meeting space as well as a showcase for diverse product, awards and cultural artwork.
- Hallmark has an active and diverse employee resource group community. These groups not only create a sense of community for the members, but they also influence products.
- Hallmark received a perfect 100% score on the 2016 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a national benchmarking survey and report on corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality.
- Hallmark actively participates in national partnerships like the Network of Executive Women and Management for Leadership Tomorrow to develop and nurture a diverse talent pipeline.
- Hallmark’s long-standing supplier diversity initiative seeks minority, women, LGBT and veteran-owned businesses for suppliers and vendors.
Caprino: Growing up receiving judgments and negative comments about being female, Asian and small-framed, how did those experiences shape what gives your life and leadership meaning and purpose today?
Wiewel: Those experiences have shaped my life because I have a special empathy for people’s unique qualities. I believe that perspective makes me a better wife, mother, daughter and friend.
And those experiences have shaped my leadership because they’ve led me to truly embrace the idea that there is nothing more foundational for each of us as humans than to be accepted for who we are and what we bring to our personal and professional relationships. I so value the diversity of the people in my organization – not just diversity in terms of gender, sexuality or ethnicity, but also diversity of thought. I work to foster a collaborative and inclusive environment in which every perspective matters; it’s one of the most important things I can do as a leader.
Caprino: Sabrina, we are all aware that many diversity leaders and diversity initiatives today fail to move the needle. What are five critical strategies can you offer to other diversity-focused leaders?
Wiewel: Here are my top five recommended strategies:
If you are trying to reach diverse consumers, talk to them
If you are creating a product or service that is targeted to a diverse segment of the population, get feedback from that segment early on in the process. It’s good for the product or service and good for your employees.
Last year I led a project to create a customized greeting card assortment for a store in a very LGBT-centric neighborhood. When I sat down with the product teams to discuss the best strategy, I realized that there was no representation from the LGBT community in the room. There’s no way we could speak to the unique needs of that population without representation from that population, so we engaged employees from our LGBT employee resource group to help lead the project team. The resulting work was a success because it was informed by a more relevant and authentic perspective, and the employees felt valued because their experiences and perspectives directly impacted our products.
Be a visible advocate for your company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives
At a minimum, understand and the objectives of your company’s diversity and inclusion work. Additionally, attend diversity and inclusion events, volunteer to lead diversity organizations, become a diversity ally, and actively seek out diversity in thought – something as simple as inviting a millennial employee to provide perspectives in a meeting with senior executives can be incredibly beneficial.
Through my work as chair of Hallmark’s Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Council (CDIC), executive sponsor for the Asian-American Resource Community at Hallmark (AARCH), and participation in panel discussions and diversity and inclusion strategies and activities, employees trust that I am not just talking-the-talk, I am taking a very active role in advancing diversity and inclusion at Hallmark and in the community; it’s part of my job at the company.
Challenge your managers and yourself to seek out diverse candidates for employment and mentoring opportunities
Look at the demographics of your workforce compared to societal demographics and then ask your hiring managers (and yourself) if they are doing enough to actively recruit diverse candidates for their teams. You owe it to your organization to help build a workforce comprised of employees who represent unique backgrounds, perspectives and experiences.
In addition to seeking diverse candidates for your teams, actively seek opportunities to mentor and sponsor diverse employees, using your professional capital to advocate for their development and advancement in the workplace. And equally as important, look for opportunities to be reversed-mentored by diverse employees.
Enable diversity and inclusion efforts to occur organically and authentically
Diversity and inclusion efforts should not be confined to specific programs and practices. Often, it’s most effective when it happens naturally.
For example, days after the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., several employees quickly and quietly organized a vigil at Hallmark headquarters. There was no formality to it; rather a simple email was sent throughout the building inviting employees to come together for a few minutes of remembrance and support. What transpired was a moving gathering of employees and company leaders from all backgrounds, who, just for a few minutes, stepped away from their desks to lean on one another in a time of tragedy.
I believe that if we had formally announced the vigil, or overproduced it, it would not have had nearly the same impact. Because it essentially happened organically, it felt honest and real and made a big impact.
Expect the conversation to be ongoing
You should never be fully satisfied with your diversity and inclusion journey. As the world continuously changes and evolves, so should your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Pay close attention to what’s going on in society, and be mindful of the potential impact on your products, services and workforce, then as frequently as needed, adjust your diversity and inclusion focus and objectives.
Read the original article on Forbes.