Siemens: Strength in Diversity

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Denice KronauIn the first in a series, HRD presents global best practice insights from some of the world’s leading companies

As a multinational player with operations in over 190 countries around the world, it’s no surprise that engineering/electronics giant Siemens has made diversity and inclusion a key focus area. Global chief diversity officer Denice Kronau has introduced a number of initiatives to ensure Siemens stays ahead of the pack. Having previously worked as CFO of the company’s health care diagnostics entity and CEO of Siemens shared services in the US, Kronau brings a ‘numbers mindset’ to the diversity and inclusion equation. She sat down with HRD to share her global best practice tips.

HRD: Siemens is a large global entity. How do you handle diversity across such a broad spectrum – for example, do you have initiatives to tackle specific diversity areas in each nation or do you have blanket initiatives across the globe?

Denice Kronau: The first thing I’d do is substitute “or” for “and.” We have global diversity principles and local initiatives – because diversity is ultimately local. It’s important to know what is relevant in the local market. For example, in Germany there are many discussions around gender and women in the workforce. A lot of that is driven by the fact many women working today are first-generation workers. Their mothers didn’t work, their grandmothers didn’t work. So you face the usual things when you are a pioneer, when you’re the first to do something. That discussion is always relevant in the U.S. but not as topical as, say, LGBTI is right now, as well as veterans’ issues. In South Africa we’re looking at the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment issue; that’s a legislative response to Apartheid. And if I visit China or Turkey, one of the prevalent topics is the generational issue. In Turkey, in particular, we have such a young workforce.

Globally, diversity for us is diversity of thinking, diversity of mindset, diversity of experience. And we also care about the relevant local dimensions of inherent diversity, which is being a woman, being a certain age, potentially being a person with disability; whatever it is that makes you diverse from an obvious physical standpoint.

We’re presenting things in a way that nobody feels excluded. It doesn’t matter what the majority group is, whether it’s all men or all women or all American. If you’re one or two in the minority, you’re a little hesitant to speak up. So I always tell people my actual job is to ensure every voice is heard.

HRD: That’s the inclusion element?

DK: That’s right. We do business in so many countries, so by definition we have diversity in our company. What we have to be able to do is consciously address the inclusion piece.

HRD: So having diversity does not necessarily equate to being inclusive?

DK: No, it doesn’t. I think this is part of a natural evolution. As an example, in the U.S. a lot of diversity topics started with equal opportunity employment. Then as a natural by-product of that came chief diversity officers. Then it evolved into diversity and inclusion – because if you think about it, diversity isn’t actually the topic; the topic is whether you are inclusive. In Australia, if you’re talking about diversity and numbers – number of women on boards, whatever it is – that’s where everyone starts.

  • Canada is falling behind other countries when it comes to putting women on corporate boards. Women represent just 11 per cent of board members on companies listed on the S&P/TSX composite index, which represents large publicly traded Canadian companies.
  • This has dropped from 13 per cent in 2011.
  • Women have much larger representations on the boards of foreign companies listed on many major worldwide stock markets. Scandinavian countries average 25 per cent representation of women on boards.
  • Among the TSX-composite-listed companies, 42 per cent have no women on the boards of directors, while 28 per cent had just one female board member.
  • According to GMI Ratings, Canada ranked 9th among major industrialized nations for female board membership in 2011. That’s down from 6th place in 2009.

What I’ve seen in the three years I’ve been in this role is if that’s the starting point, you are then able to leapfrog to the inclusion discussion, compared to the 10 years it may have taken to get into the diversity issue.

HRD: Gender diversity and inclusion remains a hot topic, but there remain concerns that the current debate is still not flitering down. How do you think this issue can remain relevant and repositioned for a new generation of workers?

DK: Firstly, I’ve noticed the new generation coming in, Millennials, are gender blind. They don’t understand what all the noise is about: “Of course there are women in my classes, of course they are capable, and frankly we need them to get stuff done, so why are we talking about this?” Will they retain that? Did the Silent Generation retain their perspectives from when they were 20 to when they were 60? Or did they change as they got older?

Secondly, what I think people are leaving out of the discussion is whenever you have a minority, whatever that minority is, you must get the majority interested in their success. It’s not about making that minority “better,” whatever that means, so they can become the majority. One of my favourite things to do when I’m looking for support – say for a women who’s said, “I’m trying to do things but it’s just not working” – is I go and find senior leaders who have daughters who are just about to go into the workforce. These parents hear the stories at home about how hard it is for their daughter, and they end up being great coaches in the workplace. They can also learn about the challenges their own daughter is facing or might face in the future. Some of our women’s networks have men in them too, for that very reason. It’s about saying, “Actually, this makes me a better leader or manager, and I’m a little bit self-motivated because I’ve got a daughter in a similar circumstance. I want her to have a great job.” This makes it a fresh topic again.

How do you get included in something? You have to get a hand extended to you from someone who is already in the room. It isn’t about breaking the door down; someone opens the door for you.

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