In this episode, we speak to Eric Howard Way. To know more about the different Diversity and Inclusion initiatives of the Schindler Group we invite you to visit their dedicated page here. Below is the transcript of the conversation. You can listen to the podcast, either via the player above or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcast.
Agnes Uhereczky: Welcome to the listeners and our audience to this audio and video podcast of the WorkLife HUB. My guest today is Eric Howard Way. Thank you very much, Eric, for coming on the podcast. We are excited to have you on the show because of two reasons mainly. First, you are heading the diversity inclusion initiative globally, for the Schindler Group, the engineering company, which people may know from elevators and escalators. Secondly, you have a very interesting background, and I want to kick off with that and ask you first, how you transitioned from an engineering background to diversity and inclusion, which is not the usual pathway, I would say. Where do you find that these two slightly distinct arms reinforce each other and nourish each other and help you think maybe out of the box?
Eric Howard Way: Yes, it's a very good question. It's true. There are not many of us. But there are a few who have engineering backgrounds that have come into this field. Ever since I was four years old - I grew up in the United States - I knew I wanted to be an engineer. I knew what type of engineering school I wanted to go to. Along the way, I became interested in languages. I started taking French and somehow linguistics languages that just really fascinated me. So, I kept both of these interests going parallel, which ended up creating an opportunity for me to move to France. During my studies, I ended up staying here. I was exposed to this diversity of cultures, almost by default. I was more interested in the language. I wasn't so much interested in just going to another country or those aspects, and this nourished my curiosity. I think that's one element where I started to see how this diversity of an environment, this multiculturalism could have an impact. The company I was working in was in the automotive field in heavy trucks in the Renault, and then that became part of the Volvo Group. More and more, there were these mergers between the Volvo Group as it ended up buying the truck business from Renault trucks. We had operations in the United States in Japan. And, I thought this was wonderful. But I saw that we were having trouble working together. I also saw how I had trouble initially adapting to the French culture. They didn't understand why things didn't work exactly the way they needed to. We didn't have the language of inclusion or diversity at the time, that vocabulary. But I came to find out that's really what the situation was, we had this diversity, but we didn't have the inclusion.
And, I got interested mainly by reading the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, who talks about how companies go from being average to being great. It was about having this common purpose and common values. I realized that that was a way that we could create this inclusion that we needed. So I think what happened is it connected the topic, connected with my engineer problem-solving issue. I saw this problem of this untapped potential, this inefficiency. I wanted to do something about it. So that's really how I got into it. I applied for the position. This was in the Volvo Group in 2012, literally at the last minute, because I was completely unsure that this was the right choice for me. Could I leave the technical world? Would I miss that? What I found out is that they're actually very complicated Excel sheets in HR, and especially working with diversity and inclusion, too many numerical equations we need to solve. What is also helpful is having worked in product planning, which doesn't sound so sexy, but it's very strategic and interesting because you have to understand what are the needs of the customer. So I knew how to speak to the business and the person who hired me, I was convinced they would never hire me because I was an engineer for this role. They said you will know how to speak to engineers in an engineering company. So, I think that is a perspective that I take on this. This field has many different backgrounds, or people who I know who are anthropologists, psychologists, HR backgrounds, and it's very complimentary how people bring that element of their professional background into it and give a bit of a different focus to the work.
Agnes Uhereczky: I love it. I think it's so true how enriching it is to come from all these different backgrounds. That's why I think it's so important to have these conversations as we have with you now. Because we can inspire others, who may feel like, “Oh, this is not for me, because I'm not coming from HR” even if maybe they are super passionate about this. Because, I still think that we need to encourage many more people who want to be allies, who have a personal passion and interest in the subject, and whether they come from engineering or other backgrounds. So I think that is an inspiring story that you just shared and a very inspiring pathway. Because I also saw from your LinkedIn profile that you have quite a strong coaching background as well, right?
Eric Howard Way: The book I mentioned in this journey about creating these common values, etc., really, that's what inspired me to go for this coaching certification outside the company. And there, I learned the tools that I use every day. It's about change management, it's about the frame of reference. It's a way of connecting with people and getting people to talk about uncomfortable things. That's a lot of what coaching is about. What's the reality that we don't dare to look at? You can sum up coaching in a sentence like that. So yes, that's been a very big help for me. And I rely on those tools all the time to get into this topic and to see how we create the change.
