A Conversation with Garfield Bowen, Vice President of Social & Environmental Justice Strategy and Initiatives, 3M
In July 2020, I was pleased to see our company, 3M, take an important step forward in our equity ambitions by creating a new team focused on Social Justice Initiatives – tasked with ensuring our processes and practices throughout the business are led with an equity lens. We hired an incredibly impressive leader within the company who has led major transformation projects and brings a lived experience to our work that has been incredibly impactful. His name is Garfield Bowen and he’s the Vice President of Social & Environmental Justice Strategy and Initiatives and I’m honored to share a quick Q&A with my colleague, mentor, and friend.
Garfield, why did you pursue this role in 2020?
Great question, Michael. In February of 2020, I started a new role in 3M to lead global R&D operations and Project Management Office for our industrial business, so when I got the call from our Chief Human Resources Officer in July of that same year to consider this role, it was very unexpected. While I was honored to be presented with the opportunity, I needed time to reflect, consult, and pray. One of my mentors challenged me with these words, “If not you, then who; if not now, then when?” Those words made me realize that the arch of my entire life prepared me for this role. I was inspired to step into the unknown and help our company take on the challenges we know are so critical in our society.
It has been two years since you were appointed in this leadership role. How is it going? What has surprised you in this role?
This has been one of the best roles of my career. First, I have acquired a new lens grounded in equity that I never would have had if I hadn’t said yes to this role. I will leverage this lens for every future role I take – this has been incredible for my own personal development.
Second, I have been surprised at how deep into the company we could go. Initially, I didn’t know what was possible to accomplish, but our CEO, Mike Roman, encouraged our team to focus on and leverage 3M’s full capabilities to solve pressing challenges both inside and outside of the company. We established workstreams with business leaders involved across all parts of the company, including sourcing, sustainability, government affairs, and each of our four business groups. We were finally building a strategy to embed equity and social justice into the operations of our company!
Finally, it was critical for us to set bold commitments and accountability mechanisms for delivering on them. My team was tasked with building this out.
What challenges have you faced in your drive to build a social justice lens into our everyday business ambitions?
One ongoing challenge is maintaining equity as a priority lens for our everyday business. There is no doubt equity and social justice are important to our people – but with the increasing macro-economic, inflationary, and geopolitical pressures our teams face every day it becomes more challenging. That said, it is critical to remain persistent with our focus on equity. As a science company, our colleagues rely on data to ground us and inform our priorities, so our team has rooted our work in the proven research that equity is truly a superior growth model for our company and our country.
I also recognized that a true equity lens requires that those most impacted by historic marginalization and wealth inequity are central to the design, build, execution, and evaluation of strategies. We have made good first steps in incorporating new voices into our community engagement through the 3M Community Coalition and, internally, we leverage the amazing work and incredible voice of our Employee Resource Networks (ERNs). Most notably, our CEO hears directly about a range of topics from our diverse employees through our CEO Inclusion Council, where recommendations are discussed and implemented for advancing equity at 3M.
Thanks for sharing such important insights, Garfield. To close, can you share your thoughts on what is next for corporations like 3M in advancing equity?
I believe we must continue to increase corporate accountability. One example is tying compensation to delivering on commitments at all levels of decision making in companies. We also must push ourselves to show the impact in tangible ways for the populations we seek to serve. And, particularly for us at 3M, we know that the intersection between social and environmental justice is more pronounced than ever, and we can’t advance one without the other. I’m proud that we recently appointed Michelle Diggs as our first-ever environmental justice director for 3M – and I look forward to sharing our impact in coming months and years.
Michael Stroik is Vice President of Community Relations at 3M.
Garfield Bowen is Vice President of Social and Environmental Justice Strategy and Initiatives at 3M.