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More and more companies have an employee or even a department that is tasked with diversity and inclusion. But sometimes that can lead team members to think that those goals are just the job of that department rather than goals for the whole company. Yet, it’s been shown that organizations that have inclusive cultures are:

  • 2X more likely to meet or exceed financial targets
  • 3X more likely to be high performing
  • 8X more likely to have better business outcomes

With those kinds of results, it’s obvious that diversity and inclusion isn’t just smart human policy, it’s good business. How and where does an organization start?


Classes in diversity and unconscious bias are starters, but they shouldn’t be seen as “one and done” checkboxes. We are individual products of an entire lifetime and the reason some bias is unconscious is because it’s buried deep. You can’t possibly address that in a one-day class or workshop.


But that means before you mandate anything from the top, you need to start with why. We recently surveyed our worldwide team to better understand where we as a company could improve in regards to diversity and inclusion. The results gave us a lot of helpful information, and that information has to be shared with employees so that they can understand why this isn’t an issue for one person or one group, but for the whole company.


Too often when we hear something that doesn’t match our experiences or beliefs, we immediately reject or question it. It’s important to realize that when underrepresented groups share their stories, they’re not usually doing it to get attention. In fact, some of those stories are so painful that it’s often hard to get them out into the public forum at all. If people are willing to share their challenges, we should give them the respect of believing them. If we don’t, we have to follow the logical consequence: that we think they are lying or exaggerating. And an environment in which peers cannot expect to be believed is not an attractive workplace for people of any background.


Remember that education also has to extend to privilege. Those who have privilege don’t recognize it as such, because it’s never been challenged. While appearance or skin color may be the most obvious privileges, because they are visible, there are plenty of invisible privileges as well, like education.


Education in diversity and inclusion is just like education in life: you can only learn if you believe you don’t know everything.

Too often when we hear something that doesn’t match our experiences or beliefs, we immediately reject or question it. If people are willing to share their challenges, we should give them the respect of believing them.

Hiring Practices

One place in which unconscious bias can show up is in recruiting. You cannot create a diverse organization unless you have entry points for people of different backgrounds and experiences to enter. If an organization isn’t as diverse as it could be, then hiring practices have to be examined. This should never be an accusation leveled at those in HR, but rather a recognition that we’ve found some better ways to look at recruiting and we want to try different tactics to bring about positive change.

An Open Environment

Organizations that want to foster diversity will need to give various forums to allow people to speak their minds. At Siemens Energy, we have a workforce that spans many cultures and languages, and in order to celebrate differences we have to give a framework to do so.


This isn’t just about creating a digital “suggestion box,” but about a willingness to call out bias when it’s shown — as well as a willingness to accept feedback when corrected. If you see something wrong, say something about it, and do so respectfully.  If you are corrected, have the humility to step back and examine your behavior, and if possible and when appropriate or warranted, express gratitude for a correction.


If we are willing to welcome professional correction on an aspect of our job or a task we are in, why wouldn’t we welcome it when it’s in an area that affects the whole organization? Everyone is going to make mistakes as an organization becomes more welcoming — as long as everyone understands that and makes room for those mistakes with empathy and patience, progress will happen.


We noted above that we did a survey at the beginning of this process to help us understand the lay of the land. That too, cannot be a one-and-done item. Surveys and research need to be ongoing and need to be measured against KPIs which can be generated by engaged employees.


For a helpful working definition of allyship, we can look to Nicole Asong Nfonoyim-Hara, Director of Diversity Programs at the Mayo Clinic, who defines it as:


            “...when a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a

            marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge

            that group’s basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society.”


As we noted above, privilege, like people, comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s important to see that an ally isn’t “doing a favor” for a marginalized person or group. The ally is uniting with that person or group to promote a common cause where all can benefit.


Allyship above all should be practical and actionable, not optical and self-serving.

Optical Allyship

Optical allyship can best be seen in those who consider mentioning hashtags on social media as a crucial (or only) aspect of allyship. Ironically, this type of allyship highlights the so-called ally and doesn’t really serve anyone else. Diversity and change will not be achieved solely by hashtags, but by action.

Practical Allyship

There are hundreds of ways to be a real ally, a practical ally. Some examples include:

  • Sharing growth opportunities with others and advocating for them
  • Not seeing venting as a personal attack
  • Recognizing systematic inequalities and discussing them so as to learn more
  • Being willing to listen, support, self-reflect, and most importantly, change

Those without allies can face depression, anxiety, and a fear of social situations. Allyship changes lives at a granular level — even though it seems to be addressing issues at a global one.


Keep in mind, too, that allyship shouldn’t be something you just do because there’s some pressure from the company or your peers. Natural places you can be an ally are issues that you are passionate about or areas in which you wield power.

Those without allies can face depression, anxiety, and a fear of social situations. Allyship changes lives at a granular level — even though it seems to be addressing issues at a global one.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

An ongoing vehicle for practical allyship is an Employee Resource Group. An ERG can serve as a force for change in an organization, as an outlet for professional development, and as a safe space for people to share ideas and challenges.


You start an ERG the way you start anything else in life: by finding collaborators and building infrastructure. Here are some ways to get started:

  1. Find other team members with a similar mindset and talk about starting an ERG. Collect goals that everyone agrees on so that the group is purpose-driven from the start.
  2. Get support from the top. Find someone in senior leadership who can support the goals you’ve outlined and can even free up some budget for you. ERGs don’t have to put on conventions, they might just have a happy hour or bring in a speaker or two to start.
  3. Create a structure. Once you’ve gotten approval, set up a structure that rotates. Don’t fall into the trap of having a group that is advocating for diversity and inclusion that then has static leadership. Provide for rotating leadership and various ways that all can contribute.
  4. Communicate. The organization can’t join forces with you unless they know you’re there. Use whatever approved messaging means you can to let everyone know about your events. Don’t be afraid to use old-fashioned word of mouth.
  5. Create KPIs for the ERG and for the organization to measure and encourage growth in diversity and inclusion.

ERGs are a simple and basic way to think globally and act locally.

Final Thoughts

Just as diversity and inclusion isn’t a checkbox to fill out or the job of a single department or individual, change isn’t going to happen in one fell swoop but by various small steps over time. Small wins lead to big change. But those small wins can only happen if everyone is willing to take those first small steps.


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