Agnes Uhereczky: So because now you're heading the global D&I initiative for Schindler, would you like to explain a little bit to our audience the context so that when we talk about specific initiatives, they will have a bit of background and understand what context this is all situated in?
Eric Howard Way: As a mechanical engineer, I love working for an elevator company, there are lots of mechanical things happening. So I was excited to take on this journey after the automotive sector, which is also wonderful to work in as a mechanical engineer. We move 1.5 billion people every day with our products, it's pretty amazing. And what I also love, and it's very interesting, we and a lot of our competitors in the elevator industry, instead, we tend to forget how much of a mission we have in creating mobility solutions. But that is our business. I love talking to our technicians. They can exactly tell you, for instance, someone in a wheelchair, how do they need to manoeuvre to get into the elevator to be able to reach the buttons? They're thinking inclusively. So that's a real part of our business.
What also surprised me a bit and joining Schindler, is that yes, we're an engineering company. Yes, we're a manufacturing company. But it's especially a service company. Because we are doing a lot of our businesses about servicing elevators. And something like the automotive industry, factories, and the engineering office is a big part of the culture, the customer comes along after that. You don't know who you're building a car for or who you're building a truck for, you may have a name, but you've never met the customer. When our technicians go to install an elevator, our assembly line is the elevator shaft. So you're already at the customer site. So it's a really interesting industry, and the customer is very present here, even though it's an engineering company. We have 64,000 employees worldwide. So we're a very international, big size Corporation. And, of course, that presents challenges as well, in terms of inclusion and diversity.
Agnes Uhereczky: Just touching on this last point that you said about being a global company. In my mind global corporations have policies that decide on a global level because they want to firm up the culture, they want to have one company. But then there are so many different local differences between local legislation around working parents or LGBTQ+ rights or even how they are viewed and included in society. So for you, how do you embrace this challenge and where do you maybe see the differences between let's say, the US or Europe or where do you see some of the most exciting challenges or differences, where you think: “Okay, this is something that I would like to solve or focus on''.
Eric Howard Way: It is a wonderful challenge to work on this topic globally. And the diversity element is rather complicated. However, what I've discovered is that the inclusion element is truly universal. I've seen this through, for instance, training materials, which I've been very surprised about, they actually can be universal in many ways. We've been able to take the same concepts, the same exercises we give people, and use them across the world when we're talking about inclusion. So the idea is that we have this common way of looking at inclusion; how do I reach out to other people? What does inclusion mean? Then the diversity element is going to be more local because we have different attitudes, on gender in different cultures, different attitudes around LGBT people, the legal situation, etc. Just as you mentioned, even what we can measure, that's one of the complications is that even something like disabilities - which there's nothing controversial about disabilities - in many countries, we can't measure it, because it's, there's a fear, it could be a way of discriminating rather than the opposite. So we push the principle out to the countries, and then it's up to each country to put it into place. What is, to address the biggest gaps in that country, let's say it's not always the same gaps. It's obviously easier for a country to work on Disabilities, let's say if they already have a way of measuring it. So that can be perhaps a higher priority or bigger focus temporarily than another country. And then usually, that country may be a pioneer. Then we take that best practice, and we use it in another country.
So a lot of what we do is this best practice sharing, where a particular topic will have a specific focus in one area, we try to pull that into another country where that element is not as mature, let's say. What has also surprised me is how much more open the world is and how much more aligned it is than we might think. Even a topic such as LGBT inclusion, we have this idea of how would certain countries especially if those of us in Europe, we're in the United States, tend to think that we are in advance on this topic compared to the rest of the world. Yes, that's true. But I think they're not in touch with the reality of what's happening in say, China, or India, Japan, etc. You know, probably a lot of people don't know that a few years ago, the Japanese Prime Minister's wife was on a gay pride float at the parade. So I think we have a little bit of a disconnect when we think about what the differences are and how big they really are in reality.
