Mitch Mitchell Q&A: Building a Culture of Belonging
Mitch Mitchell recently joined Sempra’s senior leadership team as senior vice president of diversity and community partnerships. In his new role, Mitchell will dedicate his time to advancing the company’s high-performance culture by leading a collective effort to enhance diversity and inclusion (D&I) within Sempra, its family of companies and in the communities it serves.
Previously, Mitchell served as vice president of state governmental affairs and external affairs for San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), Sempra’s regulated California utilities.
Outside of Sempra, Mitchell maintains his dedication to giving back and driving positive change. He currently serves on the Foundation board of trustees for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He also sits on the board of directors for Sharp Healthcare, San Diego Museum of Art, Voice of San Diego and the Partnership for a Better San Diego.
With a passion in helping underserved communities, Mitchell is a member of the Jacobs & Cushman Food Bank Advisory Board, the Lucky Duck Foundation board focused on homelessness, the board of commissioners for the San Diego Housing Commission and previously was a governor’s appointee to the California Little Hoover Commission.
Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about and what are your hobbies outside of work?
I strongly believe what has shaped the person I am today is the interesting mix of experiences I’ve encountered over the years. These experiences span across the labor, nonprofit, business, and government sectors, and have given me a variety of perspectives that enables me to see opportunities and issues through multiple lenses.
Outside of work, you can often find me at a coffee or restaurant spot somewhere along Highway 101 in San Diego’s North County or enjoying the mountain air of Idyllwild. I’m a big fan of long walks and trying good coffee, and I can often be found in a locally owned coffee shop enjoying the aroma and environment. These days, with my 19- and 21-year-old children off at college and with a less rigorous travel schedule, I do find more time to read for leisure, meditate, and relax, and that’s something I really value.
Recently, you were appointed as Sempra’s first-ever senior vice president of diversity and community partnerships. What are your main objectives as you take on this role?
Sempra has been a vocal and consistent leader in our industry related to diversity, and in my new role, I couldn’t be more excited to help build an even more inclusive and high-performing culture for all our employees to experience and embrace. My main objective is to help foster an environment where all employees feel a sincere sense of belonging and connection to their work, to Sempra’s mission and values, and to each other.
Knowing that this area is multifaceted, everyone involved in the D&I effort wants to find out more about what our employees want to learn, what’s important to them about enhancing our culture, and to understand the questions they have about D&I. I think that’s going to be the exciting part — connecting with employees throughout the Sempra family of companies and learning more about how we, as employees and colleagues individually and collectively, can embrace these conversations and make them a part of our everyday environment.
I want these conversations to be driven by a shared, relentless and persistent commitment to how we can deliver greater performance for all our stakeholders as individuals, colleagues, teams, and as a company. I want our culture to be driven daily by our sense of belonging and connection, instead of being driven by high-profile media events. I would like discussions around D&I to be a visible, daily part of our work at Sempra, and our hope is that people embrace our efforts to help shape and enhance our culture.
Embracing diverse backgrounds and perspectives and promoting an inclusive environment are integral parts of Sempra’s high-performance culture. What is Sempra already doing to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace and community?
We are starting off with a strong foundation. Our Local Diversity and Inclusion Councils (LDICs), Community Conversations, Supplier Diversity programs, and thoughtful employee development are some examples of current practices that we will be building on, with a focus on integrating these efforts in unique ways.
I want to sincerely highlight an aspect of our culture that has truly made a difference by commending the efforts of Sempra’s LDICs across our family of companies. They focus on inclusion and education and have been fantastic ambassadors for our culture. Soon, we’ll be launching a new effort through our employee resource groups (ERGs) that will play an integral part in our company-wide conversations about race, inclusion and belonging.
I also want to acknowledge our procurement practices at our utilities because they are top-tier and exemplary for several sectors. They are doing exactly what we promised we would do: creating new opportunities for businesses owned by a growing number of talented, diverse entrepreneurs who are also helping build a new high-performing, diverse workforce while providing excellent services to our utilities.
An example of the procurement teams’ good work is highlighted in the fact that in 2020, both our California utilities purchased more than 40% of goods and services from diverse suppliers, marking the eighth consecutive year that supplier diversity exceeded the California Public Utility Commission’s goal of 21.5%.
One specific thing that has helped us foster greater connection among our employees has been our series of Community Conversations. While working remotely due to the pandemic, we leveraged video platforms as a setting for these conversations, enabling us to communicate, collaborate and come closer together while having to remain physically apart.
We recently had a Community Conversation focused on the rise in violence against the Asian and Pacific Islander communities with 1,100 employees watching, participating, and learning — a testament to the enthusiasm and interest of Sempra’s employee culture. What these Community Conversations revealed to us is that there are D&I-related questions that people are sometimes hesitant to ask.
By attending a Community Conversation, other employees might ask a question that others have had on their mind, and at that moment the question creates a safe space for dialogue on key topics, leaving participants with new knowledge and potentially a new perspective. This is an example of what strong cultures can contribute and cultivate within a workplace.
What can we learn from other colleagues and what is the first step in supporting one another?
One of my favorite quotes, which I reference often, is from Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
We live in a society where you can work with someone for 20 years and not really know them. One simple way for our culture to continue improving is to truly make an effort to get to know one another. This could happen by learning more about another person’s cultures, traditions, customs, or activities embraced within various ethnic communities. It also could be as easy as learning more about a colleague’s family or hobbies. This knowledge can create understanding, and that understanding can help foster a sense of belonging and connection.
It will be extremely important to continue promoting positive conversations on the topic of D&I and creating a sense of belonging at Sempra. When you have a culture where people feel included and a sense of belonging, you will indeed have a high-performing work culture that connects people, is impactful, and creates meaningful outcomes every single day.
The need for diversity and inclusion isn’t just about being in a meeting and giving everyone a chance to weigh in on an issue. It is about embracing the understanding that listening to multiple perspectives allows the situation to be viewed through the various lenses possessed by the people who make up our diverse family of employees and colleagues. High-performing cultures benefit when people feel like they have a chance to be heard and they sincerely feel like they belong.