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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Diversity as a growth driver

When our CEO, Inge Thulin, took office several years ago, he articulated a vision that was inspirational, aspirational, and for us, uniquely achievable: “3M Technology Advancing Every Company, 3M Products Enhancing Every Home, 3M Innovation Improving Every Life.” The “how” of the vision lives in six corporate strategies, including one imperative that ultimately fuels our customer relevance and business growth strategies: “Build High-Performing and Diverse Global Talent” (emphasis added).

As this interplay illustrates, 3M’s vision and strategies are more than the sum of their parts; they are integral to understanding how 3M approaches diversity and inclusion. Like our 3M vision and strategies, diversity and inclusion are core to who we are, how we operate, and how we see our future.

Strength through difference

3M is a global company rooted in scientific exploration and the belief that every problem has a solution. With over 60 percent of sales outside the United States, 3M works with customers who face a variety of challenges throughout the world.  In that context, high-performing and diverse global teams are essential to 3M innovation.  Different perspectives, different backgrounds, and different experiences lead to new ideas, different ways of thinking, and ultimately better products, services, and decisions. Simply put, diversity drives both relevance and discovery.

It’s true for members of any team, from sports fields to board rooms. And it’s as true for 3M’s legal department as it is for the entire company. The better the skills of individuals complement each other, the stronger the team is as a whole. And fostering a culture of inclusion, so that people truly feel part of the team and valued for their contributions, means that the best ideas emerge and can be refined, sharpened, piloted, and implemented.

But if that’s true for any team, what makes 3M unique? The key for a global company like ours is that diversity and inclusion drive significant business value every day: in our global customer service centers, where we interact with customers; in cross-functional R&D teams that develop innovative solutions; among global sales professionals who build relationships with a diverse customer base; and among marketers as they speak to global market segments.

All of this is why 3M’s legal department has worked hard, both internally and externally, to foster a diverse and inclusive work environment.

We have hosted webcasts and events ranging from a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. to panel discussions on how to build inclusive legal teams. Together with other diversity and inclusion-focused groups at 3M, we sponsor programs to bring to light external thinking on current issues and scholarship in the diversity and inclusion field. These company-wide programs have focused on issues such as implicit bias, inter-generational interactions, and workplace “covering.” We measure and share with our 3M colleagues our candid and collective assessment of the maturity of our diversity and inclusion efforts. Most importantly, we invest in our legal talent and strive to build an environment that provides opportunities for career development and new challenges for all our colleagues.

Diverse partnerships

Like other companies, we also work closely with our outside counsel, with whom we collaborate in representing 3M. As a first principle, we specifically select and retain firms that share our values, which include our strong commitments to ethics and integrity, pro bono legal services, and diversity and inclusion. We therefore actively seek lawyers and firms that “walk the talk” when it comes to diversity, because our experience teaches us that diverse and inclusive legal teams deliver better outcomes and more creative and innovative solutions for our 3M business clients.

On a broader level, we look for opportunities to partner with our firms and other external organizations that help promote diversity in the legal profession. We work with our law firms to support shared summer internships for diverse law students.  We’re also active in Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), national minority bar associations, and other groups to attract, develop and retain diverse talent within our profession.

With Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, for example, we are part of the Summer Clerk Rotation, a program in which law students dedicate part of their law firm summer clerkship to work and be mentored in-house at 3M. With LCLD, we launched a Fellows Alumni Roundtable, inviting local alumni of LCLD’s leadership development program to our offices for an informal, off-the-record opportunity to talk about leadership, career development, and mentoring.

And, just recently, we and a few other corporate law departments helped inaugurate the OnRamp In-House program, a collaboration between Diversity Labs and the Association of Corporate Counsel Foundation that helps open doors for women re-entering the legal workforce after an extended hiatus. Lawyers leave the active practice of law for many reasons and may face any number of impediments in trying to return. Identifying those individuals gives us yet another avenue to attract, develop, and retain high-performing talent.

At 3M, we view diversity as the appreciation of differences, and we use those differences as a competitive advantage to power our creativity. In essence, by generating more and better ideas, diversity and inclusion give our business a greater edge in the marketplace.

To be sure, our culture of continuous improvement means we always have more work to do. We do not want to rest on our accomplishments or take for granted the distance we have traveled. There is tough work ahead, but a more diverse and inclusive workforce will ultimately enrich our company’s culture, ensure our future competitiveness, and help us fulfill our potential as a company and as individuals.

Ivan Fong is senior vice president, legal affairs & general counsel for 3M.  He appreciates the assistance of others in preparing this essay; any errors are his alone.

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