So it's about getting back to that human element that we can all understand. There is more and more of a bit of a divide, I would say, between perhaps a European approach and an American approach. And, as an American, I'm a little bit concerned about some of the ways we're seeing in the United States in this area of diversity, and inclusion. I think we need to be very careful to keep the space for people to make mistakes when people have good intentions to say the wrong thing. Basically, for people to learn. In this area, it's very important that we feel safe, and that we can learn as questions. The advantage perhaps in the United States is that we're able to have conversations about many topics that in other areas of the world are still a bit taboo. In Europe, we know that following all the events that happened in the United States in 2020, around the murder of George Floyd, this raised a lot of awareness about ethnicity, and the impacts of unconscious bias and bias in general. It's a topic that's difficult to talk about in Europe, because we tend to think that, well, we should just sort of ignore those differences, treat everyone the same and the problem will go away. Of course, that might happen very slowly. But we need to be able to open up these conversations. So there's an element where I think we can learn from the United States and how do we open up these conversations in a safe way and how to respect people's privacy. It's not about putting someone on the spot, but it's creating an environment where people can open up and share what challenges they might have. So that's an element that I think is something we need to find a way to put greater focus on in Europe, even as we've you know, again, it's not something we can measure. Legally speaking, it's very complicated in Europe to measure people's ethnicity. There's a bit of a different dynamic in the United States as it can often be combined with religion. That creates a different mindset for people in terms of inclusion. So that's an area where I think we need to do more in terms of being a European company and looking at these problems.
Agnes Uhereczky: That's also my impression. And, you don't know what you don't know. I think there's this dynamic between inclusion and diversity. The more you have a critical mass of people who have maybe a shared experience of racism against them, they will be able to have a voice and start talking about that. But if it's just one or two people in a company, that's not how they want to be perceived, they don't want to be alone. It takes so much courage to open up and share your personal experience, to create the platform for an open discussion for everyone, if you're the only one. So, we need to do a little bit more on building this to have this possibility.
Eric Howard Way: It's very true that the element of critical mass, and that is a challenge on gender as well. So I was thinking, what comes to my mind is mentoring. We often say, well, mentoring is a bit passé now. I find that mentoring can be successful if it's done in the right way. Because mentoring sort of takes the idea that “well, we're going to teach this group of people how to be like the majority”. And, I would say when you're starting with very few candidates of ethnicity, or gender, it's very difficult if I came into, let's say, a French organization where all of the management team is French, and I say, “you know, maybe you should try to be a bit less French, why don't you in your team meetings be a little bit more American”. They would say: “What are you talking about”. They wouldn't know how to do it. So we do need to work on representation in parallel as we work on changing the culture. And it's true that mentoring typically helps the underrepresented groups understand what is this dominant culture. But ultimately, what we need to do is change the dominant culture. We need to get the majority to realize that there are other ways of being, there are other ways of acting, and that maybe we've been conforming ourselves to a certain way. So that is, I would say, parallel progress that happens as we bring in the representation, then we can touch upon these topics about how do we create a gender-balanced culture, not just gender balance representation, where everyone can express emotional intelligence. Everyone has the right to show compassion, empathy, these things that we typically, at least in the past have associated with femininity, and it wasn't characteristics that were rewarded by male leaders. So that's a bit of the goal here of how we go with the culture changing in parallel to the representation improving.
Agnes Uhereczky: I think we touched a little bit upon diversity and inclusion, but maybe the inclusion part is still quite difficult to grasp for people. So for you, how do you interpret this as a bit of a fuzzy notion of inclusion? How does that translate in the day-to-day or practical ways of a company?
