Tyrone Mitchell graduated from Howard University with a degree in engineering, yet his 25 years of experience at BP has led to many different roles. As the Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Fuels North America, for BP, he applied his engineering mindset to the challenges of diversity and inclusion.
I went to Howard University in Washington, DC, which is a historically black college. I studied mechanical engineering and graduated in December 1994.
I’ve been at BP for 25 years and have had quite a few different roles, from engineering to operations, maintenance and HR. I now work in health, safety, security and environmental. I started as a mechanical and project engineer at the Whiting Refinery in Indiana, and have since worked across the country, living up and down both the East and West Coast.
In 2017, I underwent a sizeable career change: I became the diversity and inclusion (D&I) manager for the Fuels North America business. I absolutely loved this transition because it allowed me to explore one of my passions—diversity and inclusion. Now that I have moved into a new role, I’d like to share what I’ve learned from my first HR role and why I think diversity and inclusion is such an important topic for everyone, irrespective of color or creed.
Inspired to Make a Difference
I took on the role as D&I manager because I felt that I had a good understanding of the BP business, having worked in several departments across the United States. I felt inspired to make a difference and wanted answers to some of my burning questions—how can we become a more diverse business? How can we foster a more inclusive culture?
This was a role that felt personal for me. I know what it’s like to be the only black person in the room, especially at a senior level. BP is very open on the subject and is constantly seeking to improve. My role provided me with the opportunity to educate people on the importance of diversity and this informed the development of an increasingly inclusive culture.
D&I Requires Collaboration
I’ve learned that in order to be successful at integrating a diverse and inclusive working culture, you must have D&I partners and champions. Discussions about change can come from anywhere and should be encouraged. But I’ve found that it is absolutely essential to have buy-in from the leadership.
D&I normally sits under the HR umbrella, but my role was unique because I reported directly to the chief operating officer of our fuels business. Being part of this business line was critical because part of my job was to assist in helping foster change across departments, with everyone taking responsibility—especially the leadership.
This reporting relationship was important because I was “at the table” and was encouraged to challenge our executive team to approach diversity and inclusion more strategically. Their openness and willingness to be challenged was crucial—without executive buy-in, our mission to embed a diverse and inclusive culture would have fallen at the first hurdle.
Decisions Are Strategic and Grounded in Data
The leadership team was onboard from day one. But to help structure our conversations and get to the root of the problem, I frequently leaned on my engineering background to assess our operations and understand where there was room for improvement. One method used was a root cause analysis—this involved asking ourselves a series of difficult questions (known as the five whys) to help simplify the task. In engineering we’d be seeking to understand why a piece of machinery was operating sub-optimally, but in this instance we were more interested in “why we don’t have sufficient diversity at a senior level?” or “why are we not attracting a diverse cohort of candidates?” The problem is vastly different from engineering, but the approach remains equally relevant.
From this analysis, we established three areas where we focused our efforts: recruitment, promotion and retention. We used metrics to understand where we are and where we need to be. We looked at the percentage of gender and minority representation at all levels of the business and assessed where we should focus our efforts to generate optimal improvements.
Informed by evidence and with a better understanding of the situation, we could then look laterally at solutions. Processes and programs are a good place to start. One program which helped me personally was a program that BP participates in called the Executive Leadership Counsel, where African-American employees meet black CEOs from around the country to learn from their experiences in order to understand how to better navigate the workplace. From this, I learned the importance of setting up your own Board of Directors to ensure you are performing and receive coaching from different perspectives. All in all, it was a very valuable experience.
What Does Success Look Like?
Since I joined the company 25 years ago, I’ve noticed change and have learned a lot along the way. But, we have to be realistic, there is still work to be done. My proudest achievement was getting the employees to think differently about diversity and inclusion. Creating a diverse workforce has little significance if the employees don’t feel included in the workplace. My team sought to educate all employees, irrespective of background, as to the importance of inclusion and how it impacts everyone.
For example, we ran a series of educational events that had a remarkable interest expressed. The first event had 30 people in attendance, but towards the end of the series, there were typically 120 people showing up! This demonstrates how hungry the staff are to generate improvement. I laid the groundwork and am excited to watch my successor thrive—improving our diversity numbers, but more importantly, continuing to foster a culture of inclusion.