John Deere’s DEI head: How to measure the ROI of diversity

From the courtroom to the boardroom, Johane Domersant leads DEI strategy for over 80,000 employees

John Deere’s DEI head: How to measure the ROI of diversity

With over 80,000 employees scattered across the world, manufacturing giant John Deere is a household name. Founded by eponymous entrepreneur John Deere in 1837, the company went from a small-time venture to a global conglomerate with a portfolio of more than 25 brands.

Sitting at the helm of the people strategy is Johane Domersant, head of global talent supply, and diversity, equity and inclusion. A certified legend in the diversity space, Domersant actually fell into DEI by happenstance – after originally practicing law.

From the courtroom to the boardroom

“Before coming to Deere two years ago, I spent years in private practice as a trial lawyer specializing in labour and employment litigation before I made the leap to work in-house, as a global labour and employment leader in a Fortune 500 company. I didn’t see myself going into any career outside of law, let alone in the DEI and global recruiting space. That all changed after some chance conversations with several senior Deere leaders.”

Deere was looking for someone with an outside perspective and emphatic ambition to recruit more diverse talent into the organization. More specifically, somebody who could push the envelope in attracting those who would want to contribute to the company’s higher purpose to provide the food, fuel, fibre, and infrastructure needed to support a growing global population.

“Their passion for these efforts was undeniable,” says Domersant. “And knowing that I’d have an opportunity to make a real impact at the organization is what spoke to me. I decided to make the change shortly thereafter.”

Bringing your truest self to work

At John Deere, Domersant tells HRD that diversity means many different things – that wholesome combination of protected characteristics offset by varying experiences, talents, skills, and perspectives. This means allowing employees the space and freedom to bring their truest selves to work – as well as an investment in a myriad of innovative employee resource groups.

“We want our employees to know their voice and contributions matter, so equipping them with the knowledge and skillsets they desire empowers them to be their best selves,” she says. “To ensure every employee has equitable access to career advancement opportunities, it’s important our teams are given the tools and skills needed to successfully perform their jobs.  So, we’ve built robust development opportunities and protocols that ensure our employees can chart their own career paths and feel supported in their growth.”

It’s this investment in learning and development that will separate the wheat from the chafe in talent attraction this year. According to LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees stated that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. The same report found that 68% of employees prefer to learn at work, and 58% are willing to spend more time on learning if their employer makes it accessible. By meeting employee expectations around L&D, and adding an onus on DEI into the mix, it’s a recipe for success.

Speaking the language of the boardroom

And while the data’s there to back it up, securing C-suite buy-in can still prove to be a bone of contention for HR practitioners. In order to claim your slice of the money pie, HR needs to speak the language of the boardroom – numbers. To do this, leaders need to ensure they’re providing an accurate representation of the return on investment (ROI) on any diversity pushes. At John Deere, Domersant says this begins with understanding the principles and objectives of company policies – as well as the human capital management lifecycle.

“In 2022, Deere aligned its DEI strategy with the framework provided by ISO:304151,” she tells HRD. “We’ll measure the impact of the company’s DEI strategy through employee experience survey results and performance against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Strategic alignment with the UN SDGs provides methodologies to reduce inequalities, drive decent work and economic growth, and strive for gender equality.

“We intend for accountability to be held by measuring the impact of our actions to increase representation, opportunities, and access for women and underrepresented groups in our work environments, business relationships, and communities.”

Inclusivity spurs innovation, prevents high turnover

The name of the game this year is retention. The swaths of departing candidates, the rise of job hopping despite growing economic uncertainty, the slew of pay rise requests – employers need to remain competitive and appreciative in order to stem the quitting.

According to data from Gitnux, 77% of employee turnover is down to poor management alone – with 77% of employees looking very closely at a company’s culture when deciding on whether to accept an offer. The message is clear – get your culture, specifically your DEI offerings, in line, and innovation, retention, and productivity will reign.

And, if you’re unsure of how to achieve this level of high-level strategy, take a leaf out of Domersant’s book – after all, inclusivity allows employees to better collaborate and innovate at a much faster pace.

“When employees feel seen, heard, valued, and empowered, they will naturally be more engaged and happier at work,” says Domersant. “A big part of that is giving all employees – not just leadership – a seat at the table. That’s really the essence of inclusion, making sure employees have a voice and that their voice is heard.

“Employees will bring their best selves to work when they feel valued. So, if you foster a culture of inclusion that’s driven by action, it organically results in higher performance, productivity, and engagement.”

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