Eric Howard Way: It is a word that's difficult to translate in many languages. Even in English the word inclusion we know now because we've gotten used to it. As Shakespeare says: What's in a name? Well, we've learned to put something behind it. And, in many countries, we're still learning what this means. What's the right way to talk about it? So inclusion? For me, it ultimately comes down to a feeling. Do I feel included? I have had this question from leaders. So I've tried to break it down into building blocks. I would say the first foundational level is for me to feel included, I'm going to come to work at a place where there's not going to be harassment. I'm going to feel safe, physically safe. My life is important to my manager for the company. And my well-being in terms of not being harassed, having a healthy work environment is going to be important. Secondly, I'm going to feel included in an organization that practices equity. In other words, my efforts will pay off just as much as my colleagues regardless of my profile, my gender, my background, my sexual orientation. Then I know that I can invest my efforts and that will payback. The third level of inclusion is belonging. Why am I here and not there? Do I have a shared purpose? Do I have solidarity with my colleagues where we can work together and cooperate? Are we in an interdependent mode rather than independent? All of those aspects are going to create this feeling of belonging. Am I appreciated by my manager and my colleagues? Do they like me? And then the next level to great inclusion, the next check we have is psychological safety. So, in other words, yeah, I belong, but maybe I feel that I need to be a little bit careful, you know, maybe there's a mould here, in order to belong. So am I going to speak up with my own opinion? Can I disagree, without being concerned? They're gonna say, oh, there's that American guy again, who thinks he knows everything. I need to be secure, psychologically secure in that belonging, to fully share this professional side of me and be able to disagree.
Finally, the ultimate level is what I call authenticity and uniqueness. So it's an organization where we celebrate, we appreciate this uniqueness of everyone. It's not just about you know, someone who's in a minority population, but everyone's uniqueness and authenticity are appreciated, you can be your full self, you don't have to cover. That releases energy. That's the impact of creativity, also engagement. So I said, those are the five levels of how I would put some concrete efforts into concrete actions into creating inclusion. I would just say that often we say: can't we get by with only talking about inclusion? Because, again, it can be that we don't necessarily know how to talk about these other areas. Some people say do I need to specifically talk about the underlying idea that someone is from a different race or a different gender? Does it matter? And I would say, this is a little bit of a paradox. I have spoken to one leader, I said, no, it doesn't matter whether you hire an engineer, that's male or female, of course, they can do a great job. But it does matter if 95% of your engineers are female, or 95% of your engineers are male. So we have this paradox around which differences don't matter on the one hand, but at the same time, we need to appreciate these differences. So if we can't have these conversations and look specifically at different threads of diversity, we're not going to be able to dive in and find out what we're missing. What would make the organization more inclusive? So that's why we have to have both of these elements, the diversity element looking at different topics. And then how do we in general, for everyone, create this feeling of inclusion?
Agnes Uhereczky: I appreciate how you outline this succinctly in a very structured engineering way. But it's so hard. That's the thing that we intellectually, we know, what are the layers, what we need to do, but it still crashes with human behaviour, and an incredibly diverse group of people who have had a very different upbringing, very different biases, very different way of thinking. And to make it a lived reality at the workplace is challenging. I love this dichotomy that you touched upon not being colourblind, but not putting all the black or brown people in one room and saying, so this is a leadership development program just for you. Or this is the female Leadership Program, or, this is just for moms. We want to support people who may have additional challenges that they need to overcome, but we don't want to label the programs and that they feel singled out. I find this very challenging. Do you have something that you apply, as a tool or a technique? What is your reflection on how to tackle this actually in practice?
Eric Howard Way: I'd say the first thing is to not try to be perfect. Sometimes we get feedback and say, why do we have a program that's targeting women in leadership? Why do we have a network that's for this? And I said: if you have a better solution, tell me. Sometimes there are better ideas. But if we do nothing, we know that nothing's going to change. So then it's about how we frame this. For instance, we have a program promoting women in leadership positions. What we've done is to include the managers in the program, so it's very much a coaching-based program. The managers also have coaching. So their eyes are being opened. Generally, the managers most of the time are male because we have a more male population. So they're learning about these challenges they didn't realize were there before. So it's as much a boost and an encouragement for these groups of women who are not in the majority. And we know, the reason we need to do this is simply that they're not in the majority position or the historical power positions, it is purely an equitable approach to rebalance the outcomes, not special treatment for one group of people. So I think that's a very important way to frame this as well. Then we realized that, again, as I said, we need to change the dominant culture of the organization. So, therefore, it's so important that our managers also are learning through this process, how to be a sponsor, how to be aware of these extra challenges that this one population might have, that we're not the same for you.
As you mentioned, it's a complicated thing to get each of us to understand how to be inclusive. I think the key is for all of us to realize that we've sort of been taught some ideals that can hold us back. Things like democracy, for instance. That sounds great. But after we vote, we do the majority vote, are we concerned about what the minority wants? Even in politics? Are we trying to find a solution for everybody? There's something beyond democracy, which is trying to find a consensus or sociocracy. There are many different models there. When we are accepting of differences, that's the democracy element. I'm looking at the world through my frame of reference, we even say treat others the way you would like to be treated.
