Comerica's Chief Diversity Officer and Senior Vice President of Business Affairs
story BY: JOSEPH TREVINO
Comerica’s Chief Diversity Officer and senior vice president of Business Affairs for Comerica Incorporated, Linda D. Forte, strongly believes that diversity is all about belongingness and engagement. For the past years, Forte has been actively involved in diversity and inclusion and as a result, she has received numerous honors including the 2014 Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion Annual Humanitarian Award. In 2011, She was recognized by Black Enterprise as one of the “Top Executives in Diversity.”
On a side note, Forte was one of the many participants during the Chief Diversity Officers Roundtable hosted by Latino Leaders magazine and organized by Comerica Bank held in downtown Dallas last May.
In this Q&A Forte shares her thoughts on diversity and the workplace, challenges as well as sponsoring and mentoring.
LL - Is diversity good for a company? If so, why?
LF- Absolutely! A diversity and inclusion focus for any company signals a commitment to engage all existing and prospective constituencies. Also, the focus invites and facilitates a company’s ability to leverage the power of new ideas, perspectives and experiences to support, increase and sustain the company’s success.
LL - What are the diversity goals for Comerica Bank?
LF - At Comerica, for diversity and inclusion, we focus on four impact areas, which we believe will support and increase sustainable business success. Every senior officer incorporates “diversity scorecard” goals for these impact areas in their annual performance plans. These areas include:
1. Human capital representation;
2. Revenue growth;
3. Environment and culture (defined by outcomes for improved productivity, decision making and problem solving); and
4. Supplier diversity.
LL - Diversity-wise, what have been the achievements of Comerica Bank?
LF - We are very proud of our achievements. Our leadership is engaged from the very top. In fact, diversity is one of our company’s core values. Comerica’s CEO chairs the Executive Diversity Council (EDC), a council comprised of the executive leadership team. The EDC meets quarterly to approve and monitor strategic goals for diversity and inclusion. As previously mentioned, all senior officers are all required to have diversity and inclusion goals incorporated in their annual performance plans. All colleagues are required to complete diversity education sessions and further, must complete an annual diversity education module. In addition, 85% of our colleagues are enrolled in a continuing diversity education curriculum, which offers numerous learning and awareness opportunities along nine dimensions of diversity. Colleagues can strive for bronze, silver, gold or platinum certification in this unique “Master of Diversity Awareness (MDA)” program. This self-nominated, self-paced educational awareness program is remarkably popular.
Comerica has 36 diversity teams. These highly engaged colleague Chairs, supported by executive leaders as Executive sponsors, leads teams. In each of our primary markets, they focus on cultural diversity, female, LGBT, veterans, and quantitative professionals to support the Bank in three main areas:
1. Employee engagement to support professional development and community outreach;
2. Business outreach to build and sustain lasting business focused relationships; and
3. Diversity education and awareness of our colleagues.
Our strong commitment to diversity, supported by the programming previously described, facilitates inclusion in a progressive, sustainable manner at Comerica.
LL - How does diversity in the work place affect the company?
LF - A focus on diversity in the work place supports an environment of inclusion. In other words, it increases the feeling of belongingness among colleagues in the workplace and hence, engagement. As a result, I believe colleagues feel more included and thus, invested in the company’s success. In addition, by having an employee base that reflects the diverse communities we serve and is sensitive to their needs, we can further drive the growth of our business.
LL - How does it affect it in economic ways?
LF - Invested colleagues connect with the understanding that their efforts directly support the company’s success. We want to be the bank of choice for the diverse communities we serve and our focus on diversity supports those efforts.
LL - Where do you see diversity in Comerica Bank in say, 10 years?
LF - In 10 years, I see diversity as a natural and organic consideration to every decision our leaders and colleagues make about new opportunities and growth.
LL - What are the challenges of diversity in upper management levels in companies in general?
LF - There are so many important and competing business priorities that at some companies diversity can sometimes be viewed as a less critical and lower priority because managers are less experienced, knowledgeable and practiced in this area. I strongly believe that if managers elevate consideration of diversity and inclusion in business planning, they will be able to efficiently and effectively design business solutions to move the company forward.
LL - Mentoring and sponsoring. How do we get from one to the other?
LF - I believe that sponsoring is a natural outgrowth of mentoring. Mentoring provides the opportunity to understand and guide an individual’s growth, experience and knowledge. Having a deepened knowledge of the individual enables a mentor in the appropriate circumstance and circles to be able to confidently underwrite and promote that individual’s qualifications and capacity for success for advancement.
LL - Any closing remarks or area you would like to share with us?
LF - Diversity and inclusion is absolutely critical to the future success of business. Through intentional consideration of this important factor, talent, ideas and innovation will be unlocked to strengthen the success and sustainability of our companies.