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3M’s CEO makes it his business to diversify leadership, even if it means bigfooting his own managers

3M wants to double the number of women executives
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
3M: Making progress, a long way to go.
  • Oliver Staley
By Oliver Staley

Business & culture editor

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

To increase diversity in their workplaces, it stands to reason that businesses need a diverse slate of job candidates.

Still, companies often struggle to create pools of candidates that include women and under-represented minorities, particularly for senior or specialized roles. At 3M, the massive industrial conglomerate, when hiring managers fail to produce diverse candidates for executive positions, CEO Inge Thulin tells them to try harder. “I intervene a lot,” he said. “Maybe too much.”

Thulin, a native of Sweden, spoke at a panel discussion March 8 arranged by Catalyst, a non-profit promoting women in the workplace. 3M, along with Rockwell Automation and BMO Financial Group, was recognized by Catalyst for its efforts to expand opportunities for women.

Under Thulin, the percentage of women at the vice president level or above has increased by almost half,  to 24.2% from 16.7%. 3M has also increased the number of women managing labs and plants, and on the executive team. While numbers remain paltry, 3M aims to double the number of women and minorities in its management track by 2025. The goal is make the company more competitive by increasing the pool of talent, Thulin said.

Founded in 1902 as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, the company is still based in the Twin Cities, but has a presence in more than 70 countries. With 90,000 employees, Thulin can’t get involved with every hire, but he’s paying attention to how the company fills its 450 most senior roles.

“I get involved with appointments early in the process to make sure the slate is good,” Thulin said. “Sometimes when we start, the slate is not very good.”

Ensuring hiring managers see a diverse slate of candidates is critical to creating diversity. Even if a woman or minority candidate is not ultimately hired, they will have entered the discussion for future openings. In 2002, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule (named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney) requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring head coaches. While the tactic has had mixed results in football, the practice has caught on elsewhere, including at Facebook.

3M is now focused on ensuring women and minority candidates are considered at the beginning of the hiring process and that, after rounds of interviews, some will make the final cut, said Rhonda Graves, the company’s chief diversity officer. 3M has invested in data bases and recruitment tools to help it identify potential candidates, and proactively contacts them about openings. If hiring managers can’t produce a diverse pool, they’re told to try again, she said.

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