What if we treat others the way they want to be treated?
So what this requires is to realize that I'm looking at the world through my frame of reference, and believing that it's universal. Inclusion means I stopped that, and I realized that there are other frames of reference, and those people think those are just as valid as mine is. And that's really what creates this mindset change. Where I'm on the lookout to say, this is my point of view, this is my frame of reference, let me have a little question mark, to say, okay, maybe I need to understand this person's frame of reference before I discount what they've said they need, their viewpoint, their opinion, etc. And once we get that habit of saying; okay, let me stop and think, is my frame of reference different from this person's frame of reference. Can I learn something from them? That's the real game-changer.
Agnes Uhereczky: Can I just go back and ask you about the initiatives to attract and retain more women in an engineering company. A few years ago, we ran a study across Europe on how to include more women in STEM and engineering jobs. One of the main barriers women cited was the masculine culture or the “boys’ clubs”, the “bro culture” of these companies, where they felt like it was very difficult to integrate, or they were not seen as equal with the male leaders. I specifically would like to ask you and let me know if you're comfortable with this question, about whether there were some setbacks because of the #MeToo movement or whether you also see that there is some gender fatigue. Because when we work with other organizations, we now sometimes have seen a bit of a backlash of these programs: “again, a gender initiative or a women's initiative, we already had that, why do we need that”. Or men may be thinking “okay, but if I may get into a mentoring relationship with a female colleague, and we have to have these mentoring conversations behind closed doors in my office, is there a risk for me to lay to be MeToo-ed”. What are your thoughts about this, Eric?
Eric Howard Way: Initially, we had some comments in that way around #MeToo with men saying: “Okay, is there going to be a witch hunt now”. I was a bit annoyed at times. I said: Why can we just pause for a second and realize that we've been ignoring a problem for a long time? Isn't it terrible what women have been going through all this time, and we haven't said anything, and Okay, now we can talk about your problem. But to be honest, I feel that that died down pretty quickly. I think we've always had a certain amount of backlash, let's say or misunderstanding, you know, why is this necessary? And we need to go back to the emotional element. Why is this difficult? It is about this emotional element. If I am a man and I'm in an organization, and I've achieved a certain position, I want to believe that I have done this fairly, you know that it was a meritocracy. If now you're telling me that there's some bias or there's something wrong with the system, or we have to have a particular eye around promotions and hirings based on gender, that's going to sort of conflict with this idea that I got here through my efforts. So, I think that's part of the difficulty here, in working with this backlash. We're very much focused on initiatives, we know the challenge we have to do. We think that everyone thinks like we do when we're in this field of inclusion and diversity, we need to be careful of our vocabulary. And, again, a lot of our vocabulary comes from the United States. I think in our industry, it's called an industry inclusion and diversity industry, we don't do a good job with vocabulary. We tend to take scientific words, words from research, and just throw them into the workplace, and they are misunderstood. People don't understand exactly what's behind them. Often, we make things too complicated. We use a word like intersectionality, which means I can be a gay man, a white man, and American and French all at the same time. Yeah, it's not such a complicated concept. It came from a legal framework, initially.
So I think by underlining that we're trying to get inclusion for everyone underlining already let's take that male majority. What has been designed around you already? What do you benefit from? Now, maybe we don't need to use the word privilege because they know, immediately speaking, they may not understand this idea of privilege, but, getting people to understand that, okay, what I have, yes, actually would like that, everyone, to have that. And getting them to realize that, okay, maybe I thought everyone had the same advantages. But now I realize they don't. And, of course, I want to be part of a meritocracy, I want to be part of a group that is fair to everyone. So I think that's how we can counteract that element. Also, by getting men and male leaders involved and implicated in the finding out the problems and finding solutions. As I said, in the leadership program, we include the managers there, that's one sample of that.
