​Five Different Fingers, One Strong Hand

by Iain Hopkins07 Feb 2014
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 US 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 US 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. 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 in Australia, but I’ve heard concern from HR directors that the current debate is still not getting cut-through. How do you think this issue can remain fresh, 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.

HRD: Where do you see the diversity space heading next? Perhaps a focus on some more neglected aspects, eg disability?

DK: I see people with disability as always being a topical issue. We have a program at one of our US headquarters called ‘Life at Siemens’, targeting kids at high school. They come in on internship – they all have special needs, whether it’s being slightly autistic or in a wheelchair – but whatever it is, they are absolutely able to be employed. They come in with their teacher and they learn life skills for working in a company. Then many have been hired by us, or they’ve gone on to jobs in other companies. They may not have had this opportunity if they’d stayed in school and did not get exposure to a work environment. Anytime someone can productively work, it’s great for society as a whole. It also changes the mindset of the people they work with; they can say, “I know this person at work who has Down syndrome, and look what they can do”.

HRD: Can you outline the Siemens Diversity Charter?

DK: About three years ago we set up a tool on our intranet where employees could go to a map of the world and click, ‘I believe in Siemens’ principles of diversity, diversity of experience and expertise, with no silos, no prejudice, and that we give an equal opportunity to everyone’. When you click, you are effectively signing the charter. We keep score about which country has the highest percentage of employees who have signed this charter. Australia is winning and has never been unseated. We’ve had over 15,000 employees worldwide sign this.

HRD: What other initiatives does Siemens have in place?

DK: We have a Facebook page called ‘Diversity at Siemens’. On International Women’s Day we encouraged people to post a story about women who inspired them, and I then responded to that story – it was like an online chat. We had hundreds of employees posting.

Diversity needs to mean something at your desk; you need to know that you are being included, that your voice is being heard, in a way that is relevant and meaningful to you at your desk – this was a way to get that engagement.

We also have 120 employee networks, varying from ethnically based groups, to women, to people with disability, and so on. We don’t overengineer this or put too many rules or regulations around them, but these networks typically get together and decide what their purpose is. Usually they’re about professional development and topics relevant to that group, mentoring and coaching other people like themselves, and recruitment. And then CSR.

What we find is people who join these types of groups are very interested in giving back to the community. Siemens as a whole is also doing this, but these groups are great multipliers of that.

HRD: How do you track the success of your initiatives – what metrics/analytics do you look at to prove ROI?

DK: Number one, there’s no question within the Siemens family this is the right thing to do and we need to do it.

You can look at it in different ways. For example, you can talk about it in terms of 17% of college graduates today are white males. So we have to increase the intake from a wider pool – we can’t recruit from the 17% of people because we won’t get all 17% of them anyway. You can tie numbers into cost of recruiting and all sorts of other things. I can also talk about 10 people in a team but you don’t get the best from two of them, so you’re only operating at 80% capacity. We’re engineers, so that data is maybe correlated but not causal. That’s a little tricky on the ROI. I can show numbers that show correlation, but there are other variables, other dimensions in play at the time.

We do keep a detailed scorecard, which we don’t share publicly, but we have about 50 KPIs which I track and change to ensure the efforts we’re putting in are getting a positive return. These are employee engagement, number of women in certain positions, age groups, etc – the traditional measures of a diversity scorecard. From there I know we need more networks, more time on communication, or I can see when we did this we saw a spike in engagement over here.

Again, that’s correlation not causality, but that’s almost more important for me; it isn’t something like measuring productivity of widgets on a production line: “they used to do 10 and now they do 12”. It’s not as clean as that. When sceptics hear those numbers – “we have 40% more of this or that” – they will immediately dismiss it. So I don’t give them that option to disregard the analysis. Instead you say, “There’s probably several correlations that are significant; however, it’s significant enough that it’s worth thinking about”.

Being a numbers person I also then outline the story the numbers tell in a credible way. We can sniff when a number doesn’t seem right, so I’m always mindful of this.

HRD: What’s the significance of ‘Five different fingers, one strong hand’?

DK: When I started in this role three years ago, we started out with the slogan ‘Diversity means business’. We then moved to ‘All diversity is local’, to remind people it happens at your desk – and it’s everybody’s job, not just HR’s. Then last year we held a competition and asked all Siemens employees for their slogan for diversity. One of our service engineers in India came up with ‘Five different fingers, one strong hand’. He explained that if you look at your hand each finger is different and that’s what makes your hand strong. If you had five thumbs you wouldn’t be able to do much.

Also, extend your hand: it’s about someone opening the door for you and pulling you into the room, not you trying to push your way in. It’s been such a powerful metaphor for us as to why everyone counts.

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