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Air Products expands diversity platform with free legal help, pledge to hire more women, minorities in management roles

Allentown Morning Call logo Allentown Morning Call 10/14/2020 By Anthony Salamone, The Morning Call
a close up of an old building: Air Products headquarters is in Trexlertown. © CHRIS SHIPLEY / MORNING CALL File Photo/The Morning Call/TNS Air Products headquarters is in Trexlertown.

A series of high-profile incidents of police violence against Black Americans in recent months that led to protests and discussions about injustice has prompted corporate leaders to act.

Case in point: Air Products told employees Wednesday it will begin offering a free “Legal Advocacy Program" to its workers and their families victimized by racial or identity discrimination.

“Obviously, as different things in the U.S. have occurred over the months, they have given us the opportunity to see what are some of the challenges that our employees experience,” said Victoria Brifo, Air Products' chief human resources officer.

“We want our employees to know that they matter to us and we have their backs.”

The legal program is open to all 5,000 U.S. Air Products' workers, including some 2,000 in the Lehigh Valley, and another 200 in Canada, Brifo said during an interview earlier this week.

Air Products has anti-discrimination policies and programs in place inside its workforce, Brifo said. The legal help is in addition to those programs.

If an employee or family member believes to be discriminated outside work, the employee can contact the company, which will assign an attorney who specializes in diversity matters. The Trexlertown Fortune 500 manufacturer of industry gases will pay the legal expenses, Brifo said.

Workers can seek help on issues related to housing, education, financial transactions or interactions with law enforcement matters.

The company also said Wednesday it will increase the percentage of females and U.S. minorities in professional and managerial roles by 3 percentage points each. Currently, Air Products said, 25% of women are in those job categories globally, while 17% of minorities are employed in America.

The moves are the latest in a series of steps Air Products has undertaken to build what company leaders seek as a more “inclusive and diverse workforce,” according to Brifo, who has been with Air Products since 2001.

Brifo, who is African American, was unable to say what the percentage increases in new hires will equal in real numbers. “It’s a significant movement,” she said, noting Air Products’ global workforce of 17,000. “We’re honing in on professional and managerial roles because, in building the [inclusive] culture, it’s important to have diverse leadership.”

Air Products and PPL Corp. the Valley’s other Fortune 500 company, have demonstrated leadership roles in diversity and inclusion both in and out the workplace. For example, both companies contributed thousands of dollars to the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Center in Allentown immediately after June 12, 2016, shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando to help the local community center increase security.

Brifo, a senior vice president who studied chemical engineering and political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and held plant leadership positions before eventually becoming Air Products’ head of human resources, called the company’s response to the recent spate of racial injustice and social unrest the “next step in our journey.”

“This is not new for Air Products,” she said, adding since she started working there in 2001, “it was clear to me that this company really values diversity.”

Morning Call reporter Anthony Salamone can be reached at 610-820-6694 or asalamone@mcall.com.

AIR PRODUCTS DIVERSITY AWARDS

The Air Products Foundation has awarded Diversity in Education Awards to three Bethlehem Area School District teachers for demonstrating such attributes as equity and inclusion in their classrooms.

The teachers honored are:

Eric Frank, William Penn Elementary School,

Trinidad Sierra, Nitschmann Middle School, and

Adam Reitz, Liberty High School.

Each teacher will receive a $500 grant from the foundation to support classroom work in diversity and understanding, Air Products' spokesman Art George said. The company is looking at other schools in the Lehigh Valley and U.S. to bestow similar grants, he said.

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©2020 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

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