Diversity Remains a
Work in Progress

There’s no denying the business case for diversity. And organizations like Corning have made tremendous progress in the past few decades. But ensuring a diverse and inclusive culture requires an ongoing effort, clear goals, and commitment from leadership.

Every year brings more evidence that diversity benefits organizations. If you still need to convince your colleagues of the business case for diversity, you don’t have to look far. Several reports from the past year supply some powerful ammunition.


  • A report by the Boston Consulting Group found that the most diverse enterprises were also the most innovative.


  • A study by McKinsey and Company showed that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity perform better financially.


  • And a report by Catalyst showed that diverse organizations are more successful at retaining talent.


I value qualitative information as much as quantitative, so I also enjoyed the feature by Elijah Lowenstein about the value of diversity in the lab in this month’s issue of Scientific American.


As someone who manages talent for an innovation-based company, I vehemently concur that different perspectives enhance scientific discovery.


I feel fortunate to be part of an organization that “gets it.” As Corning’s CEO Wendell Weeks says, “Diversity helps us in our quest to continually become a better version of ourselves.” But that doesn’t mean we’ve got it all figured out.


Last year marked the 50th anniversary of formal diversity programs at Corning. Our celebration of this milestone gave us the opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made, while reaffirming our commitment to diversity and inclusion. No question, it has been a journey and remains a work in progress.


Corning’s Diversity Journey


Corning launched its first formal diversity initiative in 1968. I don’t need to remind you what a tumultuous time that was. The Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots, and the Vietnam protests were just some of the events causing people to examine matters such as identity and inclusion. Amo Houghton, Corning’s CEO at the time, formed the Mirror Committee to “take a look at ourselves and the issues important to younger employees at Corning.”


Corning was a leader in this area, but I’m sure our journey was not unique.


The company’s efforts in the 1970s focused on Affirmative Action training and compliance. We also began recruiting at historically black colleges and universities and launched the Corning Black Engineering and Scholarship Training program to encourage young black professionals to enter the technology field.


In the 1980s, we focused on combating high attrition rates among female, African American, and other minority groups. Corning appointed its first cultural diversity officer, and employees began forming affinity groups, such as the Society of Black Professionals, to provide support and resources for peers.


Our journey continued in the 1990s with a greater emphasis on accountability and an increased awareness of other underrepresented groups. Corning established the Chairman’s Diversity Council to focus on recruiting, developing, and retaining women and blacks. And employees formed Spectra to work with leadership to help ensure equal rights for the LGBTQ population.


The early 2000s brought yet another shift as Corning extended its global presence and observed how economic, social, and political factors vary by region and country. We established the Global Diversity Office, the Asia Talent Council, and – perhaps most importantly -- the Diversity in Leadership Program, an initiative to identify and promote emerging diverse talent.


This past decade, we’ve continued to deepen our understanding of the complex factors necessary to foster diversity and create a truly inclusive culture. We formed the UP2 initiative (“up to us”) to encourage mentoring to help women advance within Corning. And we implemented more diversity training programs to raise awareness of issues such as generational bias and supportunderrepresented groups such as disabled employees.


Progress and Lessons


I have helped spearhead Corning’s diversity and inclusion initiatives for nearly two decades, and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved.


  • Today, women make up 40% of all employees, up from about 20% 15 years ago.
  • Since 2006, we’ve increased diversity from 23% to 42% on our Corporate Management Group, which includes the approximately 200 top leaders throughout our global organization. We’ve also increased diversity from 8% to 28% within our Corporate Officers.
  • In 2017, we achieved 100% pay equity in the United States for men and women, as well as minority versus majority employees.
  • We now have 17 Employee Resource Groups that help members achieve their professional and personal goals, help Corning attract and maintain diverse talent, and challenge us on what Corning can do better.


I’ve learned a lot along the way, including the importance of commitment from senior leadership. At Corning, we built diversity into our “One Pager,” the company’s annual list of top priorities, to hold ourselves accountable. Here are some of the key elements that I think are vital for success:


(1) Set specific goals and have a process for measuring them.


As I tell my staff, I may set a goal to lose 10 lbs., but if I don’t change my eating habits or commit to exercising a specific number of days each week, I won’t reach it. And if I don’t weigh myself regularly, I won’t know if I’m succeeding.


(2) Encourage criticism and input.


When you’re making progress in key areas, it’s easy to feel defensive if someone identifies something you can be doing better. But the maxim “Feedback is a gift” holds. Even if it turns out to be a perception problem rather than a systemic one, it’s something you need to address. It’s also important to invite new voices into the conversation. (After all, isn’t that what diversity is all about?) For example, we recently brought in an outside speaker to increase our understanding of unconscious bias.


(3) Be vigilant.


I noted earlier in this piece that diversity is a “work in progress.” That doesn’t just mean making ongoing improvements; it also means working to maintain the progress you’ve made. Returning to my weight-loss metaphor, once I’ve achieved my goal, I need to practice good habits to maintain it -- and weigh myself from time to time to ensure I haven’t slipped. Pay equity, for example, is not something you “fix” and then you’re done and ready to move on to the next thing. We run our pay-gap analysis four times a year to make sure we’re staying on track.


More Work Ahead


As we enter 2019, Corning continues to look in the mirror to determine where we can do better. Some of our near-term goals are to increase the number of women to 50% of all employees, expand pay equity globally, and further increase the diversity of our leadership.


But metrics are only part of how we define success. Ultimately, we want to create a place where all our people can build rewarding careers and develop to their highest potential; a place where they can look up and see, “There are people like me at the top,” and where they can look in a mirror and see tomorrow’s leaders.