Member Spotlight: Gentex Corporation on the Journey to Equity & Inclusion
“When you’re able to combine your job with your passion, you’d almost do it for free,” said Joe Matthews, Vice President of Purchasing and Diversity Officer for Gentex Corporation. “Don’t tell my boss that,” he added with a laugh.
One look around Joe’s office and you can see he is passionate about his work. With a bulletin board full of upcoming events and local causes, Joe is busy trying to connect Gentex with the community in a purposeful way in order to promote engagement, diversity and inclusion.
Joe joined Gentex, a leading supplier of digital vision, connected car, dimmable glass and fire protection technologies, as purchasing manager in 2010. With his most recent promotion to Vice President of Purchasing in 2014, Joe’s team is responsible for all direct and indirect material goods and services, logistics spend as well as customs compliance and supplier diversity.
In December 2018, Joe was appointed Gentex’s first Diversity Officer. In this role, Joe leads the company’s formal diversity group, which works to create diversity programs, training courses, and awareness initiatives throughout the organization and support wider recruiting and community engagement efforts.
With nearly 6,000 employees, implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives across the company is no small task.
“There are many moving pieces to this work,” Joe said. “We’re finding we need to take it in steps – first we crawl, and then we walk, so that eventually we can run.”
In the first phase, the company needed to identify its key strengths and top areas for improvement. Working with Ken James, Director of Inclusion at the Grand Rapids Chamber, Gentex completed a diversity assessment to identify a baseline for their work.
From there, they established 5 focus areas:
- Workforce: How do we get world-class talent from all backgrounds?
- Workplace: How do employees view where they work?
- Marketplace: How do we reach diverse clientele and turn them into loyal customers?
- Community: Are we valued in the community where our people work, live and serve?
- Suppliers: How do we get the cutting edge ideas to further our business?
As the council developed their ideology, they were intentional about using the right terminology. For example, they wanted to use the term activists rather than advocates to ensure the company demonstrates their commitment to the putting the principles into practice. They also chose to use experiences rather than stories, because while stories can be disputed, experiences are unique per individual.
“It might seem like a small thing, but words and definitions are so important,” Joe said. “We spent a lot of time on that because we needed to start with everyone on the same page.”
Gentex CEO Steve Downing sees inclusion as a key priority for the corporation. As the largest employer in Ottawa County, Gentex makes a point of supporting its employees and the West Michigan community at large. The company strives to have an environment in which all employees can bring their whole selves to work, understanding diversity can include a mosaic of characteristics. When the company looks at diversity, they are looking at more than just racial diversity, but also age, sex, gender identity, religion, culture, and so many more.
One of the initiatives the company is supporting locally is the TRIO Upward Bound Program. The TRIO program seeks to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds, namely low-income and/or first-generation students, by providing academic tutoring, personal counseling, mentoring, financial guidance and other supports necessary for educational access and retention.
By supporting programs like this, Gentex is helping to groom the next generation of talent to propel West Michigan forward. In fact, the President of the Michigan TRIO Alumni Association, Juan Martinez, is also a group leader at Gentex.
The Gentex leadership team knows having a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization is beneficial on many fronts. As one study shows, a group of ordinary people who are diverse can outperform a group of like-minded experts. When you solve problems from dominantly one perspective, you’re building in an error-rate of about 30%. Another study shows that for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8%.
The journey to equity and inclusion is an ongoing process. Gentex is continuing to move forward with structure in place to benefit the organization and its staff.
Interested in starting the journey to equity and inclusion with your company? Contact Ken James, Director of Inclusion, to complete a diversity assessment for your organization.