Welcome to one of the newest members to the board of directors of the Illinois Diversity Council! Rasheed Merritt is the Assistant Vice President for Corporate Responsibility/Diversity and Inclusion at State Farm. He joined the ILDC Board at the end of 2020.

“Being a part of the ILDC just makes sense,” says Rasheed. “State Farm is an incredible company with roots in Illinois. We believe and live diversity and inclusion, so we are excited to learn from others and to contribute by sharing ideas and magnifying the importance of embracing differences.”

One thing Rasheed has learned along his life journey is that you must truly listen to people’s stories and experiences to become a better leader. That breads empathy and inspires allyship. An ally is “someone who supports when they don’t have to, when they don’t get rewarded for it, even when they don’t feel comfortable doing it…but simply because it is the right thing to do,” he says.

We caught up with Rasheed to find out more about what inspires him and the diversity work he is part of at State Farm.

DS: You mentioned the role of a Chief Diversity Officer is new at State Farm. What inspired State Farm to create this role, and how does it fit into their overall business strategy?

RM: We have had a senior level executive acting informally in this role, providing company-wide oversight of our diversity and inclusion programs, practices, and strategic vision for many years. Formalizing the role and aligning the work is elevating our current practices and providing additional structure to allow for even more focus on our diversity and inclusion and community efforts.

DS. How does State Farm’s inclusion strategy tackle diversity on all fronts, from internal/human resources practices to external marketing and communications strategy and messaging?

RM: Diversity and inclusion(D&I) are central to everything we do and evident in every relationship we have – within the workplace where all associates are treated with respect and dignity, across the marketplace by how we interact with our customers and suppliers, and in the community through charitable giving and community service. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is reflected in how we value relationships, how we conduct business, and how we lead our organization.

We have many tactics that we use to promote diversity and inclusion across the organization. Here are a few examples:

Our #IAmWhoIAm initiative. Employees and leaders are encouraged to write and share their personal stories to generate conversation, strengthen connections, and help everyone understand that diversity comes in many forms. Stories are published on an internal site so employees across the enterprise can see each other as fellow human beings whose rich dimensions of diversity may not be readily apparent.

Our Employee Resource Group (ERG) Incubator program, which is a best practice we learned about through our relationship with Catalyst. It brings together a diverse group of individuals to share ideas and provide perspective to assist the business. We have representation from all of our ERGs. They have shared perspective on our new mom rooms, the use of single use water bottles, our newest commercial(s) featuring Jake, LGBTQ Marketing Strategy, as well as deeper insight into employee perception feedback and more.

And, in 2020, we held a Supplier Diversity Matchmaking Event. Business areas across the enterprise and viable, certified diverse businesses/vendors participated in a “Matchmaking” event to create connections and generate contracts. Business areas met with competitive women and minority-owned vendors that supply products and services that aligned with their buying needs. We shared this as a best practice with CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion.

DS. You know a good person when they have a close relationship with their Grandma! Tell us the story about your Grandmother and what that taught you at a young age about inclusive leadership.

RM: Like many families, my grandmother was the matriarch. I did not learn how to be a leader while pursuing my MBA; or even while working. I learned it through her. Specifically, inclusive leadership.

Widowed at age 38 with 11 children, I saw my grandmother provide equity in her household without treating everyone the same. To me, equity is different than equality or equivalency. For example, my mom was the second oldest. My grandmother saw leadership qualities in her at a young age and was relentless in challenging her to do more. She supported one of my uncle JT’s music ambitions, even when he quit college to pursue his dreams. Her oldest child Retta was thrown out of the house, which was her way of showing ‘tough love’ when rules weren’t followed. Inclusive leadership, takes a lot energy, but it is a true way to empower, develop, and build productive teams and people.

Due to some family challenges, my mom and I moved in with my grandmother while I was in high school. It was there that I received that same inclusive leadership. She invested the time to teach me things, knowing her time on earth was limited (inclusive succession planning).

“To me, inclusive leadership is about meeting people where they are,” says Rasheed. “It’s also about truly appreciating the differences of your team or family, which extends far beyond tolerance.”

About the Author

Deanna Shoss (she/her) is a marketer, writer and host of the weekly live broadcast Intercultural Spark. As CEO of Intercultural Talk, Inc., she provides digital, intercultural, and real-life marketing. She helps people with strategy and tactics to build their business or realize purpose-driven life projects with websites, blogging, enewsletters, social media and promotions in real life. Deanna speaks Portuguese and is a certified Body Pump instructor. Learn more at interculturaltalk.com or follow her on Twitter, @cultureguru

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