Lessons in grit

By Sheryl Battles

Author Angela Ducksworth defines grit as a combination of passion plus perseverance toward a long-term goal. As we think about Pitney Bowe’s history, current actions and focus on creating long-term value going forward there are numerous examples of grit that come to mind.

An important example of grit that runs throughout Pitney Bowes history, and is critical to our future, is our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Black History Month is a great reminder that it takes grit to be different and seek inclusion, and it takes grit to be intentionally inclusive. If you examine our company purely by the numbers, it is apparent that diversity is our reality – with women comprising 43% of our global workforce and people of color representing 50% of our US team.

The people represented by those numbers are the real story, however. When Walter Wheeler was Regional Director of the War Production Board in 1942 part of his responsibility was to convince manufacturers to make use of all labor. This meant encouraging owners and operators of manufacturing facilities to open up employment to African Americans, even though racial segregation was the law of the land in the US, as well as women, the disabled and those of different religions. The need to tap underutilized sources of talent was critical to keeping the production lines running at capacity since almost 30% of the male population 16 years or older was serving in the military. Wheeler had a tough assignment that was not consistent with popular opinion or practice. Yet, he persevered because he knew the talent was needed to support long-term success.

What Wheeler saw in the new workforce were people, who like the men now off to war, worked hard, cared about the quality of their work, and wanted an opportunity to earn a living and contribute to the success of the overall effort.

This led Walter Wheeler to author a series of memos to make sure that there were no policies or practices that prevented the hiring of qualified people irrespective race, ethnicity or religion at Pitney Bowes. He understood that talent was not defined by characteristics such as race, gender, culture, or religion. That was the start of our diversity and inclusion journey at Pitney Bowes. Wheeler continued to be an advocate for employment opportunities for all throughout his tenure including testifying before Congress in support of what would become Title VII, the equal employment section, of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

It took grit for Walter Wheeler and all of our CEOs since to stand up, and stand out, for creating a workplace that is diverse and a culture that is intentionally inclusive, even in the face of opposition. Marc Lautenbach’s work on the Catalyst Board of Directors is helping to advance gender equity in the workplace and in the Board room. His work on the Business Roundtable is helping to advance diversity and inclusion as one of the fundamentals of creating long-term value for all of stakeholders.

Our leaders exhibited the grit to seek diversity and be inclusive because they understood it as essential for our long-term success. When we combine the skills and experiences of all to reach a common goal we unleash a powerful force for productivity and innovation. It is a lesson that we, as a society, with a myriad of complex challenges and opportunities should not lose sight of. The answer to climate change, the solution for hunger, the cure for cancer may come from someone who is a different ethnicity, speaks a different language, was born in a different country, is older or younger than you think, or has a non-binary gender identity. We will never know, if we don’t give everyone the chance to be their brilliant self and contribute to the good that we all seek.

We proudly celebrate Black history because it is our story. A story about the grit of African Americans and those of African descent to contribute skills, talent and experiences to make this world and our communities better despite periods of enslavement, legal exclusion from full participation and unequal access to opportunity. We celebrate Black history and the stories of our team members who are helping us make history for all of our stakeholders every day, even when the going gets tough. That is the grit we need and that is who we are at Pitney Bowes.

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