Image of several people of varying races joining hands.

Advocating for a more inclusive future

When McKenzie Kerry graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a leadership position in a financial services company was very much on her mind. A business management major, Kerry had long sought out extra opportunities and activities, such as DECA, a leadership prep group for high schoolers and college students.

“It was my thing in high school. I competed for three years and was president,” Kerry says. “I knew when I graduated, I wanted to find a leadership development program.”

Lots of familiar corporate names—the Wells Fargos, Bank of Americas, and TIAAs of the world—entered the post-college job search in her hometown of Charlotte. Then she happened upon a LinkedIn job posting for Principal Financial Group®. “I had never heard of Principal,” Kerry says. “But I did some research and liked what I saw.”

That feeling, along with insights from key people along the way, helped Kerry navigate the Principal interview, job offer, and eventual relocation halfway across the country to Des Moines. “There was a connection I felt with people I had already met, and the culture felt different,” she says. “I knew I didn’t want to miss out on it.”

Photo of McKenzie Kerry, leadership development program associate at Principal

McKenzie Kerry, leadership development program associate at Principal

As Principal has discovered, nurturing those connections helps support diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, not just in communities and with customers, but also with employees. Those connections are multifaceted: support for Black-owned businesses, measurement of leadership representation, and celebrations old and new, such as the designation of Juneteenth as a Principal holiday.

From global to local

DEI isn’t a goal with an end point. It’s always on, and it begins at home—home in this case being Principal employees. Principal is continuing the work to increase diversity while making strides in areas such as gender. For example, women first received a seat on the board at Principal in 1980, and a Black woman joined the board two decades ago. Today, 42% of the executive management group are women.

At Principal, inclusion translates into a work environment that’s:

  • based on integrity, respect, trust, and belonging,
  • attracts and retains diverse talent, increases employee engagement, and develops the next generation of leaders, and
  • is flexible so employees can integrate life and work.

Lofty goals indeed, but how do we know we’re making progress? Measurements can help.

  • Inclusion: The 2021 inclusion index of 79% falls just below the goal of 80%.
  • Leadership: 62% of Board of Director members are either women or people of color.
  • Business support: By 2025, Principal will double the diverse small and midsize businesses it supports. The rate grew by 12% in 2021.
  • Global employment: Currently, women make up 54% of the Principal global workforce; 14% in the United States are people of color.
  • Outside recognitions: Principal is No. 12 on Diversity MBA’s 50 Out Front: Best Companies to Work for Women and Diverse Managers.1

Those high-level initiatives become actionable in a variety of ways, including engaging employees through employee resource groups. Internally, the Principal African American/Black employee resource group (AABERG) hosted a virtual discussion reflecting on the history of Juneteenth and sharing practical steps to commemorate the meaning of the day.

A long-time celebration turns national holiday

When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863,2 the Southern states still under control of successionists scoffed.

Over the next two years, state by state, however, Union forces had an opportunity to put force behind law—except in Texas. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that enslaved people in Texas would learn that they too, had gained their freedom.3

For 42 years, Texas has celebrated the anniversary of that momentous day as Juneteenth. In 2021, it became a federal holiday. This year, Principal marked Juneteenth as an official corporate holiday, and to celebrate the occasion, the Juneteenth flag flew above the headquarters in Des Moines as employees and community members commemorated the day together.

Principal® Foundation also funds a number of external initiatives, such as a grant to the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, which helps entrepreneurs and small business owners improve personal finances, and 1863 Ventures, a national business development non-profit for entrepreneurs that have been historically marginalized.

Nationally, Black individuals4 and specifically Black women5 are becoming first-time entrepreneurs and business owners at one of the fastest rates in the country. Buying from these businesses on, before, and after Juneteenth helps; Principal sponsored Juneteenth festivities in Des Moines so individuals can support these businesses.

Dannie Patrick, another transplant to Des Moines and global inclusion specialist, volunteered at the local Juneteenth event. “At Principal, we know that simply observing Juneteenth as a holiday is not enough for our employees. They want to be involved and actively volunteer to make an impact within the communities we serve,” Patrick says.

“Volunteering at Juneteenth Neighbor's Day is so important to me because it gives me and others the opportunity to see ourselves reflected back in the mirror, which happens less frequently here in Iowa," Patrick says. “It’s empowering and helps me keep going. Having an employer that acknowledges and supports that is why I am proud to say I'm a Principal employee.”

Candid conversations for a more inclusive future

During Kerry’s formal interviews, “the tone was much different than other companies—very conversational and friendly,” Kerry says. “Everyone gave me the impression they wanted what was best for me. Principal did a great job during the process of making sure I was interviewed by people of color who work here, so we were able to talk about diversity and leadership.”

Kerry started in April 2021 as a leadership development program associate. The early career program rotates associates in months-long assignments across Principal, helping them develop skills for an eventual placement as a leader with direct reports. Kerry relocated to Des Moines in September 2021, leaving behind family and her hometown. There have been challenges. There have been connections. There is still more work to be done.

Fellow employees have helped her acclimate to Des Moines—hard in any situation, harder still when moving to a state that isn’t as diverse as the community you’ve left behind. “It’s taken adjusting, but there are great things this time in my life has to offer,” Kerry says.

That includes competing in Miss Iowa and placing third; Kerry had never competed in a pageant before. It’s also taking advantage of the doors that the leadership development program opens—and working to open more doors for others. “I’ve had people advocate for me, and I want that for everyone,” Kerry says. “Hopefully some of the candid conversations we’ve had can make sure that we can continue to increase and then keep diversity in Iowa.”

1 All statistics from 2021 Principal Sustainability Report

2 National Archives

3 UC Denver

4 Bloomberg

5 USA Facts

Principal Financial Group Foundation, Inc. ("Principal® Foundation") is a duly recognized 501(c)(3) entity focused on providing philanthropic support to programs that build financial security in the communities where Principal Financial Group, Inc. ("Principal") operates. While Principal Foundation receives funding from Principal, Principal Foundation is a distinct, independent, charitable entity. Principal Foundation does not practice any form of investment advisory services and is not authorized to do so. © 2022 Principal Foundation.