Diversity Only Works If People Speak Up


Everyone has biases, and Kymberlee Dwinell is ensuring they don’t get in the way of doing business.

“If you have a brain, you're biased,” she challenges. “People don't realize that, yes, they do have biases that carry on throughout their lives. And until they understand that and admit it, they can’t go forward and have better relationships.”

Dwinell serves as the Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Northrop Grumman Corporation is an American multinational aerospace and defense technology company. With 90,000 employees and an annual revenue in excess of $30 billion, it is one of the world's largest weapons manufacturers and military technology providers. With such a large global workforce, one would think diversity wouldn’t be an issue. But Dwinell sees it as much more than a numbers game.

“You can have the different affinities, the race, ethnicity, and all of that. But if you don't have inclusion, then the diversity doesn't matter,” Dwinell stated in a recent interview. “You can't do it in a silo. You need everyone, across different functions, to use their brainpower to really solve and achieve what it is you want to achieve. You have to clearly communicate. What's your end goal? And you can solve it by brainstorming together.”

Workforce diversity has proven bottom-line benefits, and with the increased pressure companies face to meet social justice standards, it’s become a core business concern for many executive leaders.

But far too often, diversity measures come down to achieving better ratios and concessions which look good on paper but do nothing to make effective change throughout the organization. Dwinell is committed to making sure that’s not the case at Northrop Grumman.

“Okay, you have someone, you invite them to the table. That's being inclusive, right?” Dwinell poses. “You've invited them to the table, but if they don't feel their voice is being heard or they're accepted, then they're not feeling that they have value.”

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Engendering belonging and inclusion is critical for diversity to have an impact, Dwinell asserts. Those two pillars are the foundation of her current work.

“When people feel they belong in this group, they're going to be more engaged. And that's where we prove, at the bottom line, it's more profitable to the company.”

Breeding innovation is a top priority at Northrop Grumman. Staying ahead of the technology curve is a necessary challenge to provide their clients with the best solutions. So it’s critical their organization doesn’t become an echo chamber.

To that end, perspectives are what leaders should be aiming for more of, Dwinell says. That goes beyond race, sexuality, or other common diversity markers. It’s about education, experience—even function.

“We've learned that when you're trying to solve a technical solution, you need more than just the techies at the table,” Dwinell explains. “They have the same thought pattern, or, they've learned that it's always been done this way. But someone who's from the outside has a unique perspective. The finance people, they're looking at what's the most cost-effective solution. And sales might keep them reigned in to say, provide what the customer's actually asking for. So, having different diverse functions at the table is beneficial, too.”

What inclusion and belonging actually look like in practice comes down to more and better communication, whether that’s at work or outside of it.

“We’ve had some incredibly unfortunate language that [former employees] used on their social media. They're not supporting our people,” Dwinell says. “How can these people who have such hatred for someone other than themselves come in and work as part of a diverse team? So, we have had to terminate people because they haven't lived by the Northrup Grumman values. That’s what we stand behind and that's what drives the culture.”

Internally, avoiding a top-down, out-of-touch approach to achieving inclusion is key. Dwinell has made sure underrepresented groups are heard directly by colleagues and senior leaders.

“We've had focus groups. We've asked our Black community what it is they need from us to feel comfortable, on video calls with executive leadership. Our CEO recently did focus groups with the LGBT community to say, ‘What's on your mind?’ Literally in-person. There are a lot of conversations. We're always asking them what Northrop can do better to help provide for them as individuals.”

Bringing out the best in Northrop’s people is a huge driver for Dwinell. But she also recognizes the potential impact her work has beyond the organization, and even beyond business. She sees diversity and inclusion as having cascading effects, trickling down into everyday life.

“Me being in diversity and inclusion, it's not just about Northrop Grumman, it's about everyone,” Dwinell asserts. “It's about really collaborating with everyone to make it a better world. Especially today, people have to realize they have to reach outside of their area of what they always know to make this a better world. We have so much opportunity to make it better.”

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