Ball Corporation Leads the Way in Diversity and Inclusion

Forbes has named Ball Corporation the number-one company for Diversity and Inclusion in its annual ranking of the best employers for diversity. I spoke with Ball Corporation’s Charles Johnson, Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and Luiz Whitney, Manager of Diversity and Inclusion, to learn what made their approach so successful.

A few years ago, Ball’s Board of Directors and its CEO, John Hayes, announced to staff that a robust D & I program was imperative to Ball’s success, Johnson recalls. In what Johnson calls a “genius move,” the decision was made to create a vice president of D & I and have the entire function report directly to the CEO. “That move gave the function of D & I visibility and credibility,” Johnson says. “It put employees on notice that Ball was serious about D & I and conveyed the message that top management viewed D & I as being on the same level as every other function of the company. The result was that D & I was accelerated in a way that was hard to believe was possible.”

Ball created Business Resource Groups (BRGs) to address the interests of different segments of the company’s workforce. Ball currently has nine BRGs, and Ball’s executives are required to sponsor at least one of these groups, with most executives sponsoring two. The nine resource groups are: Abilities; African American; Asian; Cultural Awareness of the Religions of Employees (CARE); Hispanic; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Allies; Veterans; Women’s; and Young Professionals. Ball provides funding to each of these groups, which allows them to create and hold events to advance the goals of their specific group.

John Hayes committed himself and every executive in the company to becoming a member of at least one, and in most cases multiple, resource groups. This created engagement at the executive level, allowing Ball to accelerate its D & I commitment.

Ball still faces challenges. Getting buy-in from the entire employee population for the D & I function is an ongoing challenge. Ball is a large company with a number of different perspectives. One of Ball’s biggest challenges is to show that that the D & I function is necessary for 100 percent of the company’s employee base, not just for minority groups or groups that have been deemed to be disenfranchised.

“There are now a number of data points that allow us to say Diversity & Inclusion impacts the end game: our ability to innovate, our ability to create, our ability to produce the absolute best that we can and, ultimately, our profitability,” Johnson says. “It’s no longer just the feel-good story; it’s a necessity in order for us to be the most competitive that we can be.

“The buy-in is a work in progress and will always be a work in progress,” Johnson continues. “Part of the challenge is to meet people where they are and to show and convince them why D & I is not a zero-sum game. The gain of women, for example, does not mean that men’s opportunities are reduced or threatened.”

As with so many employers today, recruiting is also a challenge. “We are constantly looking for the right people with the right skills,” Whitney says. We need to have the best people with the right skills, and that comes from the different backgrounds, gender, ethnicity, etc. The war for top talent is imperative and is happening worldwide.”

Another challenge is education. A manager under pressure to produce a million cans by the end of the week may be tempted to forgo D & I in an effort to meet his or her goal. Ball’s aim is to demonstrate to the manager that greater diversity and inclusion are actually necessary to meet the goal. “We are working to change the belief that D & I is a nice-to-have to D & I is a must-have to meet objectives,” Johnson says. Our executives get it; they understand. The challenge is to convince those who are evaluated on production that production is greater realized with D & I.”

To educate employees on the importance of D & I, Ball invested heavily in training, creating a 3.5-hour, instructor-led session called Think Inclusively. Over the past three years, Ball has sent approximately 600 employees through this training. This year, to accelerate the number of employees who can receive it, the company has invested in online training that has allowed them to take the original 3.5-hour session and condense it into a one-hour computer-based module that they can provide to staff. The computer version is more cost-effective, yet it still provides the core content of the original class.

There is a key reason for the incredible strides the company has made in D & I in such a short time. “I believe it’s our people,” Johnson says. “You can set up infrastructure, have meetings, and send messages, but at the end of the day, your employees either believe in it or not. [Ball employees] not only accept it, but they also thrive in it.”

If you want to see more of the great things Ball is doing around Diversity and Inclusion and learn more about D & I in the process, check out their Diversity & Inclusion Blog/Podcast page.