Exelon: The Mirror, The Handle and The Button-Leadership Lessons in Unexpected Places

Photo caption: Robert Matthews, VP Talent and Chief DEI Officer, Exelon, takes time to share leadership lessons with a colleague at a recent Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) Summit.

Several years ago, I was standing at the sink in a public restroom when a man with forearm crutches walked past me, headed toward the door.

As I washed my hands, I could hear him repeatedly clicking the automatic door opener, to no avail. He pushed and pushed the button, but the door wouldn’t open. I remember thinking, “Do I speak up? If I ask if he needs help, what will he think? Will I offend him?” I stood there washing my hands much longer than necessary contemplating what to do.

Finally, I called over to the man, “Do you mind if I help?” to which he good-naturedly replied, “I was wondering what was taking you so long!” We smiled and he thanked me as I opened the door for us both. All these years later, I still think about that brief encounter, and the three important leadership lessons it taught me:

The first lesson came while looking in the mirror:

Take responsibility. Take action.
As I stood there scrubbing my hands and wondering, “What’s my role here? What can I do? What should I do?” I realized I needed to get involved and take action. Something needed to be done and I couldn’t wait for someone else. I needed to start with me.

The second lesson came from the door handle:

Make room for others.

As I opened the door for the man, it occurred to me that I was in a privileged position. My actions were opening doors for those who could not get into rooms on their own. And as a leader in my chosen industry, the same is true. How often do we take the time to look around the rooms we’re privileged to be in and ask, Who’s here? Who is not here? Who has access? And how can I help to ensure that those who have traditionally been excluded have access to these rooms?

The third lesson came from the automatic door button:

Address the systems.

I left the restroom that day having helped one person, which is great. But I never reported the problem with the malfunctioning automatic door button. That’s a systems issue. When working on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, it can’t be just a one-time thing. We have to ask ourselves: Is the work we’re doing addressing the underlying systems issues that are causing the problems in the first place? If not, then what do we need to be doing differently?

At Exelon, our leaders are committed to ensuring that our DEI efforts take into account those three lessons.

We start “in the mirror,” with ourselves, insisting that our workforce is diverse and that our workplace culture encourages all employees to feel safe to bring selves to work. And we’ve made that ideal actionable: All employees are assigned an annual DEI performance goal.

We are making room and opening doors for others: From supporting diverse business partners – through November 2022, our spend with diversity-certified suppliers totaled more than $2.5B, representing 39% of our total corporate spend – to the creation of leadership programs to deepen and expand the pipeline of African American, Latinx and Pan-Asian employees.

And we are addressing systems. We created an executive-led Racial Equity Task Force that, among other things, supports advocacy for more equitable government policies; ensures that our political action committee contribution practices reflect our values; and developed a strategic approach to create opportunities for deeper customer engagement. We have a robust workforce development strategy focused on addressing economic inequities in under-resourced communities. We launched a $36 million Racial Equity Capital Fund to expand access to capital for minority businesses. That’s just naming a few.

As you continue your DEI journey, remember the mirror, the handle and the button – and start this critical work before someone asks, “I wonder what’s taking you so long.”

0 comment

You may also like