Adrienne Lawson, EdD, is very new to her role at PRIDE Industries, but she comes to the position with decades of experience in diversity, inclusion, and learning.
Lawson was hired on as PRIDE Industries’ Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Compliance in November 2020. The position is not new, but before Lawson assumed the role, the focus was heavier on the compliance aspect; Lawson will now be more focused on advancing the organization’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts.
An Academic Background
Lawson’s career started as a student assistant at San Jose State University. Her supervisor mentored her into a staff position at the school, and upon graduation, she relocated to Sacramento and began a long-term career at Sacramento State University. Lawson worked first in the school’s Department of Social Work, then as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Ethnic Students, simultaneously working in Research Administration while coordinating the Protection of Human Subjects Internal Review Board.
“The most inspirational experience at Sacramento State was being a member of the Black Faculty and Staff Association Employee Resource Group,” says Lawson. “This is where I found role models and mentors.”
After almost 20 years at Sacramento State, Lawson accepted a position at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland as Diversity Manager for Faculty Recruitment and Retention. “I moved back to Sacramento, CA to join UC Davis Health Office for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as the inaugural Director for Institutional Culture, Climate and Community Engagement,” Lawson says. She served in that role for 5.5 years.
Lawson says she was content in her position at UC Davis but got contacted out of the blue on LinkedIn by a search firm looking to fill the PRIDE Industries position. “When I read the position description, I got excited about the job, so I applied, and the rest is history,” she says.
A Company with a Mission of Inclusivity
Many companies around the country are creating chief diversity officer (CDO), or similar, positions in an effort to reap the benefits of a more diverse and inclusive workplace and gain some positive publicity. But PRIDE Industries is fundamentally about inclusivity and has been since it was created in 1966, says Lawson.
PRIDE’s mission is to create jobs for people with disabilities. “Through a wide spectrum of services, we help people overcome employment obstacles and empower them to lead productive, independent lives as contributing members of their communities,” the company’s website reads.
“The work we do at PRIDE Industries is phenomenal,” says Lawson. “We develop and employ those most vulnerable in the community.” She points to 2020 data from the American Psychological Association, which indicate that one in five Americans have a disability and that two-thirds of working-age Americans with disabilities are unemployed.
This background undoubtedly makes Lawson’s efforts to promote D&I within the organization a bit easier. She can point to a number of initiatives the company has put in place to support those efforts. “PRIDE Industries has invested in employee resource groups, and a host of trainings, as well as a leadership program, and toastmasters to benefit all employees,” Lawson says.
She’s engaged in a number of activities, including creating a mentoring program, launching a diversity advisory council, and developing a D&I section on the PRIDE website. “I look forward to embedding D&I across all aspects of PRIDE Industries business,” she says.
Recently, PRIDE also launched new employee resource groups (ERGs) for women, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and Millennials. The long-term plan for PRIDE is to shift the focus of these ERGs to what the company calls “business employee resource groups” (B/ERGs) to create and help enhance a targeted focus on business outcomes.
A Valuable Perspective
PRIDE’s background and history working with marginalized groups have given it decades of experience most companies lack when creating spaces for those groups.
“PRIDE Industries sees the value of all people,” explains Lawson. “They give hope and an opportunity for individuals with disabilities, foster youth, and trafficking survivors.” That, she says, primarily attracted her to the organization.
“In all of my professions, my goal is to make a difference,” she says. For more than 50 years, PRIDE Industries has made a significant difference for people who may not have otherwise had a chance at employment.
Leveraging the Compliance Side of the Job
As we noted, Lawson’s title is Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Compliance. The last part is something that isn’t necessarily part of every CDO’s job description, but it’s an important part of the work Lawson does with PRIDE, particularly as it relates to those with disabilities. Part of PRIDE’s mission is to place people with disabilities with employers that don’t typically have PRIDE’s level of expertise with that population. The organization is continually looking for new employer partners, Lawson says.
“If an organization is interested in learning more about our ‘secret sauce’ we are open to discuss a partnership and collaborate in hiring talented and motivated employees with disabilities,” says Lawson.
Lawson says many organizations that receive federal funds are not reaching their affirmative action goals when it comes to individuals with disabilities and veterans. “We can help organizations in that area with our Inclusive Talent Solutions team,” she says. “We not only provide the talent, but we train, coach, and support them for ongoing success through our unique process with over 50 years of experience.”
Lawson seems to have found the perfect fit with PRIDE—both have years of experience in recruiting and developing top talent, along with a true appreciation for and commitment to the value of D&I.