Diversification Is How to Stay on Top

Agrium's VP and treasurer, Angela Lekatsas, on how diversity and inclusion are integral to excelling in business, serving a community, and becoming a part of one

Angela Lekatsas’s day-to-day role is about maintaining cash flow and improving capital, but she also makes sure to champion the importance of diversity in the workplace. Here, she talks to us about how diversity is the key to a health business and business culture.

Where did you passion for diversity originate?
I’ve been with Agrium for 12 years, and as a $17 billion company and as a major producer and distributor of agricultural products and services I’ve seen how it impacts the business. I’m a business leader, and the case for diversity and inclusion is clear. The world is moving at a faster pace than ever, and if we don’t keep pace we become redundant. Our future workforce also think and act differently, and they value different ideologies. We have to build a culture of inclusion and diversity because they value it.

How does your personal experience play in with that?
I have two kids, and I want a better world for them. They talk about valuing the environment and differences in people. It’s the norm for them. I have experienced gender diversity challenges in my career history, and I used to try to change things about myself to fit into the work environment. Fast forward to today, and the very things I tried to change are now becoming the perspectives that companies are looking for because there’s proven value in diversifying. Look at your customers, your vendors, your employees, and your investments. Diversification is how you stay on top.

“There’s a multiplier effect. You expand the horizons of one group, and they go out and do the same, and it just spreads.”

How can a company accomplish this?
Being a leader in any field is a privilege because it allows you to participate in building a culture with core values in the centre. I entrench these values in how I hire and promote because I want to build a place where talent can grow. That leads to success for the person, for me as a leader, and for us as a company.

Are there specific things you can only do in the finance world?
It’s icing on the cake because the world revolves around economics. I like to focus on building financial acumen when we’re developing individuals because it creates a whole package and benefits the employee wherever they go.

How can you leverage your position to help these efforts?
The best thing I can do is be a role model. I try to do that both at home and at work. Mentoring other women allows me to invest in current and future leaders. It’s a great way to give back.

And among your peers?
Real change starts at the top so I try to influence the C-suite. We didn’t have an official program for diversity and inclusion before 2009, and the board asked me to lead the first initiative.

What were your biggest goals then?
We had 16,000 employees and we didn’t know how diverse, or not, we were. Our first step was to do a pulse-check and then decide where we wanted to be. That required participation from senior executives and department heads.

What were the efforts like before this launched in 2009?
I was one of the founding members of an employee-driven group called the Agrium Women’s Leadership Group in 2004. The group was about inspiring, developing, and empowering women from the ground up. The great value of adding the diversity inclusion initiative was that you had a company-wide effort led at the top of the house that pulled diverse employees upward while the grassroots employee-led initiative pushed from the bottom up. The two ends worked together.

What about building community externally?
I have a strong passion for children’s health and was able to help sponsor a partnership between Agrium and the Alberta Children’s Hospital to build and fund its horticultural therapy program. Agrium has another new initiative called Journey 2050 that builds online educational programs, allowing students around the world to experience agriculture and learn about the future food production needs by the year 2050.

What can happen when these programs really take off?
There’s a multiplier effect. You expand the horizons of one group, and they go out and do the same, and it just spreads. We don’t want to just operate in a community; we want to become part of the community.

What are your goals as these initiatives move forward?
We’ve been really successful in attracting, retaining, and developing women in the organization. The next step is to promote that pipeline into senior levels throughout the organization. We are also looking at expanding the inclusiveness initiative to focus on cultural diversity or tracking our veteran employee base to see if we have opportunities to do more for our employee base here at Agrium. With our fundamentals in place, I’m confident we can keep moving forward.