Building an Inclusive Company in a Diverse World

By Olivier Blum

If we think about it, what is it that makes our world special? Chances are that each one of us will have our own unique answer to this question, and that’s exactly the point. We live in a wonderfully diverse world, and there can hardly be any doubt about that. So, it’s difficult to understand why and when did we start to value sameness so much; why don’t our workplaces mirror the diversity that’s all around us; and why is our society still dogged by exclusion?

Research also suggests that embracing differences can be a huge strength. A McKinsey report[1] on 366 public companies found that the more ethnically diverse their management was, the better their financial returns turned out to be. Similarly, a global analysis of 2,400 companies by Credit Suisse[2] found that organizations with at least one female board member enjoyed both a higher return on equity, and net income growth than those without.

While there is no dearth of evidence to support diversity and inclusion (D&I), does D&I really require a business case? Isn’t it quite simply the right thing to have? However, there is a paradox that confronts us – on the one hand we have become more global in our outlook, and more connected as people, while on the other, ultra-nationalism seems to be rising, and becoming more widespread. But, I believe people, especially the younger generations, don’t want to live in a world of exclusion. They aspire to create a better place to live, and work where everyone feels included, and can be themselves without any fear or reservations.

In this backdrop of the business research, ethical considerations, and the geo-political context, are organisations able to power their D&I vision? Unfortunately, not really. Although, recent events have certainly created a greater desire and momentum, progress has not been easy. For instance, the number of women and minority leaders in corporations remains stubbornly low. In PwC’s global diversity and inclusion survey[3], while 87% of the respondents expressed a strong commitment to D&I, nearly half of them said that D&I was a serious barrier to employee advancement within their organizations.

Is it time therefore to look at D&I through a different lens? I would say yes, and the first big change is that we cannot continue to look at diversity without considering inclusion. Diversity may be visible through representation, but inclusion is characterized by acceptance within diverse teams that in turn creates room for mutual respect, and multiple perspectives. Simply put, diversity is meaningless without inclusion. However, without a greater sense of urgency in making this change, I am afraid we might have to wait for a new generation of leaders for the transformation to succeed.

I am convinced that global corporations must become visible role models, and advocates of change within society. There is great value in contributing to the debate by sharing experiences, and learning from others.

At Schneider Electric, we are not perfect, but there is an unwavering D&I commitment, and ambition for a sustainable tomorrow.

Schneider Electric Commitment to D&I

We believe that “Access to energy is a basic human right” – our aspiration is to improve the lives of people everywhere in the world by developing sustainable energy solutions for our customers. This belief also extends to our D&I philosophy. Our ambition is to offer equal opportunities to everyone everywhere, and we want our employees — no matter who they are, or where in the world they live — to feel uniquely valued, and safe to contribute their best. For us diversity of people, and an environment of inclusion generate greater engagement, performance, and innovation.

Multi-hub Business Model

We want everyone everywhere in the company to have the same chance of success, irrespective of their nationality or location

To deliver on this ambition, we transitioned from a one-headquarter model (concentration of global roles) to a multi-hub model, and relocated key jobs to these hubs to create a global leadership structure. We realized that people were not mobile, so instead of asking them to relocate, job opportunities were created closer to them. A few years ago, most global jobs were concentrated in our European headquarters, but the current picture looks remarkably different. This new disruptive model has turned out to be a great move for the company, and our talents. Across the world, people now have equal opportunities for growth; locally empowered teams are in place for our customers; and there’s greater diversity in nationalities within Schneider Electric. There is an ongoing effort towards an equal spread of global jobs across Europe, the Americas, and Asia-Pacific.

Leadership Diversity

We want our leadership to reflect our business footprint, as well as the diversities of the communities in which we operate

To ensure that our leadership reflects the global community in which we operate, the priority is to have diversity in gender, nationality, and generation. By actively fostering an environment of inclusion for everyone (practices and behaviours); identifying and growing leaders from new economies; and providing opportunities for five generations to work side-by-side, it’s possible for everyone at Schneider Electric to see a path for their own growth and success.

Inclusive Practices and Policies

Diversity is challenging because it highlights what makes us all unique. To make it work we must hardwire it through policies and practices

Policies are cultural symbols, and so D&I is being hard-wired within policies and practices. For example, our new Global Family Leave policy launched in 2017 allows everyone to manage their unique life and work by providing time off for occasions that matter the most. Another instance is the salary equity process to establish workplace gender equality. Going a step further, a commitment has been made within our Planet and Society barometer to a time-bound, worldwide implementation of the Global Family Leave policy, as well as salary equity. Performance against this barometer is one of components for determining executive compensation. By enacting and reinforcing policies like these, we hope to establish a true sense of belonging for all Schneider Electric employees.

Inclusive Behaviours

To lead in a diverse environment, our leaders must become aware of their own biases, and take accountability for building inclusive teams

A true D&I environment must permeate throughout the organisation. In 2017, hidden bias education was rolled out to our top leaders, role modelling the change we want to drive. That rollout will continue to all managers in the coming year. However, training alone will not result in a culture of inclusion, and deliberate practice of these behaviours will need to be reinforced, rewarded and recognized to create lasting impact.

A Journey, not a Milestone

Diversity for diversity’s sake, and the absence of inclusion can lead to chaos and inefficiency. But, there are huge positives for any organisation that perseveres. In an increasingly complex business environment, finding a way to blend diversity in thought and ideas not only makes an organisation more human, more competitive, and more fun, it might be the only way to achieve sustainability.

At Schneider Electric, Diversity and Inclusion is our marker, it is our differentiating factor for the future, and that’s why great people make Schneider Electric a great company.

Olivier Blum is Chief Human Resources Officer, Schneider Electric

Image: Schneider Electric




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