Early in my shipbuilding career—at the end of the Cold War—I was invited to participate on a team that worked to maintain the construction schedule for the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ultimately, we didn’t get it funded on time, but we did get it funded in time to avoid a lengthy delay and cost increases.
One of the many lessons I learned from that experience was the value of diversity and inclusion.
I was drafted from the waterfront to be part of a team that included finance experts, engineers, lawyers, marketers, business development people—even lobbyists. I was a construction person, but I had a seat at the table. This team met every morning, and it was anywhere from 15 to 25 people every day. The amount of respect in the room for each other’s different experiences allowed us to make really, really good decisions on behalf of the company.
So why am I sharing this story? Because Huntington Ingalls Industries is one of the many companies—large and small—taking important steps to bolster diversity and inclusion in the workplace. For us, that means creating an environment where the least-empowered person in the room feels confident enough to speak up and share their views.
While there is a compelling business case for diversity and inclusion, we embrace it at HII for the same reason we value safety, ethics, compliance and other foundational elements of our culture: because it’s the right thing to do. And as the largest industrial employer in Virginia and Mississippi, we are compelled to stand up for what is right—not just within our company, but in the real world we all share when the work day ends.
We’re way beyond the point when the smartest person in the room gets to choose the alternatives. Companies—and communities—that are successful in the future will be those that are able to understand all of the alternatives they have in front of them and make their very best decisions.
Going forward at HII, our leadership model is to collectively make great decisions based on all the information available to us, and that means that many people need to contribute. I’ve challenged the leaders in the company to create the culture within their teams so that the least-empowered person on the team feels confidently able to contribute.
That’s a pretty serious charge. I worked hard thinking my way through what I wanted that environment to be: I want an organization full of people that make the people around them better, and if you’re not the leader in the front of the room, you’re still a leader in the group if you’re the one who helps make everyone else better.
Certainly, there are statistical measures we will monitor, but that’s not the end-all. Race and gender are the most visible pieces, and those are the pieces most people think about when they talk about diversity. But in the end, the ultimate measure of success is going to be whether we as a company are successful or not.
The real issue is: Are we able to get the best decisions? Are we making decisions that we would not otherwise have made, but for the fact that we are inclusive?
So what does all of this mean for someone who might read this and doesn’t work at HII?
Create relationships. Find people that you think are more empowered than yourself. And, if you feel empowered, create relationships with people who might be less so. Let’s break down the truths that were given to us 30 or 40 or 50 years ago—one person at a time. As you get to know someone different, your whole perspective changes and, possibly, your whole mindset toward people. It’s an experience that just changes your life.
This is something we’re serious about at HII. We’re committed to it, and I am personally committed to it. It’s an imperative for the future of our business—and of our communities.
In this series, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ signatory CEOs share their dedication to acting for workplace diversity and inclusion to make impactful changes that benefit both business and society. Follow along with #CEOAction and learn more at CEOAction.com