D&I COVID-19 Recording: UPS's Susan Schmidlkofer 6-16-20

In response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and its unprecedented impact to business and employers, i4cp holds a weekly series of standing calls to help Diversity & Inclusion leaders navigate this unpredictable time.

With a dozen past meetings on today’s most relevant diversity and inclusion topics attracting the attention of D&I leaders worldwide, attendees of this week’s i4cp Diversity & Inclusion Action Call (joining from as far as Belgium) featured Susan Schmidlkofer, Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion at UPS.  

Interviewed by i4cp Chief Diversity Officer Board Chair and call leader Jacqui Robertson and i4cp VP of Membership Madeline Borkin, Schmidlkofer spoke to some of the ways the global logistics and delivery firm is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest.  

  1. A new leader is a high-profile champion of D&I. New CEO Carol Tomé, formerly with Home Depot, is the first woman to head the 113-year-old UPS, and brings with her excellent credentials, a stellar reputation for producing financial and business results, and a firm commitment to D&I.   

    In a company town hall in early March, Tomé quoted Nelson Mandela, telling retiring then-CEO David Abney, “It seems impossible until it’s done. Today UPS has told the world that it’s not impossible for all of us. Regardless of our gender, our ethnicity, our sexual orientation, our disabilities, everything is possible at UPS. You’ve been a huge champion of D&I at UPS and I will carry that forward.”   

  2. Clear messages underscore UPS values and ongoing commitments to D&I. Noting that Tomé’s first day on the job coincided with news of George Floyd’s murder, Schmidlkofer says the new CEO sent out a powerful message across the global organization, expressing her feelings of sadness and anger amid the reality of social unrest, discrimination, fear and violence in the U.S. Tomé declared her desire to channel that anger into action for change.   

    “The message to us as UPS-ers fell back on our core values,” says Schmidlkofer. “UPS has always valued D&I, equal opportunity for everyone, non-discrimination, integrity, and safety. We put drivers on the streets of more than 220 countries around the globe. It was a matter of recognizing we are living through a tough time when it’s especially important to stay true to our values and live up to them.”    

    Thoughtful actions, meetings, brainstorming, and conversations that followed have seen a cross-functional leadership group review the extensive support UPS already provides people and communities, and seeks to identify how it can further build momentum internally and externally to influence positive change.   
  3. Help leaders engage with employees. In a time when leaders are called upon to initiate and guide conversations with employees about difficult or sensitive topics, Schmidlkofer says UPS is helping its leaders connect effectively. The company uses resources from i4cp and its Employer Resource Center, along with those offered by other organizations. She points out that it is important to use existing outreach mechanisms and be proactive about communicating.   

    UPS uses its internal employee portal (UPSers.com) as a site to post messages, videos, toolkits, and other resources for its workforce. Daily messages from the company provide guidance on safety and updates of relevant information. Frontline employees receive daily pre-work communication meetings that give drivers and inside workers face-to-face contact with managers for guidance that enables everyone to get safely to what the company calls the most important stop of the day – home.    

  4. Wield the power of BRGs. Business Resource Groups at UPS sponsor events, facilitate virtual networking and coffee breaks, meet-and-greets, etc. They also invite external speakers to address the company on community happenings. Asked about particular practices of BRGs at UPS that have proven powerful, Schmidlkofer says the company’s African American BRG secured a professor to speak about racial inequities and social system structures in an hour-long webinar that attracted more than 1,000 employees. The even was recorded for wider distribution within UPS and for those unable to attend the original event. A follow-up program is planned.   

    She makes the point that such events don’t have to be spearheaded by senior company leaders. At UPS, employees who feel passionately about current events and concerns are encouraged to shape activities. The company’s head of public affairs is doing another webinar on social injustice, sharing what her global team is doing to affect legislative issues, and describing how individuals can become involved.   
  5. Leverage external sources as needed. According to Schmidlkofer, UPS has brought in outside experts to lead town halls and courageous conversations but is considering how to also tap into internal resources to implement materials from CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion.   Also happening on today’s Action Call:    
  • An instant poll during the call asked attendees how the recent shift in focus after the murder of George Floyd impacted their organizations’ Pride Month observances. The greatest percentage (36%) said that Pride activities would express solidarity with social justice movements currently in the spotlight, while 29% said Pride would center on overlap issues (systematic inequities, intersectionality, black trans lives matter, etc.).   
  • A second poll explored Juneteenth plans, asking if organizations anticipated observing the June 19th commemoration of the abolishment of slavery in the U.S. While 26% of responding attendees said they had no observances planned, 23% reported that an event would be hosted by one of their organizational BRGs/ERGs, and 13% planned a town hall meeting or other employee forum. Only 7% of attendees said their organizations had declared the occasion a company holiday.   
Among other topics explored and attendee questions:  

  • Business continuity during the pandemic
  • Plans for perpetuating or furthering current positive practices in the future
  • Lessons learned from responses to the pandemic and social unrest
  • Use of employee engagement surveys to sample current worker sentiment
  • Corporate responses to employee requests to display the Black Lives Matter flag
  • Implications of corporations’ making (or not making) Juneteenth a paid holiday
  • How organizations are factoring D&I considerations into return-to-workplace plans

In addition to this recording, please see these resources: