By Evan J. Cutts
Boston, MA — Dawn Frazier-Bohnert is a leader whose commitment and contributions to diversity and inclusion in corporate America span nearly three decades. Having filled executive roles in a variety of corporations such as IBM, The Gillette Company, and Global Novations, Dawn has extensive experience leading global diversity strategies and shaping inclusive company culture. For the last five years, Dawn has spearheaded Liberty Mutual Insurance’s diversity and inclusion strategy and programs as Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Dawn’s passion for cultivating a truer sense of belonging for employees and clients alike is a cornerstone of her servant leadership style. When a trusted leader successfully merges their passion, vision, and expertise, the possibilities for professional growth and success become manifold.
Over the last several years, Dawn has garnered recognition from The Center for National Race Amity in 2017, the GK 100, was named a Top Corporate Diversity Executive by Black Enterprise in 2016 and 2018, and was honored by Profiles in Diversity Journal three times as a Diversity Leader. This year Dawn was recognized as one of Insurance Business America’s Hot 100 and presides as the Keynote Speaker of Color Magazine’s second annual Chief Diversity Officer Summit.
Following is an exclusive interview with one of Corporate America’s leading executives in diversity and inclusion. Enjoy.
EJC: Can you tell me more about your role as SVP & Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Liberty Mutual Insurance?
DFB: I joined Liberty Mutual Insurance in the spring of 2013 to shape the new office of Diversity and Inclusion. As Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, I’m responsible for leading the design, development, and implementation of Liberty Mutual’s diversity and inclusion strategy and programs. This includes enhancing employees’ D&I capability and skills, internal and external communications, metrics and measurements, benchmarking, external partnerships, and the development of employee resource groups.
EJC: What are some of the rewards and challenges of your role?
DFB: It’s incredibly rewarding to know that the work you do every day makes a difference in individuals’ lives. It’s gratifying to see the positive changes happening — to see it in people’s faces and hear it in their responses, notes, and thank yous.
This work also has its challenges. It can be painful to recognize that for some people, the systemic injustices that persist in our society are not even on their radar. Meanwhile, there are those who feel the consequences of these injustices every day.
There is much to do and many competing priorities. The members of my team tend to be mission-driven and part of my responsibility as a leader is to know when to set limits for my team and myself so we don’t burn out.
EJC: How would you describe your D&I strategy?
DFB: For me, an important tenet of Diversity and Inclusion is that it includes all of us and requires all of us, so therefore I broadened the definition of diversity. In addition, I took a holistic approach by developing a comprehensive strategic D&I framework that connects employee engagement, innovation, and market competitiveness. The framework has five focus areas including Talent, Development (Building D&I skill), Workplace Environment, Customer and Community and — at our core — Communications (messaging, language and updates). All parts of this model have to be working together for diversity and inclusion efforts to succeed. Employees at Liberty Mutual are encouraged to apply a D&I lens to everything they do in order to remain open and engage with all people and possibilities.
EJC: What motivates/inspires you to continue championing D&I every day?
DFB: I’m inspired by the feedback I receive from employees and leaders. Seeing the light bulbs turn on for people when they make a connection or discovery about themselves or others (their personal aha! moment). I’m motivated by a desire to ensure that all people feel connected to our organization. I love the Catalyst quote that says that Uniqueness + Belonging=Inclusion. I am inspired to help employees feel valued for their uniqueness and that they belong.
EJC: In your opinion, what skills are necessary to be an effective leader?
DFB: I believe in servant leadership and leading by example. I have a responsibility to our employees. First and foremost, I’m here to serve.
EJC: If you could give advice to new CDOs, what would it be?
DFB: I would tell them to remember that our job is to disrupt. Our job is to look at any unintended barriers or systemic practices. If we’re not disrupting, we’re perpetuating the status quo, and if anything, doing more harm than help. However, there’s an art and science to being an effective disruptor. You need to have support in place from a key network of colleagues, sponsors, and leaders.
EJC: Can you talk about the cultural dexterity that you honed throughout your childhood in an Air force family?
DFB: I developed a great awareness and appreciation for differences, whether cultural, culinary, language, etc. Moving around so many times before the age of fifteen, I developed a curiosity rather than a fear of differences, which has helped me to be more effective culturally.
EJC: What’s next for D&I? What trends are on your radar and how are you preparing to leverage them for Liberty Mutual’s success?
DFB: Given the current social climate, many of the rights that we take for granted are being re-examined: LGBTQ rights, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. So many basics around respect and the importance of uniqueness and belonging at any given time are under threat somewhere in the world. This is motivation for us as leaders in diversity & inclusion work to help people learn to be effective collaborators across all differences. We need to go back to the basics of why D&I is important in real, tactical, and practical ways.
EJC: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a woman of color in 2018?
DFB: To me, there’s a sense of pride when I think of the women of color who have come before me, whose strength and contributions made it possible for me to be where I am today. I am honored to be part of a community of women who continue to unite people across differences while also risking vulnerability by being honest, direct, and courageous about the changes we want to see.