Agnes Uhereczky: Absolutely. It also doesn't have to be binary. Somehow, I feel a lot of the conversations we're having around the workplace are always either/or. Now, it's either you work full time at home, or you come back to the office and are shackled again to your desk. No, it's the same with meritocracy. And having good D&I initiatives are not exclusive, you can have both at the same time, you can try to go out to universities and organize career days and make the way a company works in a male-dominated sector more attractive to women, and then hire the best candidate, either female or male. I love how you explained the vocabulary, the terminology, it seems to be abstract, it seems to be almost threatening to people, and there's a lot of fear around, will I lose my job? Or will I have the skills? Do I have the skills to keep up and learn new behaviours? I think once fear is triggered, then goodbye rational thinking.
Eric Howard Way: That's exactly what happens. Inclusion, by definition, is “and thinking”, not “more thinking”. Which is exactly as you say. And a great example, I find, again, we come back to this equity, it's what is the different context, what are the different frames of reference, what is fair, based upon these contexts, not in some absolute, which is my frame of reference. The absolute comes to my frame of reference. So, for instance, I remember a leader realized that he had an imbalance of gender and his team, he needed to add more women or nonbinary people. He knew that if we created a job opening, men would apply. So there was no problem getting a good flow of male candidates. On the female side, he knew that that would be difficult. So he made all of his proactive efforts. On the female side, he reached out to someone on LinkedIn, leveraged that person's network. So, for instance, you can find a candidate that fits the profile, maybe the expertise you're looking for. Maybe they aren't a perfect match for the profile. Maybe they're too senior or too Junior. But you can send the opportunity to that person and say, you know, we have this opening, we very much want to have a balance of candidates so that we can choose the best person for the job. Would you mind sharing this among your network, especially with any women, you know, who could be interested so that we can make sure we have a balance of candidates? And usually, they're very happy to do so and they think it's great that you're concerned about having this balance. Then yes, you get a balance of candidates, and you can truly choose the best person for the job. So that's the best practice that I promote, and how we have this “and thinking” of the best person and a diverse slate of people.
Agnes Uhereczky: That's great. I love it. It's so simple. So pragmatic, yet very, very effective. Now, I have another question for you, Eric. Around accountability. In your experience, not necessarily with Schindler, but in general, with your previous roles as well, and you learning about these things and seeing from your peers, how can organizations build accountability to senior leaders or managers around this? Without them feeling, again, cornered? My job is here to make elevators or cars or trucks, now it's also my job to run a daycare. So how can you break through and convince them that they can become better managers, as a result, it's also in their interest to have these KPIs or performance indicators somehow linked to them?
Eric Howard Way: For one, I think it's important to recognize that fear or frustration you just mentioned, and so often we don't. We say we think you're a bad person because you haven't done this already. As you say, I came into this job thinking about elevators or engineering, and so it's a learning path, to realize that it's more complicated about that and that these soft things that maybe as an engineer, you thought, why do we even talk about that. No, it has a hard impact down the road. So I think it's about creating that understanding that if we work with inclusion and diversity, it will solve other problems we have. They will solve problems around engagement, it will help us to be more innovative because more ideas are going to come to the table, it will help us better connect with customers. Because we understand that my frame of reference is not the same as the customer's frame of reference, I think what they're asking for is ridiculous. To them, it's perfectly normal. So really underlining how we're not talking about doing something extra, this is going to help you meet the goals you already have. Then it can become very tricky in terms of KPIs, and I've seen organizations that can go too fast, and wanting to just hammer down the numbers that you have to meet before leaders have understood or managers have understood why they need to do this, or how to do it. It's very frustrating to be given a target when you feel I can't influence the outcome of this, or I don't, at the very least I don't know how to do it. You know, some people think but it's a society problem, or how can you know, the engineering schools just started giving me the candidates. So they have to understand that they have a way of impacting this. That's the first one.
