Recently, Michael Jones, the highest ranking African American at Lowe's Corporation was terminated for what he believes to be discriminatory reasons. Jones has filed a lawsuit in Charlotte, North Carolina against his former employer. In the lawsuit filed, he highlights a long list of reasons why he considers his termination to be unwarranted. The lawsuit can be accessed here. Lowe's response can be accessed here.
It also appears that a number of high ranking African Americans at Lowe's corporate offices have left the company and that currently there are no African Americans at the senior management levels within the company which has a workforce of approximately 285,000 employees.
How does this action impact the company's reputation? How does it impact perceived commitment to diversity and inclusion? Has it tarnished its reputation as an inclusive employer? Are employees fearful of raising issues of disrespectful treatment?
After reviewing the lawsuit and some of the issues raised, the following questions come to mind:
PERFORMANCE: The idea that the CEO, as top leader within the organization, told Mike Jones that he “lacked energy,” as a justification for the decision to terminate him, is very concerning considering his track record during his tenure. Was the rationale used by the CEO a “subjective,” “contributing factor” justification, instead of a substantive, job-related reason to justify his termination decision. Given the nature of the decision making process, how can other lower level leaders within Lowe’s be held to principles of sound leadership and performance management?
ADVOCACY: If the African American SVP can be fired for advocating for fair and equitable treatment of people of color in Lowe’s, particularly African American staff members, which is purportedly in- step with Lowe’s policy commitment to diversity and inclusion, how can lower level staff members of any race be comfortable standing up for their rights or the rights of coworkers?
ISSUE RESOLUTION PROCESSES: Does Lowe’s have an Open Door Policy? Are senior executives exempt from such a policy? Why would a non-African American senior executive advocate diversity and inclusion within Lowe’s, after observing the CEO’s treatment of Mike Jones?
Was Mike Jones advocating diversity, inclusion and equal employment opportunity while failing to meet his business operations numbers? Apparently his performance was strong. He led Lowe’s to outperform their archrival, Home Depot, for the first time within a 5-year period.
INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP: If leaders drive organizational culture, and if organizational culture can simply be defined as “what you say and do to survive and thrive around here,” and if critical determinants of organizational culture are rewards and penalties, what type culture does Lowe’s have as it relates to diversity, inclusion, and equal employment opportunity?
DOES DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT TRUMP OTHER DIVERSITY DIMENSIONS? Does Lowe’s CEO espouse the concept of “diversity of thought.” First, is that a genuine espousal? Does it trump other dimensions? Secondly, could that be a way of side-stepping the reality that the core of diversity progress needed in too many organizations continues to be the representation of people of color in every segment and every level of the organization? Does espousing “diversity of thought” as the key element of diversity and inclusion reflect a lack of understanding or commitment to other dimensions of diversity (1) personality, (2) characteristics such as race and ethnicity , (3) talent, (4) experiences, (5) culture, and (6) perspectives, so a team made up exclusively of white men can be seen as having “diversity of thought?”
DIVERSITY LEADERSHIP. In the midst of all of this, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion was terminated, who is a white female, along with at least three other African American staff members at the director-level and above. How does this impact levels of trust and sense of commitment to building and sustaining a diverse and an inclusive workplace?
RISK MITIGATION: Risk management can be defined as “the process of identifying and measuring potential risks of harm in the organization and developing plans to manage those risks.” Has the impact on Lowe's reputation and brand in the marketplace been impacted? How well is Lowe’s managing risk with respect to critical stakeholders and especially with diverse talent management?
Finally, how do the actions of senior leadership and the response to a highly visible and respected African American Senior Executive impact stakeholders views of the commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace at Lowe's? Do such actions diminish the level of perceived commitment?
I suggest that the company consider an impartial and independent review of its commitments, practices, and policies along with an assessment of leadership behaviors. As stakeholders(employees, customers, investors, communities, etc.) become more diverse, they are placing greater weigh and accountability on respectful workplaces. They expect more.
Lowe's stated commitment is summarized below:
Lowe's dedication to diversity and inclusion grows from the steadfast values of our employees and extends to every corner of our company. We draw upon the strength of collaboration, bringing together many unique individuals in the workplace and the community to better meet the needs of our employees and our customers. Recruiting, developing and retaining a diverse work force ensures a welcoming customer experience, enhances partnerships and strengthens community involvement.
Judging from the current situation, Lowe's has a lot more work to do.