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Diversity and Inclusion

Sponsored by 3M 

By Nicole Vars McCullough 

“Diversity and inclusion” are words I hear a lot—at 3M, in discussions with friends, and at companies I visit. They’re important. Diverse teams are stronger and more productive, and I find them much more stimulating. We need to accept each other and each person’s uniqueness. However, sometimes it can be hard for us to fully accept ourselves, particularly if we feel we may not completely conform to a particular workplace stereotype. For example, I think women can struggle with being authentic, particularly when it comes to making the transition from individual contributor to manager.  

I’m certainly not an expert on authenticity. There are many good articles, books, and podcasts about authenticity, and I encourage you to review them. However, when a very close friend of mine suggested I think more about this topic, I realized I have been thinking about it, ever since I transitioned from individual contributor to manager twelve years ago. A significant reason that I love my job as a manager at 3M is that I’m able to both lead and be myself. I tend to be passionate, stubborn, and outspoken yet nurturing. (“Difficult” has been used to describe me a few times.) I can be tenacious: I will fight for what I believe in. I also like to take care of people and hear about my employees’ lives. I believe that my managers and I should be able to step in for our direct reports, that we need to be both manager and leader. I’ve learned to be (fairly) honest about my weaknesses, and I have hired people who have strengths in those areas. I really appreciate working for a company that is not trying to create a “cookie-cutter” manager but rather one that nurtures and embraces a variety of leadership styles. In my experience, 3M has been very true to its values of diversity and inclusion.  

Having a diverse team, with an authentic leader, is a foundation for success and is an ongoing journey. Here are a few things I try to keep in mind as I work to improve my leadership style:   

  • Listen more and talk less. In many cases managers are not there to teach; they are there to prioritize and focus their team, remove roadblocks, help identify development opportunities, and celebrate success.
  • Learn to ask insightful questions and listen carefully to the answers. 
  • Don’t feel that you need to solve every problem for your team; help them find the answers themselves. Managers and leaders do not need to be the smartest person, the most knowledgeable, or omniscient. They just need to appreciate and utilize their employees’ talents and knowledge. 

So, for those women developing their leadership styles or making the transition from peer to manager, I offer a few thoughts to contemplate: be true to yourself and your values, surround yourself with people who have strengths you don’t, learn your team’s expertise, roll up your sleeves and work alongside your team, and remember that you’re there to lead, inspire, and prioritize. And for the rest of us, let’s remember this is a team sport. Whether you work for a woman or a woman works for you, let’s continue to learn together, improve together, and support each other.  


Nicole Vars McCullough is the Global Application Engineering and Regulatory Affairs Manager for 3M’s Personal Safety Division. She has worked in occupational health and safety for over 25 years. Nikki earned her master’s and doctorate in Occupational and Environmental Health from the University of Minnesota. In 2008, she received AIHA’s Kusnetz Award.  She has also received the Bosch Award in Environmental Health and the Robert Gross Award from ABSA International. 

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