How Diverse Voices at 3M Are Changing the Landscape of Corporate Philanthropy and Work Culture

Sponsored by 3M

Omar Williams and Marlene Lopez Ibarra

Photo courtesy of 3M.


The role individuals play within a company can enact change. But when you share that role with an entire network of people, the work of advancing social justice and racial equity starts to make wider systemic change.

Omar Williams and Marlene Lopez Ibarra lead two of 3M’s oldest employee resource networks, or ERNs. Omar, an area business leader for the abrasive systems division, is chair of the African American Network, or AAN, established in 1976.  Marlene, a director and lean six sigma master black belt in the personal safety division, is chair of the Latin@ Resource Network, or LRN, established in 2001. Both say their ERNs play a critically important role in creating equitable change at 3M and in the community. 

Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, 3M established a Social Justice Fund. Through the effort, a key group of 3M stakeholders, including Omar and Marlene, are helping assess local organizations with a focus on advancing racial equity – ultimately selecting groups to receive grants in support of their crucial work.

In his 7-year tenure at the company, Omar saw this coming together of employee resource networks and community members created an intersectionality that he had not seen before. 

“I got involved in AAN when I first joined 3M,” Omar said. “I saw a community of shared, lived experiences of Black people within 3M. I thought it was really important as a Black professional to be connected with AAN but more importantly to be connected with some of the other ERNs, as an ally.”

Marlene started her career at 3M more than 20 years ago as an intern in Mexico and now as a six sigma master black belt in St. Paul, her role is to generate continuous improvement in the company. She applies that expertise to her role in equity work as well. “I was part of the community coalition to understand what pain points we have in our backyard in St. Paul community and how can we create equity for the future,” she said. “They related to diversity in STEM, to education, making sure everybody has housing, and providing everyone with access to the right tools to be successful in the future.”

With those priorities identified, the group of 3Mers and community members helped to shape where 3M would invest in the community. Beyond donations to nonprofits, both Marlene and Omar said it was critically important that 3Mers show up in the community through volunteering.

“Employee resource networks have an opportunity to partner with 3M and with community partners to think through how we show up differently in the community and what we can do differently to better support our ambitions to close the racial opportunity gaps,” Omar said.

Members of many of 3M’s ERNs have partnered with nonprofits in the Twin Cities to hold career days where 3Mers talk about their careers, their experiences and what led them to their current role.

“Young people can really understand that there are opportunities for them in STEM and business,” Omar said, “And that there are other black professionals sharing their experiences, who look just like them, I think is critically important.”

“When they say, ‘I can be like you,’ I tell you, I get goosebumps again,” Marlene said. “To show who you are and to share your background and how you got to be the role model for someone you never thought you would be impacting is powerful.”

Within the company, ERNs are also influencing change for all employees. After the killing of George Floyd, 3M’s African American Network created a safe space for 3Mers to have an open discussion about the dynamics of policing. Omar said being vulnerable helps build trust and is a key component to meeting people where they are.

“We have an opportunity to help our Black and African American employees feel safe and feel heard. When an employee is seen and heard, and we provide specific programming for them, then they show up as their best selves every day.” 

3M is committed to doubling representation of underrepresented groups from entry-level to senior management in the U.S. workforce and as a result of that, this year they signed The Hispanic Promise — a first of its kind national pledge to hire, promote, retain, and celebrate Hispanic/Latinos in the workplace. “This is how we turn ideas into action at 3M,” Marlene said. “We want 3M to be seen as an employer of choice by the Hispanic/Latino community and we’re beyond excited to see 3M take this step.”

Marlene says her work with the Latin@ Resource Network has changed over the years as ERNs have gained new visibility and a new perspective at 3M. As the LRN chair she has found ways to connect with other ERNs and has found similar backgrounds and identities among most of the 3Mers she meets. “We’re not just one thing,” she said. “It’s really the sum of everything we are that makes us better people and more accepting of others.”

ERN leaders are looking toward the future. Next on the horizon is the need for more allyship and partnership.

“Every group needs allies,” Omar said. “In order to invite allies to the table, it’s important to create a space for them where they can help support advancing our mission not only within 3M, but also in the community.”

How would you show up as an ally for others within your company? Share your thoughts in the comments below. For more details on what 3M is doing to create greater equity in our workplaces, communities and business practices, visit 
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