All of us must be willing to stand up to help each other in the near future.
That was the message delivered to more than 50 people by Carolyn Butler-Lee, executive director of corporate human resources for Cummins Inc., who spoke at the Columbus Learning Center Monday as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day events.
Butler-Lee was the keynote speaker in a Monday lecture titled “Equity and Economic Opportunity in South Central Indiana,” presented by the IUPUC Diversity Council.
Butler-Lee, who has an accounting degree, said the numbers tell the story that many Hoosiers are facing tough economic times.
Since 2013, wages have only increased 2 to 3 percent year. That’s in comparison with a 4 percent growth in wages prior to the 2008 recession, she said
Before the 2008 recession, wages were moving along at about 4 percent every year, Butler-Lee said.
“Today’s average hourly wage has the same purchasing power that it did in 1978,” she said, adding that many sections of southern Indiana have wages well below the nation’s average.
Experts are blaming health care costs, the decline of labor unions, the growth of non-compete clauses, and a large pool of workers outside the normally-defined work force willing to do low-wage jobs, Butler-Lee said.
The Cummins Inc. executive repeated a warning from the Indiana Institute for Working Families that was released last summer.
The institute warned that 69.1 percent of all Indiana jobs will be low-wage occupations by the year 2026.
“We’ll have a lot of jobs, but very few will allow Hoosiers to make a living wage,” Butler-Lee said.
In order to address the problem, it will be necessary for all Indiana residents to be willing to stand up for the underprivileged, she said.
Becoming successful not only takes hard work, but it also takes sponsorship, as well as proper resources and tools, to advance professionally, she said.
Butler-Lee said she feels compelled by the hard work of others — including Dr. Martin Luther King and her own father, who worked four jobs — to stand up for others.
“I am a proud leader standing on the shoulders of giants,” Butler-Lee said. “I lead by encouraging, as well as advocating for equality and opportunity.”
Part of that leadership is being sensitive to the differences in which people learn and develop, which she said she tries to pass along to her staff.
With her own heritage and experiences, Butler-Lee said it’s impossible for her not to talk briefly about her fellow African-Americans — a group less likely to be married, be homeowners, graduate from high school or college, or earn a livable wage, she said.
But the biggest problem for most African-Americans in Indiana is that they are likely be underemployed, which means not having enough paid work or not doing work that makes full use of their skills and abilities, Butler-Lee said.
Butler-Lee then returned her focus on the challenges being faced by all races and genders.
“We need a culture that gives every worker an equal opportunity to excel,” Butler-Lee said. “We need to showing a bias for the underrepresented, and stand up for employees to make sure their growth and development needs are met.”
Butler-Lee said she was proud to work for Cummins Inc. because she and the company share many of the same values.
She cited the company’s support of iGrad programs to increase graduation rates, promoting employees with seniority within the company and using statistical data to make sure compensation is competitive.
As she prepared to end her 30-minute address, Butler-Lee asked the audience what they are doing to create an equitable environment for those they encounter on a regular basis.
Although many were hesitant to give her an answer, Butler-Lee reminded the audience she wasn’t expecting large efforts.
“Dr. King once said that if I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way,” she said.
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IUPUC presented its annual Excellence in Diversity Awards on Monday to:
- Latino American Organization of Volunteers in Education.
- Welcoming Committee of the Heritage Fund – the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.
Created in 2010 by the IUPUC Diversity Council, the awards recognize internal and external individuals, organizations, groups, units, projects, or institutions that meet the defined criteria to promote diversity.
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Watch for coverage in Wednesday’s Columbus Republic of a panel discussion/town hall meeting "Defeating Hate in a Welcoming Community. The event was held Monday night at the Columbus Learning Center.
[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About Carolyn Butler-Lee” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Carolyn Butler-Lee joined Cummins, Inc. in 1995 and serves as executive director of human resources.
Prior to joining corporate human resources, she led the human resources organization for emissions solutions, and prior to that, was director of human resources for Cummins Fuel Systems.
In addition, she has worked as director of global logistics strategy in Cummins Filtration, is a Six Sigma Black Belt and served as compensation and benefits strategy director for Cummins Business Services.
She received her bachelor of arts in accounting from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and earned a master of business administration from the University of Tennessee.