And I often say that it's a question of maturity as well. For instance, if you want to tie bonuses to KPIs. Today, if we say to a leader: part of your bonus is tied to the quality output of your organization, they would think that's perfectly normal. Because they understand how quality impacts the final result. If they don't understand why we're doing inclusion in diversity either from a values point of view or from a business point of view. And I'm not saying it should only be from a business point of view, but also a values point of view. But if they haven't understood why it's important, they're not gonna understand why they need to meet a KPI and maybe doing it for the wrong reason. They may even create the numbers, but in a way where the results fail to prove that you see, you forced me to do this. It didn't work out, but I did what you told me to do. So it's very important that we create this understanding. As an engineering company, I, as an engineer, like to put numbers out there. For many things, we can't put a number on it. So we need anecdotal evidence. If you were a lawyer, how would you show that we are an LGBT inclusive organization? What evidence would you give to convince a jury? It was hard to put a number on that. So those are some ways to create this accountability. Also, for us in HR, it's very important for us to create feedback loops. That is also accountability. You know, if I have a network on gender, what do the women have that network and the allies are engaged on this topic, how do they feel the leaders are doing? Do they feel that the leaders are creating a gender-balanced culture? That's a KPI and there's no number on it, it's feedback. So that's why there are employee resource groups, or as we call them, employee inclusion networks are very important to create these soft feedback loops. So all of those things add up to this accountability.
Agnes Uhereczky: That's great. I love this. Thank you very much for answering this question. Because for me that is one of the thorniest parts of creating senior leadership and then because, without that, it's just some lonely warriors, who then take on all the personal work and burden of it and then they burn out because it's just them.
Eric Howard Way: Exactly. I would say one small thing that creates accountability is if your top leader says I'm expecting this. And I'm going to ask you how you're doing on it. You know, even if it's just a conversation, that changes mindsets and creates action.
Agnes Uhereczky: I have seen many organizations that have taken these things very seriously, was when the senior leaders or leaders were personally somehow affected when they had a very impactful personal experience in their life, either had a child born with a disability, or a child coming out as gay or trans or, themselves having had an accident or a burnout. And of course, we don't want to wish these challenging personal experiences, just for them to change their minds and become more active. But it helps when, when they have had an emotional event like that, or they have a personal story or a personal connection with the issue. But my question was answered brilliantly by you about how to recreate this with people who may not have had this personal experience. So it's very difficult for them to put themselves in the shoes of others. But if they can understand that this is an organizational objective, if this suits them, and the organization and the team and, and society and these anecdotes, then we can bring this issue closer to them.
Eric Howard Way: I think, you know, what, I speak about the topic, oh, I, you know, I may be a wonderful speaker, but people like, you're paid to say that, you know, so there's always a bit of a suspicion about what I'm trying to sell, let's say. But when another leader, when one of our leaders or an executive talks about the topic, then the message comes across more, let's say more authentic, because they're not being paid necessarily to say that. So we recently had a task force on disabilities inclusion. The executive sponsor of that task force shared an incident where someone became disabled in that office. He realized that getting into just the restrooms and toilets was practically impossible for this person, and he had to have an emergency crew come in and redo the doors. That was a real lesson for him. So just when he tells that story to another executive, it's going to be extremely powerful. So that story sharing is an element for us to create this other frame of reference, even though we can't all experience all these individual stories, but we can hear about them.
Agnes Uhereczky: I think that was a very good example, as well. We have time for two more questions. I would like to ask you about new ways of working, flexible working, the pandemic, mandatory teleworking? How do you see that intersects with your diversity and inclusion efforts and initiatives and what do you see maybe the next few months on how they can link up how they can? Because we know from research that teleworking may not necessarily be the best option for women who have childcare responsibilities, or household chores, especially in cultures where society and men expect them to do that. But somehow it also became a bit of an equalizer. What is your take on what's happened and what's still happening? How is that going to have an impact on your initiatives in the future?
