Diversity and inclusion at NS inspire workplace where people thrive
CEO Jim Squires, the self-described “chief sponsor and champion of diversity and inclusion within the company,” connected those values to corporate success in remarks to employee leaders of diversity and inclusion councils systemwide.
Squires spoke during Norfolk Southern’s first “Inspire! Summit,” held in Atlanta Feb. 15-16. The summit brought together representatives of 12 D&I councils – one for each operating division plus Atlanta and Norfolk office councils – for workshops, discussion, and messages from senior managers about the important role the councils play for NS.
During his talk, Squires related his experience as a 22-year-old living in Japan after he graduated from Amherst College in 1983. He spent a year as an Amherst-Doshisha Fellow at Doshisha University in Kyoto, living in a student dormitory and teaching English and studying Japanese. Between 1985 and 1989, while serving in the U.S. Army, Squires returned to Japan a number of times to train with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces. His time in Japan, as well as in the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan, heightened his appreciation of different cultures and people.
“I feel very strongly about diversity and inclusion not only as a personal value but also as a corporate value,” he said. “Diversity and inclusion are keys to our corporate success and to our bottom line.”
A core value at NS
As a leading transportation service company, Norfolk Southern must recruit the most qualified and talented people, Squires said. “That means not excluding anyone. It’s most important we have the broadest spectrum of perspectives possible.
“My role is to continue talking up diversity and inclusion as a core value of the company,” Squires said. “We want a whole workforce that really prizes diversity and inclusion so that all people feel they have opportunity to be a success. Promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion means promoting a culture of justice, equality, and equal opportunity.”
Cindy Earhart, executive vice president administration and chief information officer, also addressed the group. She noted how a celebration of the Hindu festival Diwali grew from two employees five years ago to an energy-infused crowd in the company’s Atlanta Goode Building last year. Keys to success, she said, were manager support and the sharing of cultures.
“People felt supported,” she said. “This is their place, too.”
A place where employees want to stay
Members of the D&I councils at the summit reflected the company’s strides in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, representing a mix of gender, race, age, ethnicity, and work experience. Their role as council members is to help create awareness among co-workers of the competitive strengths a diverse and inclusive workforce brings to NS. During the summit, they and company managers shared best practices for encouraging and recognizing those values.
Alberto Rios, senior accountant and member of the Norfolk Office D&I Council, said, “It was a great time for learning better practices, sharing success stories, getting trained in D&I issues, and meeting council members from all NS divisions and different departments, all facing similar challenges to build a more inclusive workplace.”
Norfolk Southern has hired 9,500 people in the last five years, said Annie Adams, vice president human resources, meaning that over 20 percent of the workforce has been with the company five years or less. As changes occur within the industry, business markets, and the economy, the imperative becomes “creating an experience where employees thrive and want to stay,” Adams said. “Our diversity and inclusion efforts are a big part of that.”