Systematic racism, discrimination, and violence are global problems that are still too often part of everyday life. The ongoing murders of people of color in recent years reveal a deeper issue in society tracing back to systemic intolerance that impedes equality. In May 2020, Heraeus held mandatory all-employee training sessions on Diversity and Inclusion in the U.S. to enable employees to confront racial injustice and related topics in a united manner. In August 2020, Heraeus Quartz North America established a Diversity and Inclusion focus group for its employees to repeatedly and consistently emphasize and highlight the importance of diversity, inclusion and empathy in daily interactions. This program particularly resonated with employees at the Buford site in Georgia, USA. The 160 employees of Heraeus Comvance and Heraeus Conamic continue to participate in ongoing dialogues and discussions today.
In June 2020, the killing of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta police officer generated enormous public attention because of its proximity in time to the George Floyd case in May. This further encouraged leaders in Buford to promote change through employee education. Since Heraeus Diversity and Inclusion Focus Group (D&I focus group) had already organized a training program on diversity and inclusion in May 2020 as a first step, the goal to explicitly raise awareness of these issues among employees, continued. "We all have bias whether hidden or overtly displayed,” said Melissa Miller, Human Resources Business Partner. In the training sessions, employees were asked to privately self-acknowledge hidden biases, confront them and work to mitigate them. The D&I focus group continued to meet routinely to develop initiatives and address concerns. Additionally, a second large all-employee training event was held in May 2021, and this time the topic was empathy training. The goal of the empathy training was for employees to be able to develop compassion and understanding for perspectives that may be different than our own. Leaders were also asked to share their deeper purpose for why they choose their careers in an effort to open up communication to forge deeper connections with employees.
The D&I focus group is made up of a cross-section of Heraeus employees from all departments from production and sales to central functions and management. Local management supported and encouraged the initiative from the start. In a letter to the workforce back in the summer of 2020, Tony Musa, President of Heraeus Quartz North America, affirmed, "Together, we can be a force for good in our community and do our part to make the world the best version of itself. “
Integrity as a compass
The all-employee training sessions were just the first steps and the D&I focus group continues today. "It's important to address diversity, inclusion, and empathy frequently and consistently while building knowledge and compassion as responses to the issue within the workforce", Miller emphasizes. "This is a good way to develop a corporate culture that values an inclusive environment in the long-term."
The D&I focus group has also launched an empathy campaign for management that enables leaders to self-reflect and then respond empathetically to employee concerns. "I have a stone," for example, is a trigger phrase, developed by the D&I focus group that allows employers to hit pause on a work-related event and discuss an employee concern immediately. Supervisors quickly devote uninterrupted time to address a problem that is weighing heavy on an employee’s mind and thus shows direct care, compassion, and concern for the employee’s issue. “I have a stone” is used infrequently, reserved for important situations, so it’s taken seriously when it is spoken out loud. Other actions to promote optimal interaction at Buford are already in the planning stages. Integrity leads the way in all of these actions. "We firmly believe that our authentic and sincere approach will deepen relationships with one another and that an improved culture of diversity, inclusion, and empathy will contribute to greater productivity and success," says Miller, looking into the future with confidence.