With 40,000 employees across the United States, Siemens—a conglomerate whose portfolio includes industry, energy, infrastructure, healthcare and mobility—considers its people to be inherently at the core of everything the company does, says Nichelle Grant, head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Siemens USA.
“Our employees are our greatest asset,” she says. “We leverage and build our workforce so that we are nearer to our customer base, our suppliers, our partners and society.”
Key to that goal is a commitment to DEI. Apart from a robust strategy that is closely aligned with business objectives, Siemens also recently became a Workhuman Certified Enterprise, signifying its progress toward becoming a human-centered organization. The certification is an important step that will help the organization push its DEI strategy forward, Grant says—and it will continue to be work that involves the entire workforce.
“We want our teams engaged with our DE&I strategy. We want to tap into the rich source of ideas, knowledge, perspectives and approaches that they bring to the table. It’s vital for us to be focused on what we’re doing, how we’re doing and communicating that throughout the organization so more people are part of how we’re working to drive change.”
Grant recently spoke with HRE about how Siemens plans to make that change a reality:
HRE: You have worked in the DEI space for decades. What is the biggest shift you’ve seen in the broader employer landscape when it comes to creating sustainable DEI progress?
Grant: I think the biggest change is the change in our workforce. For the first time in history, we now have five generations represented. This brings with it new ways of thinking, some opportunities and some challenges.
For sustainable DE&I progress, an approach is needed that really embraces this shift. To give you a real-life example of something we’re doing at Siemens, we’re building multigenerational teams. It’s a way to encourage knowledge transfer between manufacturing veterans and digital natives. This collaboration is fostering better ways of getting the job done.
What this illustrates to me is that it’s even more essential for us to respect and value the differences people are bringing to the table. And at the heart of it all is creating an inclusive workplace with room for learning and growth.
HRE: How about at Siemens, in particular?
Grant: I’ve been with Siemens for 23 years, and I have seen the company’s DE&I journey evolve over those years. I am proud of what Siemens has been able to accomplish, and I am excited to see us continue on this journey.
Not only that, but we’re also striving to be a leader in this space. Inclusive business is inevitable. And the next-generation workforce demands it. We want to be the company that Gen Z looks at and says, “Let’s go to work there because they’ve done the work. We can be who we are.” We can’t miss out on that new talent. The question we keep asking ourselves is how we tap into the full range of ideas, knowledge and perspectives that exist in our workforce.
My charter as the Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the U.S. is to help answer that question. That means focusing on the ways in which we can leverage our differences and cultivate an inclusive climate across every nook and cranny of our organization. I like to say it’s not DE&I over here and the business over there. DE&I is how we do business.
HRE: What role does C-suite investment play in creating DE&I change? And what is your advice for CHROs and Chief DE&I Officers for securing that buy-in?
Grant: Our U.S. CEO, Barbara Humpton, leads the way in being a champion for DE&I as both the right thing to do and a core part of our business strategy. And that belief is echoed by our entire C-suite, which then cascades into drivers throughout the organization.
That’s how we help ensure DE&I is embedded into our business goals and processes, from how we work with suppliers to how we hire talent, to how we build teams and how we interact with customers. It’s all part of the successful formula.
At Siemens, we’re supporting the industry and infrastructure forming the backbone of America’s economy. We want to represent the society in which we live and serve.
So, in addition to our efforts externally, we’re focused internally on ensuring that every person on our team is empowered to ask questions and solve problems—that every person is empowered to be their authentic selves and realize their full potential. A sense of belonging is a fundamental human need in the workplace as much as anywhere else.
My advice for other leaders in roles like mine is to remember that advancing DE&I is not a sprint but a marathon. It’s for life. We set an example with our words, what we stand for and how we show up every day to support our employees.
HRE: How is Siemens looking to technology to help advance DE&I goals?
Grant: It’s our view that technology is only as powerful as the people behind it, which means it will be even more powerful if our workforce truly reflects the society that this technology is meant to serve.
We need to be looking for talent everywhere. And we need to be asking, “Who are we missing”? The statistics need to change. Women and minority groups continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields.
When you think about diversity in technology, there are a lot of traits that we might say are “below the iceberg,” or things we can’t see by just looking at someone, like education, experience or ways of thinking.
This diversity is important to advancing our DE&I goals, too. Because technology is moving so rapidly, we have to keep up. We risk losing our competitive advantage in the marketplace if we don’t. And I think that brings an awareness that there are skills that our employees have today that we never would have thought of even five years ago. And there will continue to be skills we will need to bring into the organization that don’t even exist yet.
We really can’t have enough diversity as we think about what’s needed for the future.
HRE: What do you think will be HR and DE&I leaders’ biggest challenge in 2023?
Grant: Attracting and retaining talent. People have choices when it comes to where they work. They want flexibility over where they work, the hours they work, and they want options for career growth. In hybrid workplace environments, we have to provide both an excellent candidate and employee experience. It starts the moment they apply for a job and should extend throughout their tenure at the company.
HRE: You studied zoology in undergrad—how (and why) did you make the shift to your current focus?
Grant: I come from a long line of champions for DE&I. I can remember being involved throughout my childhood on key causes that make society better. Throughout my college years, I was always a champion and an involved student on campus for DE&I, and that has been the case throughout my professional career, too, even to the point of being certified in D&I.
At Siemens, it started with volunteering in an employee resource group. And now, in this role, I’m able to work across the business to help drive DE&I impact on everything from order intake and revenue to our people, our brand, our suppliers and our customers.
DE&I spans many important topics, and they are all important to me. I also know that no matter what I do, I have the responsibility to drive positive change and leave society better than I found it.
HRE: What do you want your colleagues to know about you?
Grant: Family is important to me. I cherish the time I have with all my family members and always try to have fun in what we do together. Life is short, and it’s important to prioritize. God. Family. Career.