Diversity and inclusion remain a focus of workplaces in the petrochemicals market and beyond.
Executives from Dow Inc., Celanese Corp. and IHS Markit addressed those topics March 9 during the online World Petrochemical Conference hosted by IHS Markit.
Fitterling, chairman and CEO of plastics and chemicals leader Dow of Midland, Mich., said that meeting diversity goals could be more challenging after the COVID-19 pandemic because women and minorities have been harder hit by that event.
"There already were systemic issues with parity in the workplace, but now more women than men have left the work force," he added. Overall, Fitterling said that diversity "is a business multiplier."
"If we're going to be the most innovative, we have to be inclusive," he said. "We have to step forward now."
Fitterling also placed diversity in the context of his experience of coming out as gay while at Dow in 2014.
"I came out late in life, and the impact of being out and coming to work every day vs. being in the closet and coming to work every day, the impact was to take a ton of stress off my shoulders," he said. "That stress makes you unproductive.
"Now imagine if you're a person of color and you can't hide that fact at work, you carry that with you every day. If you're a woman and you don't see role models … you carry that every day," he said. "It's our job as leaders to create an environment where people want to come into that workplace."
Fitterling recalled that when he came out, former Dow CEO Frank Popoff called him and said "it's the best thing you could have ever done."
Popoff had been supportive of former Dow board member Alan Gilmour in 1996 when Gilmour was outed as gay in the Detroit media. Gilmour, the chief financial officer of Ford Motor Co. at the time, "was very worried about the reaction, but [Popoff] said 'Alan, don't worry, I'll take care of it,' and Frank did. Frank called every single board member and it was a non-issue at Dow," Fitterling said.
He added that when he was being considered for the chief operations officer job at Dow, he told former CEO Andrew Liveris that he "didn't want to be on the front page of newspapers somewhere."
"I said I'd like to come out on my own and I'd like it to be my own story," Fitterling recalled. "[Liveris] said I want you to go see every member of the board. I went and visited them one by one and to a person they all said to me: 'This is exactly the right thing to do, we support you, we're glad you're doing it and don't ever look back.'
"That's the culture that we have at Dow."