Former DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman is not a fan of quotas

Ellen Kullman is not a fan of quotas when it comes to gender parity.

“What’s the difference between a quota and a goal?” asked Kullman, former chair of the board of directors and CEO of DuPont from 2009 to 2015.

Kullman was the keynote speaker at the Great Dames Powerful Conversation Series Monday at Harry’s Savoy Grill ballroom, which drew more than 150 attendees. Since her retirement, she co-founded Paradigm for Parity, a coalition of business leaders, board members and academics committed to addressing the corporate leadership gender gap, according to the group’s website.

At Monday’s discussion, she drew from her years as DuPont’s highest post to discuss gender parity in the workplace.

“A quota has an unintended consequence…of saying you only got that job because you’re a woman, while a goal says, ‘I’m going to be bringing in a very diverse set of people and I’ve got the goal of creating an outcome, and I’m going to have the right talent and it’s going to be because of capability and success and performance.’

“Companies who couch in a quota – that’s just window dressing,” said Kullman, who shared her trajectory as the first woman president of the 215-year-old DuPont company, where she started as a marketing manager in 1988.

“I never had a long-term plan to be CEO of DuPont; that wasn’t the plan,” admitted Kullman. “My big goal was to be a vice president general manager and I was the first woman to ever do that at the company and it was the best job I ever had.”

She said she benefited from a mentor who would “hold the mirror up” and say, “This is the way you’re coming across, is that what you mean?” That honest assessment helped develop her leadership style and she said she learned the art diplomacy and understanding her audience.

“You have to be tremendously self –aware, said Kullman. “You have to know your impact on the organization and the group and you have to do it with purpose. Maybe there are times you have to back off and give things room to move. And the more self-aware you are the more you are able to flex your style and get the best outcome you’re going to get.”

Monday’s event marked the last conversation series of the season.

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