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Understanding and knowing: Claudia Diaz-Singer’s journey of leading with empathy at J.M. Smucker

  • The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Expanding Equity program helps workplaces become more racially equitable places of opportunity. The program supports and inspires actions that advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion among leaders, within companies and within industries. This interview is part of a series highlighting individual leaders’ personal racial equity, diversity and inclusion journeys, and the impacts of those experiences on their careers.

    Claudia Diaz-Singer is the senior director of talent development and workplace inclusion at J.M. Smucker — a consumer goods company with ~7k employees. In her role, Claudia is responsible for employee development; leadership development; change management and inclusion, diversity and equity efforts. These efforts included the design of a specific listening strategy that evolved into an ongoing forum for just-in-time, critical discussions with employees called “Conversations that ElevateAwareness.” She currently serves on the Ashland University Advisory Board, as well as The University of Akron Leadership Institute Advisory Board. In 2020, she was recognized as AMMORE 100+Latinos Cleveland Must Know.

    Q: What is your background? What does DEI mean to you? 

    “My career at Smucker started almost 20 years ago when I came into the organization as an administrative assistant not knowing much about the company. I quickly learned and found ways to incorporate my strong work ethic and curiosity, knowing that I could also do more in the work that I was doing.”

    “As my role and responsibility continued to evolve as a people manager, [with] responsibility for 40-plus people across our teams, I was approached by one of my peers at the time who became one of my managers and leaders, and she saw something in me that I didn’t even know. For me, that was the first time, that what I was doing, I felt, mattered.”

    “And I get emotional because when we talk about the work that we’re doing, it’s seeing people, it’s seeing things in them that make them even better. […] Probably where I see the importance of this work, not only for my own success but [helping] others see that they too have a place in this organization and can also be successful. And the work that I do is born out of love, it’s born out of passion to see others do better.”

    Q: How have conversations around DEI evolved? 

    Empathy, we know, is the heart of all emotions. What we really focus on at our organization is ensuring that through our culture and our values that mutual respect for one another is at the core. But to truly know what respect looks like for one another, it’s understanding and knowing the person, knowing what makes them tick.

    “We try to encourage an environment where we can have feedback, discussion, and conversation so that we can really get to the issue–and not necessarily impact the relationship–so that we can have more fruitful and positive outcomes as a result. […] What the work of inclusion, diversity, and equity has created for us, [is allowing] us to hear and listen and learn from others’ experiences that I might not ever have experienced personally, but ‘I know you, I work with you, and I can also better understand where you are coming from.’”

    Q: What challenges do you face in DEI? How are you navigating them?

    “Oftentimes, as practitioners in this space, we do carry the concern for everyone and that can be emotionally taxing. But what I have found to be extremely helpful is surrounding myself with people who are passionate and supporters of this work.

    “When I think about the challenges that this work creates, it is most important to be surrounded with those that you know are going to support you. […] It’s not something that you’re going to be able to do alone. This work is a collective body of work.”

    “And it’s okay that you’re going to hit some bumps along the way, that not everyone is going to agree. That’s why we say, ‘this is a journey, and we have to meet people where they are,’ [while] also having the courage to be yourself. […] Part of my own personal journey is no longer assimilating to the way that I thought I had to be. [That] can be liberating for yourself and the growth that you experience through this work.”


    Claudia’s Recommended Resources


    • Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
    • Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion by Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee
    • Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth by Richard Boyatzis, Melvin L. Smith and Ellen Van Oosten
    • Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek