The focus on diversity at Sara Lee Corporation begins with a commitment from the top. With a customer base that is more than 85 percent women and minority, diversity is an important priority.
Women and minorities grace every level of Sara Lee. Almost 60 percent of the total workforce are women, with 44 percent in management and executive positions. Minorities comprise 33 percent of the workforce, and 14 percent are officials or managers. In addition, two women and two minorities serve on Sara Lee’s 17member board of directors.
The company’s attention to the advancement of women and people of color began in the early 1990s with the development of “Strategic Diversity: A Business Imperative.” This program has helped Sara Lee maintain an enviable market share. As part of the program, the company instituted a system for identifying and tracking “high-potential employees,” giving special emphasis to women and people of color, and providing those employees with assignments to develop breadth of experience.
Annually, Sara Lee’s senior human resources team meets with leaders from the company’s business units to examine the career possibilities for more than 100 high performers. They also report on diversity demographics for each of the divisions.
Leading Sara Lee’s law department is General Counsel Roderick Palmore, who ensures that Sara Lee’s overall corporate commitment to diversity is mirrored in the law department. Over the last five years, Sara Lee has significantly reduced the number of outside firms it uses. In developing “partnering” relationships with the remaining firms, it emphasized that diversity would be an important aspect of the relationship. This performance criterion was formalized in January 2001 when each of Sara Lee’s partner law firms was asked to begin reporting on the number of minorities and women at their firms, and their diversity strategies, objectives, and timetables for achieving them.
Diversity has been an integral part of the law department’s mindset and overall approach for some time. Minorities and women hold positions of influence at all levels of the department. Not surprisingly, this department has been recognized as one of the most diverse and talented within the company.
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From the December 2002 issue of Diversity & The Bar®