How to Stay Current, Agile, and Grow as a DEI Leader

Sponsored by Waters Corporation

Jess Lee. Photo courtesy of Waters Corporation.

Jess Lee. Photo courtesy of Waters Corporation.

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“Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) professionals have to be agile to what is happening around them. We can’t be stuck in stone.”

That’s one key piece of advice that Jess Lee, DEI Director at Waters Corporation (a global leader in analytical instruments and software) has to say about working in the DEI space. And Jess has learned how important this advice is firsthand — in her role, she creates and implements global DEI strategies for approximately 8,000 employees.

In fact, throughout her career, Jess has learned many best practices for starting and growing a career in the ever-evolving world of DEI, including these three top tips:

  1. Own your own learning. DEI isn’t stagnant — language shifts, programs need to be responsive to employee needs, and we’re always responding to what’s happening in broader society. Growing a career in DEI means staying current and agile. 

  2. Get experience in the various facets of the corporate and HR world. DEI needs to be integrated into all parts of the business. You’ll need to understand how talent development, talent acquisition, and human resources operations work to provide support. 

  3. Lean into your people skills. In order to lead DEI work, you have to build motivation and inspiration. Bring people along with the work instead of forcing or telling. Understanding employees’ and senior leadership’s motivation can help to build engagement and support.

By following this advice, Jess has been able to continuously grow her career while building strong teams that employees like, trust, and respect. In this exclusive interview, Jess gives us an inside look into how she approaches DEI at Waters, along with a few of the innovative initiatives at the company. Read on for DEI inspiration!

To begin, can you share an overview of what Waters’ DEI strategy is? 

Waters is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace that’s representative of the societies we live in. Our approach to DEI is designed to shift mindsets, foster inclusive behaviors, and encourage increased representation of employees with diverse backgrounds

Our focus is on three key areas: 

  1. Building a diverse workforce that is representative of the society we live in.

  2. Creating an inclusive workplace where teams we like, trust, and respect can thrive.

  3. Engage our community to help build diverse pipelines and employee engagement.

How was this strategy developed, and what did you prioritize when developing this strategy?

I joined Waters in September 2021 and spent my first four months just getting a feel for our employees, our work, and our leadership investment. I also did a deep dive and analyzed our internal data, as well as external benchmarking data to understand trends in our industry. Internally, I saw so much excitement, passion, and advocacy for DEI work but also a need for structure. 

Then, I spent the next three months building out a strategy with feedback from various key stakeholders throughout the process, including our CEO, senior leadership team, the  Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders, HR leadership team, and other DEI advocates. I really prioritized getting to know the company and our people because I knew the strategy needed to be guided by them

When creating or updating a DEI strategy, what are the biggest challenges you face? How do you overcome these challenges?

One of the biggest challenges is that it can take time, and time is not always something that’s readily available. There is a strong sense of urgency to create an actionable plan that is successful immediately, but many DEI initiatives are long-term without seeing results for a year, if not longer. Prioritizing short- and long-term initiatives is critical so that the low-hanging fruit can be completed and celebrated while long-term success takes longer. 

Do you have any specific DEI projects or accomplishments that you are particularly proud of?

I’m especially proud of building our first Global Summer Internship program in 2022. I had never led a program of this scope before so it was a challenge, but we successfully hosted over 150 interns that summer from eight different countries, with 45% of our interns being women and 15% being Black and Latinx. Plus, working with young people so excited about Waters, learning, and DEI was such a beautiful experience. 

Let’s also talk about the Employee Circles and Hubs at Waters. Can you tell us a bit about these?

We all benefit from more inclusive teams whose members respect and value each other’s perspectives and contributions. Our employee resource groups (ERGs) provide an inclusive space for employees to connect, build awareness, learn from each other, and support fellow teammates throughout the world.

At Waters, we have global Circles and local Hubs. Our Circles support global strategy, and our Hubs take that strategy and make it relevant to their specific location, country, or site. For me, our Circles and Hubs help make Waters an inclusive, collaborative, and supportive environment by building awareness, learning, and communication for our employees and their various identities

Our Circles and Hubs, as well as our DEI strategy, must always be responsive to employee needs, so we are always reflecting, re-evaluating, and readjusting. We regularly get employee feedback to understand what they are hoping to gain from our ERGs. For the strategy, we are finishing our second year of implementation and will take a step back to review what we did, what was successful, and what we can adjust for the future. 

Can you share a few positive events and impacts that have resulted from Employee Circles and Hubs?

We have five Circles: Disability @ Waters, People of Color @ Waters, Pride @ Waters, Veterans @ Waters, and Women @ Women. We also have six Hubs. These groups all focus on bringing great discussions, events, and training to our employees. Our biggest and most impactful events were: 

  • Our International Women’s Day celebration, where we celebrated women at Waters throughout all of our sites and virtually. We had a wall of gratitude in one of our sites where folks were able to share all the women in their lives they are grateful for. It was beautiful to see folks sharing personal stories and engaging with each other. 

  • This is the second year we’ve had a Waters cookbook for World Day for Cultural Diversity. Employees submit recipes that share a little bit about who they are and their culture, and we publish the cookbook virtually. This year, we had our onsite restaurants cook some of the recipes and spotlight the employees who submitted them to the cookbook. 

Curious about joining the inclusive, collaborative, and supportive environment at Waters? Want to be a voice that contributes to this great culture? Consider applying to a job there via the following link.

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