Ola Snow, Cardinal Health’s chief human resources officer, has recently received two prestigious recognitions. In October, she was named to N2Growth’s 2023 Leaders40: Top CHRO List, which honors the 40 most influential and innovative human resources leaders in the world – those who are making a transformative impact on their company’s talent and culture.
And just this week, she was named to the YWCA Columbus’s 2024 class of Women of Achievement. For nearly 40 years, YWCA Columbus has used this recognition to shine a light on the courage and compassion of local leaders – those who empower and inspire others, impact their professions and lift up their communities.
At Cardinal Health, among her peers and in our communities, Snow is known as an inclusive leader who uses her influence to create environments where all people, regardless of their differences, are invited to be their authentic selves. We sat down with Snow to learn more about the work she does every day to create a culture where everyone can thrive.
Q: You speak often about the strength that people’s differences bring to an organization. Where did your passion for inclusion come from?
A: I’d say it started very early for me. I grew up in the South with parents who believed in equality. My dad booked talent and events at a community arts center; he worked hard to bring diverse performers to the stage and to make sure that diverse audiences could enjoy them. My parents simply believed that everyone mattered, and their belief has always guided me.
I’ve always thought being an inclusive leader is imperative; it’s also good for the business, because tremendous value comes from having different voices and different perspectives at the table. There is a lot of research that tells us how true this is. According to the Harvard Business Review, for example, inclusive leaders have teams that are 29% more likely to report working collaboratively, 17% more likely to report that they are high-performing, and 20% more likely to say that they make high-quality decisions. Gartner research reveals that gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperform less inclusive teams by an average of 50%. The World Economic Forum tells us that companies with above-average diversity leadership teams drive 45% of average revenue from innovation, while companies with below-average diversity leadership teams drive only 26% of revenue from innovation.
Q: You also share your kids’ journeys, and what you’ve learned from them. Can you tell us more about how your children have helped shape your views?
A: My son, Zach, was 15 when he came out to me; my daughter, Drew, also came out as a teenager. Once my kids were out, I saw that the world treated them differently, particularly my son – and that was just so hard. I had long been supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, but being a mom of LGBTQ+ children made me take on advocacy and allyship in a much deeper, more personal way. Fortunately, I was supported by many LGBTQ+ friends and colleagues who helped me understand the challenges ahead for my kids – but also the joy they could find by living their authentic lives.
Now my kids are strong, healthy, happy young adults. I’m so proud of them, as well as other family members, colleagues and friends who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. I walk alongside many of them in the AIDS Walk Ohio, and I march with employees in the Columbus Pride Parade every year.
My kids taught me to be a better advocate for all. And they continue to remind me that there’s always so much more to learn about people. I try to take advantage of every opportunity to ask questions, listen and learn.
Q: One of the things that you’re recognized for at Cardinal Health is creating opportunities for leaders to learn from employees at all levels. Why is that important?
A: I think we have to be really intentional about listening to employees. We need to create opportunities where it’s easier for employees to be open with their leaders, for leaders to listen, and for everyone to try to understand one another.
As an example, several years ago, our senior leadership team knew we needed to address racism directly – within our workforce and our communities. So we established a Cabinet of Black and African American leaders from across the company to create a safe place to listen to and learn from employees who’ve been directly impacted by bias.
We also encourage leaders across the organization to host regular “Let’s Chat” meetings with their teams. These are opportunities for leaders to learn about all kinds of issues that might be going on with their teams. Leaders don’t make formal presentations during these sessions, but rather allow time for specific questions to be asked to learn about any concerns the folks on their teams may have.
In addition, throughout the company, senior leaders and members of our human resources team are intentional about inspiring sometimes uncomfortable conversations at all levels of the company about topics that impact our employees every day.
Q: You’re also known as a strong advocate for women’s equality.
