Inclusion Can Take Organizations to New Heights, One Sock at a Time

Panelists share stories about building more-inclusive workplaces

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek October 26, 2021
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Inclusion Can Take Organizations to New Heights, One Sock at a Time

​AUSTIN, TEXAS — John Cronin was a high school senior in 2016, studying retail and customer service and weighing his employment options after graduation. There weren't many for the young man who has Down syndrome. What he really wanted was to go into business with his father, Mark, an online entrepreneur.

After kicking around a few ideas, they formed John's Crazy Socks, inspired by John's love of kooky, colorful footwear. Today, the two run a successful e-commerce platform whose social and business missions are to spread happiness. They and two other panelists shared stories about building more-inclusive workplaces during Monday's session "Together Forward at Work" at SHRM INCLUSION 2021.

"This is a real business," Mark Cronin said of the company that has generated 29,000 five-star reviews; garnered a Net Promoter Score of 92; and donated $450,000 to its charity partners, including $100,000 to the Special Olympics.

The business earned $1.7 million in revenue in its first full year and grew by more than 300 percent in its second year, according to the company website. John Cronin, president of the company, includes a personal thank-you note and candy with each order. Together, John and Mark conduct virtual and in-person school tours; host school and social service agency workgroups; and speak at conferences, graduations and business meetings.

"We want to show the world what people with different abilities can do," Mark Cronin said, adding that more than half of the company's employees are differently abled. "They're talented and capable, but there are not good options out there [for them]. John here is a natural entrepreneur," he said of his son. 

Their company is not experiencing the labor shortage everyone is talking about, according to Mark Cronin. "We have a surplus of candidates because we're willing to hire people with different abilities," he said. "Retention is up. Productivity is up."

Diversity needs to include neurodiversity, Mark Cronin noted. "Hiring people with different abilities and hiring for diversity is not altruism. It is good business. We have a competitive advantage because of the people we hire," he said.

Noted John Cronin, "I have Down syndrome. Down syndrome never holds me back."

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Johnson & Johnson

J&J, whose product lines include Band-Aid, realized its bandage offerings were lacking for people of color searching the first-aid aisle. As a result, it created OURTONE, bandages in three shades of brown, so consumers would have more product options.

"Our portfolio was not inclusive at all, and we were not representing the communities we were serving," said panelist Casey Adams Jones, the company's communications lead for U.S. self-care.

"We took a step back to see what's going on in the world and how we can make a difference," she said, and asked "How do we expand our diversity, equity and inclusion to make care more inclusive?"

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health (JJCH) engaged Hero Collective, a Black-owned creative and digital agency, to help shape OURTONE's launch.

"It's no secret that the current climate is extremely polarizing," Joe Anthony, CEO of Hero Collective, noted on J&J's website, "and, as a result, certain people feel left out of the conversation. Now more than ever, it's important that brands like Johnson & Johnson take a leadership role in demonstrating the importance of diversity."

JJCH convened focus groups with Black individuals to learn what they wanted and didn't want in the bandage's name, packaging, materials and product shades. 

The company has also become more intentional about inclusiveness internally, according to Adams Jones. "We have been more vocal and intentional about our efforts. We're not just requiring mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training where you sit through a module. … We're bringing in experts who have been on the front line of this discussion when it wasn't trending. We're having real conversations, meaningful conversations, tough conversations. It's not about what you're learning in the workshop. We have follow-up meetings, reflection points, small teams [looking at] how to make changes—and creating a culture of belonging where everyone can feel they can show up as themselves and be seen, heard and valued."

Crayola

Crayola launched its award-winning product, "Colors of the World" (COTW), on May 21, 2020—U.N. World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development—to reflect global differences and to be more inclusive in its product offerings.

COTW came about after "we took a pause for a second and looked around the world," said panelist Mimi Dixon, director of brand activation and content at Crayola. She oversees advertising, public relations, shopper marketing, national marketing campaigns, and digital and social content and imagery. 

Crayola had launched something similar to COTW in 1992, but it contained only eight skin tones.

"We study trends all the time and saw the world was becoming more diverse. Then we took a look at the marketplace," she said. The self-described "makeup girl" was aware of the Fenty Beauty line singer and actress Rihanna had launched two years earlier. It includes 40 foundation shades to appeal to a wide array of consumers.

Dixon reached out to Victor Casale, co-founder and chief executive officer at MOB Beauty in San Francisco, who created 24 new colors for COTW. Feedback from focus groups influenced the design, packaging, product and names for the new colors.

"I'm so glad they did this," one conference attendee said in the session chat room, recalling how, as a second grader, she could never find a crayon matching her skin tone when drawing a picture of herself.

Dixon noted Crayola is also focusing on diversity and inclusion internally and brought in expert Margenett Moore-Roberts to meet with company leaders. In addition, Dixon worked in concert with Crayola HR to launch the company's Inclusion Council, whose projects have included corporate team building and optimizing and integrating its employee resource groups. The company also has optimized metrics around diversity and inclusion, instituted new training, and held two diversity summits. 

"It's definitely lit a fire under us," she said of COTW.

In a closing message to HR professionals, Mark Cronin observed that "We have the opportunity to continually change the world, and it's going to depend on what you're doing. … Don't allow someone to minimize what you're doing. We need you. Don't let us down."

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