The Common Sense Colloquy with Louis Vega of Dow
With the election of Joe Biden as President and a new Congress narrowly controlled by Democrats, the conventional wisdom is that any energy, environmental or climate policy that has a chance of being enacted must have broad support from companies, NGOs and others influencing the national dialogue. That assumption is, in turn, putting the spotlight on the companies and NGOs that will likely be part of that conversation. This month, we’re pleased to have the opportunity to include a leader from one of those companies in the Common Sense Colloquy series.
Louis Vega is President, North America for Dow. In addition to serving as one of CEO Jim Fitterling’s chief lieutenants, he’s very involved in the company’s work on climate and environmental policy in his dual role as Vice President, Government Affairs and Advocacy. Louis has an unusual background for a corporate executive. He is a native of Socorro, New Mexico with a degree in political science and government from New Mexico State University. He started his career in Washington in the office of U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and spent a dozen years in politics before moving to Dow. He’s been at Dow for more than 20 years in increasingly responsible roles that have given him broad experience in corporate reputation, government affairs and sports marketing in multiple countries around the world (and he’s run in the Olympic Torch relay in three Olympics!).
Louis is also an openly gay corporate executive who has served on the boards of the Victory Institute and GLAAD for a number of years. His lived experience and his expertise in politics and policy make him a uniquely interesting person to talk with about common sense communications advice. I’ve served on a board with Louis and have known him for several years. I’ve always found him to be interested in the world around him, engaged in what matters and focused on the future. I’m so appreciative of his willingness to talk with me for this series.
My thanks to Louis for sharing his wisdom with us – and you.
Q: What advice do you have for communicators working on climate, energy and environmental policy right now? Any perspective on what this year might bring and how communicators should plan?
A: Climate, energy and environmental policy should be top of mind for every communicator as they are top of mind of society. We all – business, government, and society – need to come together on solutions which will come only through broad collaboration and discussion; so continue to connect the discussion to the organization you represent to help all to understand the comprehensive depth and complexity of the issues…to have the best possible outcomes for all.
Q: Multiple studies in the past year have indicated that the public expects companies to be good corporate citizens and they are looking to corporate leaders to be strong advocates on policy. Given your experience, what do you think companies should keep in mind in terms of balancing advocacy and business?
A: If you are tying your advocacy efforts to your organization’s strategy, values and mission, there should be no ‘balancing’ needed. Grounding your advocacy in your brand’s values, your mission statement as a company or organization, and focusing on the ‘reason’ you’re engaging is the clearest path to having your voice heard and in achieving progress on that issue. If you are a newer voice to a topic, your voice may be questioned as to authenticity or relevance, but if you take the time to connect your message to your core organizational goals and take time to understand where and how best to engage, you will have a seat at the table; whether someone agrees or disagrees with you, they cannot challenge your position if it’s directly tied to and in support of your organization’s value set. To be successful in that, communicators have a responsibility to ‘connect the dots’ not only for their external stakeholders but with their internal ones… so before you encourage your corporation or organization to take a stance on something, you should ask yourself in deciding to engage:
Does this need to be said? Why?
Does this need to be said by us? Why?
Does this need to be said by us now? Why?
Finally, always consider equity. Policy has consequences. Before advocating on a topic, it’s important to do your research: look to minimize any negative consequences of the policy that could be reasonably foreseen and understand and eliminate any biases present in the policy that may impact its intended – or unintended – effect. The more equitable the policy solution, the more likely you’ll be able to build a broad coalition around it.
Q: How have you balanced being out in the corporate world with being successful in the corporate world? Has that been a challenge at all? What advice do you have for other LGBT executives – both out and not?
A: Honestly, when you are living your authentic self, and happen to work for a company that truly believes in an inclusive culture, ‘balance’ isn’t needed. Now, granted, it’s not easy/nor is it the same in every situation (as I often counsel people in their journey to coming out, it’s not a one and done action; and coming out is not just a journey for the LGBT+ person but for all whom they engage with).
But, as long as you are ready and feel safe in doing so, my biggest piece of advice to any LGBT+ person – executive or young professional, out or not – is to live your life as you. Freeing up that mind share – from whatever it is you’re hiding or altering about yourself to ‘fit in’ – will do wonders to improve your professional life … your productivity … your contributions…your efficacy you and your organization will both benefit!
And my advice to the allies and would-be allies out there: just make yourself known as a ‘safe place’ for all to come and talk, learn and listen. Conversation does wonders for helping people on their various journeys and your role is critical.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A. Make it about your audience; hear them, relate to them, make it relevant and bring them along!
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: Be you. To be an effective leader and communicator, you need to be authentically you. As you said above, I’m an openly gay Latino from a small town in New Mexico. For me, that means weaving in my own personal experiences… and reflecting on the communication techniques and tactics that have been most effective for me or when communicating with people like me. People can tell when you’re putting on a front or using corporate speak; just speak from your heart and your belief system.
Everyone has unique experiences that provide value to their organization or company – I know my experiences and background have benefitted me over my career – let your true self shine through in your communications and interactions… the rest, as they say, will follow.