Leadership Strives to Enhance Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Earlier this year, Burns & McDonnell promoted Leon Harden as the firm’s first diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy manager. In this role, Harden works closely with executive leaders and business diversity teams globally to provide strategic guidance for creating and integrating DEI initiatives and programs.

Leon speaks with Michelle Word, business diversity director at Burns & McDonnell, about his vision for this new position and the importance of a more concerted effort around DEI initiatives.


Michelle Word: What exactly does this role mean to you?

Leon Harden: For me, it is an opportunity to get more of a concerted effort around diversity, equity and inclusion for Burns & McDonnell. I think that there have been a myriad of activities and things that we've done over the years, and this to me seems like an opportunity to capture what we've done, state who we are now and then start to define who we're going to be in the future.

MW: Do you think these efforts will change the culture of Burns & McDonnell?

LH: Yeah, I'm talking about a cultural evolution. We are a Midwest firm that is expanding beyond those 10 states that are right in the middle of the country. As we do, that means we have access to more diverse talent pools. It also means that we are working with a diverse set of clients. We need to take the next step forward and position ourselves to really launch into the future.

MW: Have you had an opportunity to visit with many of our clients?

LH: Yes, and it was really eye-opening for me to meet with our clients because they're just as invested in this effort as we are. But even more so, it was just interesting to note that they are still on their journey. And the things that they are talking about are some of the things that we're talking about.

We have to foster an environment where people from all walks of life can come here, live themselves authentically as they are and feel comfortable. Sometimes I think that diversity can be a challenge because some people don't really see themselves as that being something — that it is not their problem because they don't really think they are affected by diversity. The truth is that we define diversity as including everyone so that no one is left out. The idea is not to exclude. It is to include.

MW: What do you say to someone that may think that they are not affected by diversity?

LH: The world might pass them by. And I think the world might pass us by if we don't really put a focus
on diversity and inclusion. When we talk about trends in diversity, equity and inclusion, I think we're starting to move more toward inclusion — to make a space for everyone, where you feel comfortable doing the same work that I feel comfortable doing and that we've got the same opportunities to continue to move ourselves forward.

MW: One of the reasons that brought you to Burns & McDonnell is because it's a great company to work for. I have a feeling that in a few years with your leadership, it's going to be an even greater company to work for.

LH: Thank you, I appreciate that. I'm hopeful to get things moving. I have worked for several organizations throughout my career in staffing and in corporate recruitment. I truly believe that no one does this better than we do. I think we have the opportunity to just shift a few things and really make some impactful change within our organization.


This post is part of Together By Design, a quarterly business diversity newsletter published by Burns & McDonnell to advance a community of inclusion. This newsletter features stories of great opportunity, leaders who bring out the best in others, innovative approaches, and diverse perspectives that shape the business community and the world at large.

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