BENTON HARBOR — Camille Pierce is tasked with making sure the best talent gets a chance to rise at Whirlpool Corp.

As senior director of global diversity and inclusion at Whirlpool, Pierce focuses on creating an inclusive culture at the appliance maker, which employs more than 92,000 employees worldwide.

This is easier said than done.

Her goal is to help attract, promote and retain diverse talent while helping all employees reach their full potential.

“Even though it’s 2019, we still have work to do,” Pierce said. “I remember in the mid-’90s when I was just starting out in corporate America and facing similar problems that are relevant today in terms of helping diverse talent be successful. It’s one of those spaces where it feels like you take one step forward and two steps back.”

When asked what her workday looks like, Pierce chuckles and promptly responds: “Meetings, meetings, meetings.”

With inclusion there’s never one solution. Pierce says there is no silver bullet, and that trying to pin down what makes a difference in this field is no easy task.

“My biggest job is embedding inclusion into everything we do and enabling others in the organization to make this their work, too,” she said. “And that’s the only way we’re going to make this sustainable.”

One thing Pierce’s department has done to target a long-term solution has been the creation of an inclusion campaign called “In My Shoes.”

In an effort to appeal to each other’s sense of empathy, they’ve launched a program to detail personal stories and experiences, in relation to diversity and inclusion.

“A big part of the campaign is to get people to understand what inclusion means,” Pierce said. “Inclusion means different things to different people. A lot of times, people have used inclusion and diversity together.”

Another training initiative Pierce and her team are trying is called MARC, which stands for Men Advocating Real Change.

The leadership development initiative takes the most senior leaders of the company to showcase what it is like to be a woman in the workplace.

“It’s meant to help equip men to be part of the solution and to be allies,” Pierce said. “It’s a refreshing approach because I think men have often been blamed for the diversity issues in the past, and I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. Sometimes they don’t know and we haven’t invited them to be part of the solution.”

The workshop brings both sexes together and allows men to walk out with a new awareness.

“The goal is to make sure the best talent gets the opportunity because we want to choose the best talent in lieu of choosing the most diverse talent,” she said. “That should not be the tradeoff, ever.”

Finding Whirlpool

Pierce, 46, is from Portland, Ore.

She attended Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, where she earned her undergrad and master’s in business administration. She began her professional career with Proctor & Gamble, where she worked for 20 years. Pierce started in marketing but changed careers to human resources.

While on the marketing side of the company, she handled the Pepto Bismol and Crest toothbrush brands.

“I realized my true passion of human resources was born out of my desire to help people reach their full potential,” Pierce said. “When you’re following a path that’s laid out for your purpose, it’s easier to move forward.”

It wasn’t a tough transition for Pierce. The job came naturally and easily for her.

She was about five years into her tenure with Proctor & Gamble when she switched to human resources.

Leaving P&G, based in Cincinnati, for the Benton Harbor-based appliance maker was not something Pierce actively planned.

But during her first visit, it was a warm spring day and Pierce took the usual trek through downtown St. Joseph and along the bluff. She remembered looking at Lake Michigan and thinking it was an ocean.

However, the opportunity at Whirlpool to be the global head of talent development was what Pierce wanted most.

So she joined Whirlpool in 2016 and was promoted after her first 18 months there. Pierce focused on performance management, succession planning and talent assessment.

“It was what felt like the next step on my path,” she said. “By the time I got toward the end of my time at P&G, it was becoming clearer to me that within an HR function, I wanted to focus on the talent space specifically.”

Outside of work

Pierce is married, having met her husband in college. He also worked at Proctor & Gamble for 18 years, then decided to become a stay-at-home father to their three children.

“It was a really critical time for our kids,” Pierce said. “They moved (here) at a time when my daughter was about to start high school. So, leaving her friends behind was tough. But they’ve been here for three years and are doing well.”

Pierce also operates as the steering committee lead for the Leadership Accelerator program.

The program is a community-wide effort that brings leaders together in an effort to become stronger leaders for the companies they are a part of.

“Through this I’ve gotten in touch with the needs of our community,” she said. “I’m excited to be able to apply leadership development principles and strategies to the spaces that need it more than ever.”

She’s also on the business advisory board with the Women’s Business Center at Cornerstone Alliance. The organization that supports women business owners and entrepreneurs played into what Pierce tries to push on a daily basis.

“Looking at my work in the diversity and inclusion space, for me that particular organization gives me a chance to bring all of that together to make an impact,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to come together with other women leaders across various corporations.”

Despite her best efforts, Pierce said the toughest part of her job is the frustration over how change can be slow. That’s not just at Whirlpool, Pierce says, but the world in general.

But knowing she’s making an impact is the best part of her job, she said.

“Getting people (who) I don’t even know sending me emails and ‘thank you’ notes saying my articles have been helpful in their own journey, has been very rewarding,” Pierce said.

With a plan in place for Whirlpool, Pierce also has one in mind for herself. In five to 10 years, Pierce said she sees herself wrapping up her corporate career and moving toward retirement.

“I’d like to continue this work, but with my own leadership solutions,” Pierce said.