An Interview with Francine Small CDP Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion Cook, Inc.
by REGINA KLAESGES, PsyD
Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry magazine named Cook the 2006 Medical Device Manufacturer of the Year. Now the trailblazing company is seriously committed to venturing boldly into new territory—creating a model for a culturally inclusive organization.The first step was to ask Francine Small to lead the initiative.
- Cultural Diversity Professional Certification
- Developed the company wide diversity initiative
- Developed the diversity & inclusion steering committee
- Developed the diversity affinity group team
- Developed a diversity & inclusion toolkit
- Provides support for the leadership and human resource department
PHILOSOPHY: Inclusion is not a buzz word, but a way of doing business.The impact of the diversity initiative will be shown in metric data that demonstrate how diversity creates a positive impact on the bottom line.
We can learn some important lessons about high impact decision making from Cook Group in the early stages of its diversity initiative. While some diversity initiatives suffer from a lack of leadership commitment, this has not been a problem for Cook. President Kem Hawkins recognized from the start that diversity can be a source of innovation, a competitive advantage, and an extension of the company’s commitment to care for the community. Cook Group Inc., the world’s largest privately held group of medical device manufacturing companies, built its reputation as a company that takes care of its employees, customers, and the community. Its success is fueled by a commitment to provide the highest quality products, excellent working relations with the physicians that use Cook products, and a company wide “patients first” policy.
In 2003, President Hawkins asked Francine Small, a veteran Cook sales force trainer, to lead the diversity initiative. The appointment made her the first African American in a leadership position established within the company. Her professionalism, competence, and work ethic made her an ideal candidate. Hiring from within the organization is a common practice that is used to ensure that the diversity leader will be familiar with the company’s culture and understands the diplomacy needed to manage resistance to change. Francine certainly fits these criteria. Once she was assured that the company was serious about promoting
diversity, she approached the challenge with the same energy and enthusiasm that have made her successful in other roles within the company. “As trailblazers in the medical device field, our challenge is to be first as an inclusive technical company that mirrors the total medical community” says Francine. “Inclusion means that each and every Cook employee can bring her or his total self to the organization in the service of productivity, rather than wearing the mask we believe colleagues and managers want to see.”
Realizing that she needed credentials to meet the demands of her new role and responsibilities, she shopped around and selected Diversity Training University International’s reputable certification program. The program provided her with the tools, techniques, and strategies to lead the Cook diversity initiative. She continues her diversity education by regularly attending workshops, seminars and conferences to hone her skills and stay current as the diversity leader.
Francine’s goal was to develop a diversity and inclusion strategy that everyone would embrace and foster across the four generations of employees and SBUs (Special Business Units). “Acceptance of the diversity program is the basic step to operationalize the strategy, which will bring forth the best technologies for clients—the nucleus of our business.” This is the promise of inclusion, according to Francine. She has begun to integrate her role into the company’s operations by attending leadership meetings and assisting the human resource office. These collaborations show the added value of her diversity expertise in leadership decision-making and the organization’s everyday operations, such as in recruitment and retention.
During the process, Francine is learning about what is needed to address the organization’s barriers to inclusion. Now she is prepared to implement the inclusion strategy throughout the entire organization. A review of existing diversity and inclusion practices among Cook’s competitors was disappointing. She found that their practices ranged from limited to non-existent, making Cook the architect of the first comprehensive medical device industry inclusion initiative in the United States. It became evident that Francine would have to rely on her expertise to develop the strategy.
Using a broad definition of the different identity groups that includes age, SBU, geographical location, race, ethnicity, gender, and ability differences, Francine organized a diversity steering committee that includes a cross section of the various groups. She understood the importance of leadership’s commitment to the initiative, she successfully recruited Cook president Kem Hawkins to serve on the committee. Listening to steering committee enables her to identify the barriers that prevent every employee from being fully productive.
Francine also attracted members of various affinity groups within Cook as resources for the diversity initiative, including historically excluded groups, such as African Americans, as well as Generation X, and Digital generation employees. The group team uses a combination of techniques, including dialog, activities, and surveys to understand the needs of affinity group members working for Cook. The overall goal is to safeguard against employee absenteeism, turnover and low productivity.
The Cook diversity initiative is now supported by Francine’s certified diversity expertise, a diversity steering committee with the company president as a member, a full time associate, Tammy Lawrence, and affinity groups.
Francine hired two reputable diversity experts to make Cook’s business case for diversity and inclusion to the leadership. The speakers helped the Cook leadership recognize that a good diversity initiative is about creating a workplace in which everyone feels included and committed—rather than simply increasing the numbers of historically excluded group employees. Getting the sales force and senior leadership to support the diversity initiative has been a top priority. Francine and her teams have identified internal communications strategies to inform employees about the initiative, it’s importance, and how each employee can contribute to its success.
Francine is assembling her own diversity and inclusion toolkit to utilize in her work. Initially, she and the steering committee members read Mary Loden’s book, Implementing Diversity, to understand what a diversity initiative involves. They read the book together and discussed it chapter by chapter. Francine also purchased The Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Initiative Manual, the Organizational Inclusion Assessment Toolkit, and Managing Diversity e-Coach, among other resources.
As of this writing, a consider number of steering committee and the affinity group members have earned certifications of their own—a major step forward for the initiative. This has resulted in team alignment towards goal clarity, commitment, and implementation strategies.
Other next steps include assessing Cook’s present capacity for inclusion and using the baseline information to identify interventions. Francine will use these metrics to build intelligent programs, prioritize program offerings, and establish best practices that will push Cook to the next level.
Getting everyone in the organization to embrace the changes needed to fully realize the Cook diversity initiative is an ongoing process for Francine and her team. “This is where my affinity group team and steering committee alignment serve us well. These individuals go back to their SBUs as ambassadors. This support increases their commitment, which is essential for the success of this initiative,” says Francine. Cook leadership recently promoted Francine to Senior Vice President of Diversity—an excellent measure of the value she adds as the diversity leader. It isn’t easy starting a state-of-the-art diversity and inclusion initiative. Francine Small is an example of the commitment and hard work that a serious diversity initiative requires. We look forward to learning from her future success.