Eric Howard Way: That's a great question because it's a huge topic. A lot of people, we included, are looking into this to see how we figure this out, this hybrid model that everyone's talking about going forward. We haven't even experienced the hype. One of the others for the past year, you were either on-site or you were remote. Now, it's going to be more complicated, because it's going to be mixed. So there are many intersections with diversity elements and inclusion. As you mentioned, on gender, and one is, if we are in a mixed situation, are women going to be more tempted to do more working from home, and therefore be less visible. Will the leader see the results of what they're doing, especially combined with the fact that we know that women tend to be less promotional about the work they're doing. This is normal for me to do my work. And here it is, and I'm not gonna make any fanfare about it. Apparently, study shows it is more common among men. Socio-economic differences, we were, in a way, the office is a great equalizer because everyone has a desk, in an office environment, we have the same equipment, we have the same uniforms. Even over time, we've downplayed hierarchy even though leaders now sit in open spaces. So more and more, it is something that is equitable for everyone. Our home offices are very much inequitable, they can also be unhealthy. So that's a real question. It's not our property as a company, it belongs to the employees. So what is the way that we can influence, nudge or support? What is needed there? What's happening? All of those are big questions that need to be resolved. Things like generations, younger employees, who may not yet have families who may have smaller apartments or smaller houses, maybe wanting to spend more social time at work or after work. So, they may have a stronger network among, let's say, people from a younger generation. If mid-career people who may have more family responsibilities, or older employees decide it's not worth it, for me to make the trip into the office. Are we gonna have fewer connections between the generations because of this? Disabilities can be an equalizer. I often say that, in so many of these virtual meetings, we don't think about it, but I don't know, even more than usual, if the person I'm speaking to has a disability, if we think about mobility, for instance, we generally were sitting down. So we don't know this. For someone who has a mobility challenge getting to and from work, if we allow remote working, then that's a big advantage for them. So you know, how do we take that into account? And again, if we go back to the office in a hybrid model, if we don't want the office to be half empty, we probably have to think about flexible seating. And that's not anything new. But in that element, we also need to think about adaptations of workstations. If you have a disability, does that mean you can't move around like your colleagues? Are you going to be alone when they've all gotten to this other fun section with couches and everything? How does this work? So here are some of the things I had to figure out.
Even LGBT. A lot of people may not be out, depending on the country they're in, etc. When we're having a video meeting like this, what if my spouse walks by behind me? You know, do you explain who you know? So, some elements like this, that you may not even think about. Also, our field staff and our office staff, typically we have a lot of technicians who are going out to serve as customers, they come back into the office from time to time, and that's when they can interact at the coffee machine, or over a work discussion with our office staff. Now, if those people are remote, we're having less and less interaction between the field and the support staff or the office staff. So all of these are real challenges. Even as we know, this creates opportunities in firms of different nationalities, for instance, because we don't require people to move to a different country or to move to a different city to take on a job if we allow for remote working, for instance. So there are lots of opportunities, and also lots of challenges that we need to mitigate as we put this model into practice.
Agnes Uhereczky: Absolutely. Now, before we go to the last question, Eric, would you like to share with our audience where they can maybe read more about your work where they can connect with you?
Eric Howard Way: Sure. We're redoing our website right now. So you may have to navigate around to find our inclusion and diversity pages. There's a really good section under sustainability there at the moment. Also, you can find me on LinkedIn, Eric Howard Way, Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Schindler Group. I am happy to exchange with anybody that would be passionate about the topic.
Agnes Uhereczky: Great. Thank you. So the last question is always the same here on our WorkLife HUB podcasts. If I could just ask you for one piece of advice that you feel you would now like to impart on other current or future D&I leaders that they should be focusing on or they should be aware of. What would be your key insider, your main takeaway?
Eric Howard Way: I would say, often, inclusion and diversity or diversity inclusion leaders feel they need to get this holy grail of the ultimate business case, to finally convince people what they need to do. Yes, you need a basic business case, to show the impact, to show that this is not going to harm the business at least, and I'm going to create extra work for them. But recognize that the real issue, the real blockage is this emotional issue. So focus also very strongly on the values and the fairness impact and show how this topic represents areas where we need to improve our fairness or equity. Everyone wants to be a part of a meritocracy, where they get to where they are fair. So I think that is a stronger connection than the business case, even if often leaders will, they'll throw up the business case question. But it's usually a smokescreen, or roadblock because there's this emotional element behind it. So find a way to get into that emotional element and get them engaged. It's their engagement, that is the success factor more so than the particular type of activity or initiative you're joining if the leaders are engaged, and that's going to be making that emotional connection with them.
Agnes Uhereczky: Thank you so much, Eric, for coming on the podcast accepting our invitation. I enjoyed this conversation with you. And there were so many key insights that you shared so generously that I'm going to take away from this conversation and I'm sure our audience as well. I just want to wish you the best of success with this role with your initiatives going forward.
Eric Howard Way: Thank you. It’s great for me to join you and look forward to hearing more sessions.