At Cummins Inc, diversity and inclusion is one of the company’s six core values. That’s no small thing given that the Indiana-based company employs over 58,000 people worldwide. Their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion has been recognized by The National Business Inclusion Consortium on its Best-of-the-Best list of corporations in America committed to diversity and inclusion across all communities.
Their commitment stretches back to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s and continues today with their newly created initiative, Cummins Advocating for Racial Equity (CARE). The societal upheaval of 2020 made clear that there was much work still to be done to address deep-rooted racial and structural inequality. Cummins is committed to using its power, resources, voices, and roles as business leaders to create change in the areas of social justice, economic empowerment, and police and criminal justice reform.
Out in front of this initiative is Tonya Sisco, Project Director for CARE. She’s used to taking on big projects. In her previous position at Cummins, she led a $3 billion supply chain operation supporting customers through the order life cycle. Her family also has a long history with Cummins. She says, “To date, my family has contributed to the Cummins brand for more than 50 years!” When asked about her feelings toward this initiative, she says, “When Cummins decided to take a stand publicly, it was a proud moment as an employee to work for an organization doing real work in this space.” Fairygodboss recently spoke to Tonya about her new role, her career path, and why it’s important to “find your voice” and “ask for help.”
Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role, how long have you been in this role, and what were you doing previously?
I am currently the Project Director for a new initiative called CARE, which stands for Cummins Advocating for Racial Equity, and have been in this role for three months. While I recently moved into this role to further support diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workplace and communities, I have a part of the organization for 15 years. Previously, I led a $3 billion supply chain operation supporting customers through the order life cycle and served as the site leader for one of our locations in Nashville, Tenn.
What has your career path looked like?
I’ve had a nontraditional career path at Cummins with the opportunity to support the following six functions: Manufacturing, Finance, Human Resources, Quality, Supply Chain Planning, and Corporate Responsibility. I’ve had these experiences because of leaders who saw something in me that I was unable to see in myself at the time. I was then emboldened to take risks, quickly see my vision in the work while driving transformation.
What are your main priorities at work?
Building the program structure for the CARE initiative is my main priority at Cummins. My immediate focus has been in the area of economic empowerment with an emphasis on building Black wealth and income.
What drew you to work at Cummins?
I started as a contingent worker which gave me the opportunity to learn more about the company culture and core values before making the decision to explore other opportunities within the company. During this time, it was clear that my personal core value of integrity clearly fit with the way in which Cummins operates. This is still evident to this day through the many Cummins leadership behaviors as well as overall business operations with suppliers and customers. Aside from my own positive experiences of the culture, another factor in my natural draw to the company was the influence of my family. When I shared with them that I was working at Cummins, I learned that my family has worked for or on their products for many years. To date my family has contributed to the Cummins brand for more than 50 years!
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
The theme for Black History Month this year is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” Leading the CARE initiative, I have the opportunity to make an impact in these three areas on a daily basis. My parents taught me the importance of having your own identity and exposed me to different cultures so I could thrive in any environment in which I was placed. I am also excited that I get to leave a legacy for my nephews to hopefully live in a world that will not judge their character and ability simply by looking at the color of their skin.
This has been a year of radical change and upheaval worldwide, from the pandemic to economic crisis to protests demanding an end to racial injustice. How has Cummins responded to these changes?
Cummins has responded in a way that is true to our core values. Our CEO, Tom Linebarger, joined forces with organizations like Eli Lilly and the Business Roundtable to partner with and shape our strategy. We have four areas we plan to impact: (1) Achieve police reform; (2) Realize criminal justice reform; (3) Create economic empowerment by building Black wealth and income; and (4) Drive social justice reform in healthcare, housing, workforce development, and civil rights, including voting rights and education.
Tell us about your work leading CARE (Cummins Advocating for Racial Equity) How did you get the position, and what are your responsibilities?
The CARE initiative has set an aspirational goal to drive a sustainable impact in dismantling institutional racism and creating systemic equity. I was afforded this opportunity based on demonstrated excellence in delivering results to progress our company’s goals.
How is the work of CARE reflective of the culture at Cummins?
Cummins has placed an emphasis on equal rights diversity and inclusion for decades going back to the progressive leadership of our previous Chairman J. Irwin Miller who championed activism and legislation leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For us, this commitment is not new, but there is an increased sense of urgency and positive momentum on these issues considering some of the tragic recent events, like the death of George Floyd, and the protests that followed. As our current Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger said in his joint piece with Chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly and Company Dave Ricks that the “Indy Star” published in June last year: "We all have a role to play in calling for greater accountability from our government, from law enforcement, our neighbors and ourselves. What we have today is simply not enough. We need to work together to root out hate and replace it with a deep and abiding appreciation for diversity, equality, and inclusion. It must start with each of us, and it must start now."
How has this work impacted how you feel about Cummins as an employee?
It has been a year of change that has caused me to take a step back and assess what is important to me when working for an organization. I asked myself a few questions and I encourage you to do the same when assessing if an organization is a fit for you: (1) does the organization allow me to be my authentic self? (2) do I understand the plan for me to reach my aspirational goal in the organization? and (3) are they advocating for issues that are important to me? When Cummins decided to take a stand publicly, it was a proud moment as an employee to work for an organization doing real work in this space.
What about your work do you find most exciting?
Hearing the stories about the individuals we have impacted. We most recently committed $500,000 to impact 60 black-owned enterprises in Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee through the Coalition to Back Black Businesses. Hearing the stories about how these funds are helping their businesses survive in a pandemic where many of these businesses saw a decline in revenues by 5–15 percent. This is only the beginning and I cannot wait to share the other initiatives planned to launch soon.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
I would like to share two: (1) find your voice and (2) ask for help. I have a preference for introversion and am comfortable forging ahead and working alone to get the work done. This approach worked as an individual contributor but does not work as a leader. Finding my voice was essential when I had the opportunity to lead a $3 billion supply chain operation. It was important to me to advocate for my team to ensure they had the tools and resources needed to be successful.
Oftentimes, we don’t want to ask for help because we do not want to appear weak or that we are not up for the task. By asking for help, it allows you to effectively leverage a broader support system of coaching, tools, and resources. I would not be successful in my career if I did not learn these two things.
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