Kimberly-Clark’s Alison Lewis and Lori Shaffer: Women’s Empowerment Is a Force to Be Reckoned With
Alison Lewis, Kimberly-Clark’s chief growth officer, and Lori Shaffer, the company’s vice president of global nonwovens, are committed to driving positive change for women and girls around the world. In honor of International Women’s Day, we spoke with Alison and Lori about the power of embracing equity, steps that organizations can take to better support women in the workplace and at home, the women who inspire them, and what they hope for moving forward.
This is part 2 of a 2-part series – view part 1
Q: What can all organizations do to create workplaces that better support women?
AL: There’s incredible power in building diverse teams. Diversity creates belonging and fosters an environment where everyone brings their best selves to work. In my experience, teams of only one gender are lacking. They often experience groupthink and create cliques and environments of exclusion. That’s why it’s so important for men to be allies in the workplace and embrace a new ‘normal’ for equity and equality to truly take place.
LS: Companies can support women by engaging in authentic dialogue and keeping channels of communication open. It’s important to ask women what they’re most passionate about both inside and outside of work, creating a culture that empowers them to pursue both.
For me, this looks like having the flexibility to take an hour out of my day to be a reader in my daughter’s kindergarten class, or participating in an engineering panel at my son’s high school. Women should be able to do things like this without feeling guilty, and company culture plays a critical role in creating such an environment.
Q: What’s the value of women’s-focused employee resource groups?
LS: I’m actively involved in our Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN), and I love it. Employee resource groups (ERGs) like WIN foster relationships, provide mentorship opportunities and open leadership development pathways.
I’ve been both a speaker and part of the mentoring/small group programs, and many ideas have come from hearing individuals share the challenges they face daily. These women’s-focused groups provide an opportunity for the candid conversations required to make continued progress on our journey to embracing equity.
Q: In the midst of a global pandemic, women and girls have faced numerous setbacks both professionally and personally over the last few years that have negatively impacted their progress. What gives you hope, and what do you hope for moving forward?
AL: I saw so many women drop out of the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic because they felt they had no other choice. Schools and daycares were closed, and we suddenly didn’t have our normal support systems.
I am hopeful when I think about the positive changes and cultural shifts that I've seen come from those years. For example, the flexibility of working from home for many professional jobs has helped eliminate the ‘bad employee and bad mother’ syndrome. There’s less guilt around being a mom and working because there’s more flexibility. Now, you can read to your kid’s class at school and still make the work meeting afterwards instead of choosing one or the other. That is a game changer.
The pandemic also forced us all to think differently about what’s most important, and I've seen women stay truer to themselves because of it. Women’s empowerment is a force to be reckoned with…we had a chance to reflect on our priorities and pursue them versus living in the old state where the fear of missing out often dominated our lives.
Q: Is there a woman in your life who inspires you? If so, how?
AL: I’ve been surrounded by so many inspiring females throughout my life, including my great-grandmother who grew up as a pioneer in Canada in the mid-1860s. She was one of 10 children and moved by herself to Chicago at 30 years old to start her career and step away from the traditional pioneering life.
My grandmother was also a trailblazer and someone I deeply admire. She went to university in 1918, taught school and had children in her late 30s – this was all very uncommon in that era. She would have no doubt been a CEO in today’s landscape, but she lived in a time where that wasn’t possible.
Both my great-grandmother and grandmother embraced life, were incredibly resilient, and didn’t let fictional constraints hold them back. My mom, my sisters and I have all followed in their footsteps, and I am so proud to come from a line of strong, independent women.
LS: My inspiration is my mom. She’s a teacher, and she became one at a time when most women stayed home. She has always been curious, and she taught both my brother and I to continuously ask questions and think critically.
She also had her own unique challenges, which I appreciate more now as an adult. She did what she needed to do at that time in her life and made sure her kids had every opportunity to chase their passions. That’s the kind of mom I strive to be. I want my children to look back and know I did my very best to pave a better way for them.