Q&A: Nichelle Grant Joins HR Exchange Advisory Board

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Nichelle Grant Q&A

Nichelle Grant has been working in diversity and inclusion for more than a decade with Siemens USA. She joins the HR Exchange Network advisory board after speaking at our Talent Exchange Live event in December.

In her work with Siemens she’s taken on a variety of initiatives, from diversifying suppliers to developing a more holistic approach to building a workforce that mirrors broader society. We sat down with Grant for a chat recently. Here is that interview.

HR Exchange Network: You work with Siemens USA in charge of DEI strategy and it’s interesting how much that word strategy is being used now. Do you find that the events of the last year and the conversation around race in America has driven the need for cohesive strategy and accountability in DEI corporate efforts?

Nichelle Grant: We built a DEI strategy that aligns with our overall business goals. We leverage and build our workforce so that we are nearer to our customer base, our suppliers, our partners and society. The strategy answers questions such as, “How do we tap into your ideas, knowledge, perspective and approaches so that we can maximize our business success? How do we make employees more engaged and involved?” Our goal is to be more focused on what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and communicate more with the organization, so that people can get onboard with this wonderful journey. That said… our strategic plan was actually accelerated with the events of 2020.

This reinforced our mission at Siemens, which is to serve society. And, as we’ve seen throughout our crisis response, what this really comes down to is supporting each other. This summer we saw how urgent that progress is needed to heal the wounds that have been inflicted by systemic racism and injustice in America for too long. People from all walks of life came together in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, igniting a national conversation for real, enduring change. 

In the aftermath of protests that erupted across the nation, the leadership team at Siemens made it clear to our employees where we stand. We fully support and are working to advance racial equity. We believe Black lives matter. We will not tolerate discrimination, and we condemn violence of any kind. Recognizing that change won’t happen overnight and these tragic events have affected our employees in different ways, we began an initiative to better ground our DEI efforts going forward. We call them Courageous Conversations, and they are designed to help U.S. leaders and managers begin conversations about race with their teams.

The idea is that the more comfortable we are talking about race in the workplace, the more we can be open to new avenues for finding, attracting and retaining diverse candidates, developing and mentoring employees, creating a shared sense of belonging and living up to the values we stand for as a company. And these conversations, while they begin with a focus on racial justice, expand beyond that during the dialogue to include other potential concerns (gender, LGBTQA+, disabilities, etc.). 

If we can listen to and learn from each other, if we can better understand different experiences and encourage safe forums for speaking up, then perhaps we can create a sensitive and mature approach to discussing injustice and create a dialogue that strengthens our organizational culture and builds a more resilient organization as a whole. Perhaps in acting as allies for one another, we can make a difference that will help shape more equal companies and more just communities.

We do not see Courageous Conversations as trainings. Employees must opt-in. But thousands of managers already have and we hope the dialogue will continue. Rather than a moment in time, these conversations should be like a heartbeat – steady and embedded in what we’re doing every day.

Now we are doing things differently while continuing our work to build a more resilient America – one that is more equitable and inclusive, focusing on the ways we can support each other, encouraging opportunities to speak up through courageous conversations and being examples of empathy.

ALSO READ: Q&A: Adapting or the Future with Brian Heger 

HREN: You’ve worked with supply chain and procurement teams to increase supplier diversity. Can you tell us a bit about those efforts and about the importance of diversifying the supply chain to support the idea of diversity out in the broader community?

NG: Part of my job is to guide how we at Siemens cultivate opportunities that will advance diversity across our workplace culture, our partnerships and our investments. Our CEO, Barbara Humpton, states it as diversity and inclusivity strengthens what we do at Siemens – and what we can do. And we see this power really come to life in our work with our supplier base.

Together, with small and diverse-owned businesses in the United States, we’re able to add value to the marketplace and advance new innovations in ways that we couldn’t do alone. We’re proud of the network we’ve built so far. Over the past year especially, our ecosystem of suppliers has been instrumental in helping us support customers and COVID response efforts. It’s also given us a fresh perspective on how diverse collaborations make our supply chains more resilient and our communities more equitable.

Transforming the everyday is our modern mission at Siemens and how we’re striving to address some of the world’s greatest challenges. More agile and productive factories. More intelligent and resilient buildings and power systems. More reliable and sustainable transportation. These are core components of the future we envision and we need your expertise, talent and leadership to build it. It’s through diversity and inclusion that we can create technology that truly reflects the society it’s meant to serve.

HREN: You’ve been with Siemens for a long time, can you describe how much the DEI landscape has changed in that time and how you’ve been able to keep the company at the forefront of that change?

NG: I’ve been with Siemens for 21 years and I have seen Siemens evolve on their D&I journey over those years.  I am proud of what Siemens has been able to accomplish and I am excited to see the organization continue the journey globally.

My charter is to strategically drive multiple ways the organization can leverage our differences to achieve our business goals, outperform competitors and exceed customer expectations. In addition, we also want to cultivate an inclusive climate. In order to do that, I work with various parts of the company to apply a business mindset to DEI methods for impact on order intake and revenue, people, brand, suppliers and customers. DEI spans across every part of an organization. I like to say it's not DEI over here and the business over there. DEI is how we do business.

HREN: It seems like for a long time the conversation was around D&I and in the last year we’ve been speaking a lot more about that equity piece. Is that a fair observation and if so, what’s driving that and how important is that for the future of corporate culture and credibility?

NG: This is a fair observation. Most people align the word equity as a financial term. But for DE, we are referring to workplace equity. Ensuring that your employees are treated fairly for the work they put in for the company. It's one thing to have diversity and be inclusive within your teams but are the team members treated fairly.

It's not the same as equality. Equity is about providing the right support and opportunities that each person needs to be productive and successful within an organization. We ultimately want to remove the systemic barriers that could be in our procedures, polices, guidelines, initiatives, programs etc. which may be holding you back from providing equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes for all.

HREN: I see you got your Bachelor’s degree in Zoology, so I’m curious what led you toward working in a career focused on people and diversity?

NG: The plan was to go to medical school but I decided to take a different path. That path lead me to Siemens who was looking for a professional with a Bachelor's of Science Degree to help them with their scientific solutions.

I come from a long line of champions for DEI. I can remember being involved throughout my childhood on key causes that make society better, throughout my college years, I was always a champion. I was an involved student on campus for DEI and throughout my professional career, I have continued that passion even to the point of being certified in D&I. At Siemens it started with volunteering in an employee resource group.  DEI spans many important topics. Collectively they are all important to me because no matter what I do, I have the responsibility to drive positive change and leave society better than I found it. 

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