A: When my kids were growing up, I had an unusual situation: My husband became a stay-at-home dad, which allowed me to be both a mom and a leader at work. But it’s really easy to see that women, particularly working moms, often have an outsized share of home and childcare-giving responsibilities, making work-life balance difficult. This was especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many moms left the workforce to care for and homeschool their children. Championing greater work flexibility for all employees means asking them to focus on the work to be done (rather than when work gets done), where and when that is possible.
We know that we have to find new ways to support working women, from providing more affordable, quality childcare so women don’t have to choose between work and family, to offering more flexible work options and helping employees and their families better cope with stress.
Cardinal Health also is committed to an annual pay equity study, and sharing results publicly. The most recent data, reported in our fiscal 2022 Environmental, Social and Governance Report, shows that, for every dollar male employees are paid, female employees at Cardinal Health performing substantially the same work are paid 98.6 cents. Though we’re encouraged by our performance, we recognize there is still work to do, and we continue to push for pay equity.
Our work for gender equity was recognized with our listing in the 2023 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI), which measures the importance of gender equality for companies worldwide. The GEI measures equality across multiple pillars, including pay parity and inclusive culture, and helps to bring transparency to gender-related practices at publicly listed companies.
Q: You’re very passionate about mental well-being. Why is that important?
Cardinal Health has chosen to be a leader in addressing mental health issues, in our workplace and in our communities. We believe that we must talk about mental health openly, to remove the stigma around mental health issues, and to ensure that people can access the mental health support they need. We’re working to create a culture where it’s okay to NOT be okay.
We’re also reaching out to others to heighten awareness. Earlier this year, we hosted two convenings at our headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, to engage a cross-section of private and public leaders in discussions about mental health issues, and to inspire collective action.
We worked with the Ohio Business Roundtable (OBRT) to convene Ohio CEOs and the OBRT at the Cardinal Health campus. Leaders talked with Governor Mike DeWine about mental health issues facing employees and their families. Following the event, our CEO, Jason Hollar and the CEO of OBRT co-authored an op-ed, published in the Columbus Dispatch, in support of the Governor’s mental health priorities. “Supporting the mental health provisions in the Governor’s budget is simply the right thing to do, for our businesses, for our employees, for our children and for our communities,” they noted.
With the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, we co-hosted a gathering of human resources leaders from across Central Ohio to discuss growing mental health issues among Ohio’s employees and their families. I moderated a panel discussion with experts, including the director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and the executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation (OSPF). At this event, in partnership with OhioMHAS, OSPF introduced its employer mental health toolkit, a guide designed to help employers talk to their employees when someone experiences a mental health crisis in the workplace. Cardinal Health and the Ohio Chamber supported the rollout of the toolkit to employers across the state.
I’m proud of the work that our Cardinal Health Foundation does in this space, too. The Foundation has made large multi-year investments to support suicide prevention across the U.S.: Through its Preventing Youth Suicide collaborative, the Foundation brings together children’s hospitals to implement the Zero Suicide Institute’s framework for systemwide transformation to prevent deaths by suicide among children in their care. This work began in 2020 with 17 health systems; in 2023, 100% of those health systems reported improvements in suicide prevention. Currently, nearly 40 institutions are engaged in this work.
Q: You’re known as a volunteer – and for encouraging others to volunteer as well. Why is community service important to you?
A: Volunteerism is important to me because it makes a big difference in our communities. Volunteers expand the capacity of nonprofit organizations that strengthen our communities in countless ways. When my kids were growing up, we volunteered together a lot, and I typically incorporate some kind of volunteer activity into my team meetings.
Community service is also good for volunteers. It lets us see our world a little differently, and helps us to better understand, in a very meaningful way, the challenges that some of our neighbors face. Volunteerism also provides many opportunities to gain leadership, planning and organizational experience.
Each year, our employees around the globe volunteer more than 50,000 hours with the causes they care most about; many of our employees serve on a nonprofit board. They’re involved in education initiatives, fighting hunger or homelessness, supporting medical research, raising awareness and funds for organizations – the list goes on.
One of the many, many things I love about Cardinal Health is that our employees love to give back, and we empower them to do so.