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Podcast Length Icon 53:56 30 Jul 2021

Why D&I is key to the future of engineering?

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.

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.