Bill Mixon: Diversity & Inclusion Are Good for CRT Business

As the interview started, Bill Mixon, the CEO of National Seating & Mobility (NSM) got right to the point.

“We’ve got to do better,” he told Mobility Management. “The time has come.”

Mixon was referring to the American public, including the team at National Seating & Mobility.

“I, like many of us, have had a lot of emotions, in particular since the death of George Floyd,” Mixon said, of the 46-year-old Black man who died while being restrained by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25.

“There have been other recent incidents beyond that,” Mixon added, “and I believe that appropriate media coverage has brought this issue to the forefront. We just believe that given the fact that it’s 2020 and we’re still challenged by discrimination and inequality, we want to and need to do something about it more effectively as an organization.”

“Clear in Words and Actions”

In a year already turned upside-down by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mixon said NSM is now confronting “in our country, in our society, racism and discrimination and mistreatment of people as a function of the color of their skin.”

That’s resulted in serious conversations and introspection at NSM.

“We began a dialog to communicate to the organization,” Mixon said. “We began a process of listening and discussing these issues. We’ve had conversations with our leaders in the business, with family members, friends of the company, and all of our employees on these topics.

“We stand beside our employees and particularly our employees of color, and we’re going to support them. We’re going to support this issue of justice and equality for Black people as well as other communities that perhaps have been subjected to discrimination and inequality. And lastly, we just want to work hard to set the example and treat our employees and our partners and all people with honor and respect without exception.”

For the past few years, NSM has held up its core values — Honor, Excellence, Accountability, Respect, Teamwork and Service (HEARTS) — as ones to work and live by. And Mixon acknowledged that those values imply that everyone should be treated justly.

But now, in the aftermath of Floyd’s death and the deaths of others in the Black community, Mixon said it’s vital to be absolutely clear in words and actions.

“The acronym for our core values is HEARTS,” he said, “and as you look at Honor and Respect, they are foundational to the concepts of fairness and no tolerance for discrimination and mistreatment. And that’s how we feel, so it’s not that difficult to have these conversations as a company. It seems self-evident, but it’s something perhaps we haven’t talked enough about. Our values are already well positioned to allow us to begin a more productive dialog around doing the right thing as an organization and hopefully being supportive beyond just NSM, more broadly as we have the ability to influence our CRT [Complex Rehab Technology] community.

“We believe that this is a pivotal moment in our country, and we believe that we have got to begin to talk about this, and we have got to make it clear that on a going-forth basis, as a company we’re just not going to tolerate discrimination and mistreatment in any form. This is about a dialog, this is about engaging within NSM and also engaging with other folks we have relationships with.”

Equality Is Good for Business

While Mixon repeatedly said that treating all people equally is morally right, he also believes doing so will be good for the CRT provider’s business.

“As it relates to making this a priority for NSM, we believe that our company should be reflective of society at large,” he said. “And it should be reflective of society at large as it relates to the clients that we serve, as well. We really believe that diversity and inclusion are not just the right thing to do; they’re good for business. We believe that if we embrace these concepts, it will make us a better company, and there’s data out there that validates this.”

Mixon referenced a May 2020 McKinsey & Company report called, “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters.”

“There’s a recent study McKinsey has done that says without reservation that if you look at an organization that embraces racial and ethnic diversity, they are 33 percent more likely to have financial returns above national and industry averages,” Mixon said. “We believe that embracing and creating a culture of diversity and inclusion is going to make us a better business. So we expect for our NSM team members that we will set the example: We will treat each other professionally, and we will have that appropriate consideration and respect for not only our employees, but those folks that we do business with.”

NSM is the largest CRT and Home Access provider in the United States and now also has offices in Canada, a position that Mixon said comes with responsibilities.

“We need to lead in our industry,” he said. “I think that as NSM has grown and expanded, we have become a leader in the CRT and the home access space, and we believe that it’s time for us to make a commitment to be out front and help not only our company, but our industry progress around diversity.

“So we are making commitments on a going-forward basis around actions that we are going to take. We’re going to make sure that we’re listening to our employees and that we establish baselines around what our goals and objectives are, around being effective with diversity.”

NSM has already developed and launched an action plan that started with surveying employees to ask how effectively the company is treating everyone with quality and respect. Those survey answers will serve as a baseline as NSM implements the rest of its plan.

NSM will develop Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Vision, Mission and Values statements to act as guiding principles, and will revamp NSM’s D&I Leadership Council, which will include members of NSM as well as “unbiased diversity champions,” Mixon noted.

The company is also hiring a D&I Consulting Advisor “with strong expertise in driving an equal-opportunity culture”; is creating a CEO Diversity Advisory Council “for ongoing ideation and feedback”; is expanding its Diversity Awareness Training to increase awareness of and sensitivity toward diversity issues; is developing recruiting strategies to improve diversity representation throughout NSM; and is determining the metrics it will use to measure progress and success.

“We’re going to develop a diversity and inclusion set of Mission, Vision and Values,” Mixon said. “We are going to establish a diversity and inclusion leadership council that I will lead. We are going to be hiring a diversity inclusion consulting advisor to help us map out our strategy around creating progress in these critical issues. We’re not just talking about these things; we’re taking specific actions.”

Making Positive Changes

Many American businesses are now taking a long, hard look at how much they embrace and support diversity, but not all reactions from the public have been positive.

Is Mixon concerned that some partners — consumers, clinicians, vendors — will hear of this diversity initiative and tell NSM it should just stick to wheelchairs and seating?

“There is work to be done; we have got to do better,” Mixon answered. “The industry has to realize the value of diversity and inclusion. We have to understand how diversity initiatives can enhance our industry as a whole, so it’s not just NSM.

“I think true leaders in our industry have to be willing to improve. We have to walk the talk; we have to show personal responsibility for prioritizing these initiatives and these issues that we have. We need to have leadership in our industry take a stand and step up relative to these issues and not be silent. These are issues that have been around, unfortunately, for hundreds of years. And it’s time for us to do better. As an industry, we have to commit to fight inequality and to promote productive change for our industry — not just our company, but the country as a whole. We’ve got to do better and if we do, we’ll do well as an industry. And I’m confident that we’re going to tackle this at NSM, and it’s going to make us a better company.”

Tensions have run high around the country since George Floyd’s death, but Mixon sounded determined and even excited about bringing positive energy to this highly charged environment.

“It needs to be proactive, it needs to be positive,” he said of NSM’s response. “We have to embrace the diversity of the clients that we serve. The clients that we serve are a diverse community, and we have to reflect that. Our organization has to reflect those individuals, and we have to reflect our society as an organization. We’re working on that, and we’re making progress, but there’s still work to do.”

Even in the middle of a pandemic that has battered world economies, Mixon is certain that diversity and inclusion is worth investing in.

“We have got to lead around diversity and inclusion,” he said. “It has to be part of who we are and how we operate. We’re drawing a line in the sand: This is going to be part of who we are as we go forward. We care about people, we care about all people, and in particular we as a country have got to do a better job in supporting people and supporting diversity. Right now, people have got to be willing to say that Black lives matter. And they do. That’s where we’re coming from, and it is going to make us a stronger and better company, 100 percent.

“If we do a better job of embracing these concepts, and if we do a better job of thinking about our clients and our employees and how they help us be the leader in the industry that we are, if we are open to all races and genders — we will be a better company. We will serve people better, and that is good on so many different levels. This is the right thing to do and this is good business.”

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