As a global health care provider with employees in more than 70 countries, Fresenius Medical Care is committed to learning about and responding to the diversity of the human experience.
Creating a nurturing environment in which everyone can thrive and fulfill their potential means welcoming people of every race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or spirituality, nationality, age, and socioeconomic status.
“At its core, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are about belonging. We are on a multi-year journey to build an environment in which people feel safe and confident, welcomed, cherished and celebrated,” explains Mignon Early, who in 2021 became Fresenius Medical Care’s first Vice President DE&I. Trained as a dialysis nurse, Early joined Fresenius Medical Care as a Regional Vice President, later advancing to General Manager, eventually switching back to her clinical roots as Vice President of Clinical Quality. Faced with a rising tide of major challenges in 2020, from the pandemic to racially motivated killings in the U.S., she felt the calling to address them head-on.
"I realized I had to use my voice as a woman of color and speak up. As an organization, we need to turn inward to create the necessary change that will empower us to make a difference in the lives of fellow employees and patients."
Early led the initial effort to examine issues around diversity, equity and inclusion before taking on the new position of Vice President in charge of Company-wide DE&I. “Having been a nurse, an operator and a corporate leader, I have personally experienced the many ways people at Fresenius Medical Care provide support to each other and to our patients, who often come from minority and underrepresented groups,” Early explains. “We can and we are building on that culture."
She is supported by a DE&I Executive Council and a larger DE&I Council with a focus on several key topics. “We want to build an inclusive, hightrust culture for our employees and attract, retain and develop a worldclass team that reflects the diversity of our patients and staff,” says Early. “Thirdly, we want to position ourselves for success through our commitment to DE&I, and we want to make sure that senior leaders realize their individual potential to make a Company-wide impact.“
I realized I had to use my voice as a woman of color and speak up.
One initiative is listening to employees, which so far has reached around 11,000 of her colleagues. Early’s team also hosts regular workshops on the topic of inclusion and has published a Glossary of Inclusive Terms that will be regularly updated based on employee input. “We’re just at the beginning of this journey and can always do more, for instance collecting data-driven insights on our talent,” she says. “A company’s commitment to DE&I can be a very influential factor in retaining diverse talent and encouraging prospective employees to join a company.”
A bottom-up approach to building an inclusive workplace
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a particularly successful tool used in the U.S. to expand the reach of DE&I programs. Employees are encouraged to network and form interest groups from the bottom up. ERGs can range from forums to discuss people’s professional development and wellbeing to groups centered around their ethnic and cultural background or sexual orientation. Examples include a Women’s Employee Resource Group and the LGBTQIA+ and Allies ERG that welcomes colleagues across a wide spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations.
“ERGs are a wonderful way to find peers and to build a sense of belonging through regular events, including celebrating key holidays,” says Stephen Weber, Senior Director of Customer Experience at Fresenius Medical Care North America. He is also the leader of the LGBTQIA+ and Allies ERG, which was launched in October 2020 and has grown to more than 300 members in just two years.
“Employees are more likely to perform at their best when they are able to be themselves at work. The benefits of workplace authenticity can be a renewed sense of confidence, happiness at work, job satisfaction, a sense of belonging, a feeling of pride and even a sense of freedom."
Employee Resource Groups are a wonderful way to find peers and to build a sense of belonging.
“It means that we listen more closely to one another and take a genuine interest in the Company’s success.” Weber adds that everyone is welcome to join the ERG and can even join as an ally. "Allies play such a significant role in our community that we felt it was important to call them out by name in the title of our ERG. Allies are a huge resource that any underserved or underrepresented population needs to make change and drive down bias.” Since the first Women’s ERG was founded in 2017, their number has grown to 16 groups comprising more than 3,000 members, with more forming as things stand in late 2022.
Weber and Early also have high hopes for a recently launched ERG mentoring program. “It can be a great way to find a mentor and help people unlock their potential. Through mentoring and sponsorship, we can equip employees from underrepresented populations with skills, tools, and internal advocacy to promote them to more senior roles and ultimately assume leadership positions,” Early says.