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Amal Berry Works to Make Sure DTE Energy Co.'s 10,000 Employees are Included

posted on: Mar 17, 2019

Amal Berry Works to Make Sure DTE Energy Co.'s 10,000 Employees are Included
 

SOURCE: CRAIN’S DETROIT BUSINESS

BY: RACHELLE DAMICO

Growing up, Amal Berry didn’t always feel like she fit in.

“As a kid, I was always the underdog, and I always wanted to help the underdog,” Berry said.

Her family immigrated to the United States from Lebanon a year after a civil war broke out in 1975. Too young to have been taught English in Lebanon, Berry picked up the language by watching episodes of “The Brady Bunch” and “The Flintstones.”

“I felt early on the dynamics of being an immigrant in a foreign land and trying to assimilate and feel acceptance in a space where I felt that I did not belong,” Berry said.

Her childhood experiences have informed her nearly 20-year-long career in diversity and inclusion.

Now, as the diversity and inclusion manager for DTE, Berry’s job is to make sure DTE’s more than 10,000 employees are included and that the company supports a diverse workplace.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How did your family immigrating to the U.S. influence what you wanted to do?

In 1976, there weren’t a lot of Arab Americans in the metro Detroit area. My family and I were kind of here by ourselves. In my classroom, there was one other Arab girl who was born in the U.S., but she wanted nothing to do with me because I was foreign. It was a really big transition. Everyone looked and ate differently than I did. Things weren’t as acclimated to support diversity at the time. I think because of that experience, I wanted to help others who felt like they didn’t fit in. Diversity and inclusion work is really about creating a sense of belonging and a sense of welcoming for each and every one of us.

When did you figure out you could do that as a career?

My high school teacher was a sociology and history PhD. I found his class to be incredibly insightful and challenging. After taking several of his classes, I knew this was something I wanted to do. I wanted to study the interactions of people from different backgrounds and how they may influence each other or not at all.

After you graduated from college, you went into banking. How does a history sociology major end up in banking?

It came down to the dollar signs. I had to find a way to go to and pay for college. The banking industry helped me acquire my bachelor’s degree, so I stayed in the banking area for a very long time. It helped position me for the role (in D&I) that I’ve been doing now for almost 18 years.

When did you first start working in the diversity and inclusion field?

When I started working at Comerica, I developed a strategy for attracting business from the Arab American community. It had less to do with banking products and services and much more to do with understanding the history of the community and their needs from an emotional perspective. That became a platform to service other diverse communities. Working at the bank was very rewarding. In some cases, I was able to help immigrants who became citizens establish and live the American dream.

What’s your current role at DTE like?

A typical day is going to meetings and collaborating with different business units across the company. We’re creating opportunities for learning and training for our employees and our leadership. I’m also creating a strategy for the entire company on how to create a culture of inclusion and how to grow our talent succession planning to be reflective of the communities that we serve.

There are also times where perhaps a colleague is having an issue where they didn’t feel a sense of belonging. We’re often brought into the conversation to help folks understand a situation and what they can do to improve their relationships with others. Those can be life-changing moments.

What do you wish people knew about diversity and inclusion?

I think everybody thinks affirmative action and diversity and inclusion are the same thing, but they are completely different. It’s not only for women and people of color. We believe that any time there’s more than one person in the room, we have diversity. It’s up to each and every one of us to make sure that everyone at the table feels included. That includes white men. All of us as a society are included in this conversation. If we’re missing the voice of one person, we’re not creating inclusion.

Why do you think it’s important that businesses have diversity and inclusion?

People don’t realize the impact D&I has on our daily interactions, including business outcomes.

Studies show that diverse teams are often times more innovative, achieve higher results and perform better than homogeneous teams. The more diverse experiences, backgrounds and ideas you have in business, the more likely you are to attract all kinds of customers to sustain and grow the success of the business. Diversity and inclusion isn’t just good for business, it’s a necessity.