Diversity & Inclusion

Personal Experience and an Analytical Nature Drive Rebecca Derdiger’s DEI Efforts at Grainger

The corporate pursuit of greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a people-focused pursuit. So many of the DEI leaders we’ve spoken with over the course of our ongoing series are truly people people. They thrive on growing and developing talent, building communities, and fostering inclusion.

Rebecca Derdiger

But corporate-level DEI also often requires an analytical touch. After all, corporate DEI involves determining the most effective and efficient use of limited budgets, retention strategies for hundreds or thousands of employees, and recruitment strategies that may involve millions of potential employees.

Rebecca Derdiger, our focus for this installment of our series on DEI leaders, has combined people skills with a strong analytical background to find success as Grainger’s senior director of diversity and corporate responsibility. She is responsible for positioning Grainger as a leader in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices, as well as strengthening the company’s DEI efforts and community impact strategies.

Derdiger has more than 15 years of end-to-end HR expertise, which has enabled her to successfully lead teams within Grainger.

An Analytics Background

Derdiger has a strong analytic background that she believes directly contributes to her success in the DEI world. “One of the more unique things about me is that I came from a rewards background,” Derdiger explains. “I was a compensation consultant before coming to Grainger and used my consultative and analytical skills to chart a data-driven DEI path. After demonstrating leadership on Grainger’s pay equity analysis, I started to work on more DEI efforts, which has been incredibly impactful to me as an individual.”

A Personal Call to Action

Often, DEI leaders are drawn to the work because of their own experiences. Personal struggles and connections to marginalized groups can be eye-opening calls to action, and Derdiger explains that her own DEI journey was influenced by observing bias against Jewish people.

“I remember early in my tenure, there were many anti-Semitic rallies in the world and, as a Jewish person, it was disturbing that companies were not talking about it,” she explains. “That silence was loud. I felt like, ‘Why is no one interacting with me about this? Does anyone care?’ Now that I am in a role where I can advise the organization on how and when to comment on societal issues, it’s very energizing to me, and I feel grateful to give someone a better experience when we’re presented with tough societal challenges.”

Support from the Top

Derdiger is a firm believer in the importance of leadership commitment to DEI efforts. “As you know, successful diversity initiatives must start at the top,” she says. “Our CEO and entire executive team are active supporters and contributors to Grainger’s diversity efforts. In fact, all levels of leadership are attending training, reviewing data, and participating in the conversations.”

Grainger is working to increase the diversity of its workforce through many initiatives, such as actively rooting out bias in recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding. “Recent changes to our application process include accommodations for candidates with disabilities and enabling applicants to provide a preferred first name in case they are not known by their legal name,” Derdiger explains. “We also implemented a technology tool to remove non-inclusive language from our job postings. We have also incorporated several steps in our recruiting including a focus on diverse interview slates, as well as ensuring we have a diverse set of interviewers and a standard process for evaluating candidates.”

Grainger continues to invest in focused partnerships that will expand its diverse talent pool for specific roles. With the support of a third party, Grainger also reviews the compensation of U.S. team members to ensure consistent pay equity practices on an annual basis.

Having the Hard Conversations

Conversations around DEI can be challenging and uncomfortable, and far too often, companies and individuals choose to simply not have those conversations. But Grainger and Derdiger are advocates of expanding communication channels to support DEI goals.

“One of my team’s first missions was to kick off a new campaign—called BeBrave Conversations—to open up the lines of communication across all organizational levels and have real conversations on race, gender, age, and sexual orientation,” Derdiger says. “We began the concept in early 2020. Then following the social and racial unrest in June 2020, we were able to quickly deploy several DEI resources for people leaders.”

Included in those resources were a discussion guide and a video message talking about how to have brave conversations in the workplace, Derdiger says. Leaders quickly requested additional tools and guidance to help steer DEI conversations with their teams. Just 2 months later, she says, leaders were holding brave conversations in team settings and encouraging team members to share openly and vulnerably.

“More than 650 leaders across North America opted-in to participate, and after training the organization on how to better identify unconscious bias, we’ll look to expand these to team members in 2023 and beyond,” Derdiger says.

The Importance of Community

Derdiger truly believes that a sense of community and belonging helps people feel accountable, and she and Grainger have worked hard to develop a sense of community both within the organization and between the organization and the outside world.

“One of Grainger’s core community focus areas is on advancing the emerging workforce,” Derdiger says. “Giving back to the community where our team members live and work helps us drive social and economic benefits.”

Grainger works collaboratively with various community partners through a combination of resources, including in-kind donations, a nonprofit board placement program, team member volunteerism, and a three-to-one matching gifts program. “The Grainger Matching Charitable Gifts Program amplifies our U.S. team members’ personal community support via a 3:1 match,” Derdiger says. “The company matches up to $2,500 of team-member-eligible contributions to qualifying organizations annually. In 2021, Grainger granted more than $2 million in matching gift contributions to more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations.”

Successful DEI efforts need to maintain a strong focus on the inherent human element of this work. But it’s also important to recognize the quantitative tools and metrics that help drive and measure the success of those efforts. Derdiger brings both a passion for helping others and a strong analytic background to her DEI work at Grainger, making her impact both meaningful and measurable.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.