Editor's note: This story was originally published on Dec. 15, 2017.
Philomena Morrissey Satre likes to say that she is a builder – someone who wants to hit the ground running and create cultural bridges from the ground up. This is the philosophy that kept her at Wells Fargo for 29 years, in a variety of Human Resource positions, most recently in Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). This past June, Philomena joined Land O’Lakes, Inc. as director of Diversity and Inclusion – to lead the continued building of bridges as an integral part of our cooperative’s company culture.
“There’s a solid foundation at Land O’Lakes that already fosters diversity and inclusion,” Philomena says. “My job is to integrate and weave D and I into everything we do across the company, in every department; diversity and inclusion not a standalone department. It’s who we are and what we do.”
The ideas of diversity and inclusion as an initiative and as a part of any corporate company’s framework has changed a lot over the 19 years Philomena has been in the field. It’s not about checking a box on an HR form – it’s about changing the culture of a company. And from that inclusive culture, better products, services and value will follow. Because a culture that is inclusive and diverse is going to be more innovative and better equipped for the future.
The categorization of what diversity in the workplace means has also changed. For one, it’s become paired with the word “inclusion” – which is an important word that simply means everyone should feel like they should have a place at the table where differences are recognized and embraced.
“A lot of people think mostly about race, disability and gender when they think about diversity,” Philomena says. “Those are primary, but there are so many secondary diversity indicators you may not visibly see: socioeconomic diversity, generational, ways of thinking, invisible and visible disabilities.”
Philomena’s leading the charge at Land O’Lakes for building that inclusive structure and she’s challenging us – and the greater corporate world – to build right along with her.
Values instilled from childhood
Philomena’s mother and family had a great impact on her life; her mom is an immigrant from Ireland and her dad worked as a carpenter. Her mother emmigrated at 16, got her GED and went to business school. Philomena grew up in St. Paul and spent many weekends on city buses, off to participate in volunteer activities and attend activist events with her mother and five brothers and sisters.
“I try to embody the values my mother taught me as best I can,” Philomena says. “She is fiery, resilient and always emphasizes the importance of generosity and doing what’s right.”
With these values instilled, Philomena went to the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse for a bachelor’s in public administration and political science. She had wanted to make changes through policy and work at city hall as a lobbyist. But through an internship, she was discouraged by the bureaucracy of it.
So, she moved into HR and then eventually into a Community Engagement position at Wells Fargo. This gave her the first chance to work in diversity – an area she hasn’t left since. Her job was to figure out how to develop a strategy to find more diverse candidates and begin pioneering the way for diversity and inclusion.
“Over the course of the last twenty years, so many organizations have seen what other companies have been doing – and stepping up,” says Philomena. “I’m a learner. I want to know what’s going on in the community, what’s going on in the field. And how can I apply that through my work?”
She received her Master’s in organizational leadership from St. Catherine University in St. Paul during her time at Wells Fargo. She was recognized by the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal as a Woman Change Maker, and in 2016, she was awarded a 50 over 50 award. And she became Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness Consultant at Wells Fargo.
But after 29 years working at Wells Fargo, she wanted to move toward something new, where she could create more. Philomena’s passion for making cultural connections led her toward D&I roles. Through her informational and job interviews with people she knew at Land O’Lakes, she found exactly what she was looking for: a good size company with strong cooperative values, a readiness for this work and a shown commitment to social responsibility.
It’s been a busy few months since Philomena arrived at Land O’Lakes. She’s become certified in IDI – intercultural development inventory – a tool used by leaders to determine effectiveness of diversity and inclusion on a company level. She’s taken an online D&I course through Yale University. She’s also been talking with many leaders and thought partners, from co-leads of our Employee Resource Groups, to groups in marketing, to supply chain – to determine what the future of D&I will look like.
Building toward the future
“The commitment and dedication is already here,” Philomena says. “Our cooperative roots are built on those ideas of inclusion, engagement and teamwork.” One example would be Land O’Lakes’ ERGs. ERGs are company-recognized groups of employees who join together to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. Land O'Lakes has seven: African Ancestry, Asian Affinity Connection, LOL Amigos, Pride Alliance, VETS, the Women's Leadership Network and the Young Professionals Network. The ERGs work to create a more inclusive culture within the workplace alongside their executive sponsor and also within the larger community, like with LOL Amigos and the nonprofit CLUES.
Still, there is quite a bit of ground to cover and voices that we need to elevate. Our journey isn’t over.
“Diversity and inclusion may mean something different to us here in Minnesota than it does to a member farmer in Tulare and something different to a female leader on the floor of a facility,” Philomena says. “We want to have a cultural transformation and show people the why behind it– why you should care, why you should make a difference, why this is important for all of us.”
That’s where Philomena’s role fits in – elevating the voices in each of our employees and members and making D and I an integral part of our culture and success, no matter which part of the company we are in.
“There’s this quote I love from Desmond Tutu: ‘Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world,’” says Philomena. “And I just love that – it’s incremental – every single day, how do I show up and make a difference? It’s the power of being present.”