Carolynn Brooks is Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for OfficeMax, the $7 billion office supply company expected to close a merger with rival Office Depot by year’s end. Brooks joined OfficeMax in 2001 as Vice President of Human Resources, Staffing & Diversity. Before arriving at OfficeMax, she worked in sales and sales development at AT&T and MCI. At OfficeMax, Brooks has substantively grown the diversity initiative, including the creation and 2008 launch of the company’s Associate Resource Groups, which were developed to help promote broader understanding and appreciation of diverse experiences and perspectives among OfficeMax employees–from Latinos to those with disabilities. OfficeMax now has 10 such groups. Brooks originally wrote the article below for all of OfficeMax’s 22,000 associates (37% of which are minorities). Here is an edited version of her thoughts, from “the corner office,” on the importance of diversity.
By Carolynn Brooks
OfficeMax aspires to create a workplace and culture where everyone feels they can “bring their whole self to work” every day. By creating an environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and where your talents and skills are valued, you can feel as engaged and productive as possible. Who you are matters!
In my role as Chief Diversity Officer, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with associates who are concealing portions of their identity fearing they may be misunderstood, or choosing to downplay talents because they feel it may not be appreciated. Each of the associates I have coached to “be yourself,” have eventually flourished. They feel more engaged in the business and they’ve become an integral part of their team.
Your work is a culmination of your history and who you are. Your past work experiences, personal experiences, education, culture and other dimensions of diversity allow you to do your best work. Businesses are stronger when we leverage the incredible passion and creativity of our diverse workforces. If you feel you have to leave some part of your professional or personal self at the door to survive (and thrive) in your work, you feel less confident in who you are and what you do. When that happens, it can be a source of frustration and job dissatisfaction.
The theme “Bring Your Whole Self to Work” is an opportunity for our managers to think about how they can engage and leverage the skills and talents of individual team members. Understanding and acknowledging what each associate brings to the table will make them feel appreciated, supported and motivated to excel. Things like learning disabilities, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or cultural backgrounds enhance our culture, and make us who we are.
To avoid disengagement, I encourage all business professionals to take a minute to think about the attributes they leave at home, and let’s bring all those attributes to work–every day.