People Power: Why Diversity And Inclusion Is The Secret To Innovation

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In a world that’s increasingly reliant on technology, it’s people who are the ultimate competitive advantage.

Innovation is not about bits and bytes; it’s about lives and livelihoods.

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Boardrooms around the world are abuzz with talk of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, augmented reality and automation. The boardrooms at Honeywell are no exception. After all, we’re a technology company. Technology is what we do. The events of the last two years, however, have made it abundantly clear to everyone who works at Honeywell: Innovation is not about bits and bytes; it’s about lives and livelihoods.

That was evident at the start of the pandemic, when we leveraged our mass production capabilities to produce hand sanitizer and N95 masks in the face of global shortages. It was evident when we subsequently launched new Healthy Buildings solutions to help building owners protect the health and safety of their building occupants, and new in-cabin cleaning solutions to help commercial airlines protect the health and safety of their passengers. And it was evident early in 2021, when we deployed our technology solutions in support of a mass vaccination site near our headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.

If you ask me, however, the best way to illustrate Honeywell’s approach to innovation is not to list what we’ve done. Rather, it’s to showcase who we are.

Even in an era that’s defined by technology, I believe that what differentiates high-performing companies like Honeywell is our people. Specifically: Our mix of people.

Like all companies, we endeavor to have a workforce that is engaged, experienced, talented and loyal. What we’ve come to realize, however, is that none of that is possible unless we first have a workforce that is diverse and culture that is inclusive.

The Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion

The business case for diversity and inclusion remains strong. A 2019 analysis of more than 1,000 large companies in 15 countries by McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.

Results are even more compelling in the realm of ethnic and cultural diversity: Top-quartile companies outperform bottom-quartile companies by 36% in profitability, according to McKinsey.

It makes sense. Imagine tasking a room full of people with solving a difficult problem. If everyone in the room is made from the same mold, it’s likely that they’ll arrive at the same solution, which may or may not be the best solution. But if the room is filled with people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives and life experiences, the result will be a potpourri of ideas from which the group can pick the best and strongest.

Now, imagine trying to attract more people into the room who can help generate even more and better ideas. Wandering the halls outside are some of the brightest and most talented individuals in your field. If they peer inside the room and see other people who look like them contributing in meaningful ways, they might come inside. If they don’t, they’ll probably keep on walking — and they’ll take their good ideas with them.

But just getting great talent in the door isn’t enough. Once they’re in, it’s incumbent on you to make them feel like they belong. If you succeed, they’ll be their best selves, do their best work and will likely be more loyal, which will make the entire room more innovative and more productive.

Therein lies the key to innovation: When they have a diverse workforce, companies can attract and retain the best talent, which helps them generate the best ideas, which helps them develop the best solutions that create the best outcomes for shareholders, customers and the community. The entire ecosystem benefits.

How to Build a Diverse and Inclusive Organization

Although the merits of diversity and inclusion are clear, what’s less obvious is how to build an organization that genuinely nurtures them.

At Honeywell, we do it every day by focusing on five strategic best practices:

1. Embrace dimensions of diversity.

Racial, ethnic and gender diversity are bedrock on which to build successful diversity and inclusion efforts. And to be an organization in which diversity and inclusion are truly embraced and embedded, companies must also pursue true heterogeneity by redefining diversity and inclusion in the broadest possible terms.

At Honeywell, for example, being diverse and inclusive means fostering a workforce that is as varied in age, education, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, geography, veteran status and work style as it is in race, ethnicity and gender. It’s not about checking boxes; it’s about fostering an environment where everyone can be themselves, see themselves, and be seen and heard.

2. Lead from the top.

If work is a team sport, then diversity and inclusion demand that organizations design the game so that everyone can participate and nobody ends up sitting on the sidelines.

That starts with the coach — the CEO and executive leadership team, every member of which must be a visible and vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion so that it cascades across the entire organization.

At Honeywell, one way that we achieve executive-level buy-in for diversity and inclusion is with our Global Inclusion and Diversity Steering Committee, which is co-sponsored by our chairman and CEO, our chief human resources officer and our general counsel. It keeps diversity and inclusion at the fore of strategic business conversations, drives tangible actions and holds the business accountable.

Because we want our future leaders to be as enthusiastic about it as our present leadership is, we incorporate diversity and inclusion into our company culture and our leadership pipeline. Every Honeywell employee, for example, must complete a mandatory unconscious bias training program and must abide by our corporate Statement of Principles, which establishes a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination and prohibits racism by name. Meanwhile, we’ve added diversity and inclusion training modules into every aspect of our leadership development programs.

And then there’s me: I joined Honeywell in 2021 as its first-ever chief inclusion and diversity officer. In my role alongside other C-level executives, I’m able to ensure at the highest level of our organization that diversity and inclusion is a strategic priority that receives the attention and resources that it deserves.

3. Prioritize representation.

Customers today demand that they see themselves in the companies with which they do business, and employees in the companies for which they work. Therefore, diversity and inclusion cannot succeed without a focus on representation, which for us starts with the makeup of our board of directors and our executive management team: The former includes two African American, four women, and two Hispanic directors and one director who is a non-U.S. citizen; the latter includes 15 executive officers, more than half of whom are diverse by race, ethnicity or gender.

At Honeywell, representation begins with the hiring process. We recruit employees and leaders from diverse talent pools, including HBCUs, HSIs and other top academic institutions that have diverse student bodies and external professional organizations that have diverse members.

Simultaneously, we give hiring managers training and toolkits to help them attract diverse talent.

Last but not least, we have a talent review process wherein our managers have quarterly career discussions with team members to discuss what opportunities are available for their growth and development. This helps us identify diverse candidates for internal promotion and succession planning.

4. Create community.

Organizations must focus as much on the “inclusion” aspect of diversity and inclusion as they do the “diversity” aspect. Because while diversity gives diverse individuals an invitation to the party, inclusion ensures that they can contribute once they get there.

Community is key enabler of inclusion. To foster it at Honeywell, we have created six affinity group employee networks — for women, Black, Hispanic, veteran, LGBTQ and disabled employees and allies. These networks are open to all employees where they can access training, development, networking and mentorship opportunities created by, for and with their affinity-group peers.

5. Build credibility with communication.

If companies aren’t careful, diversity and inclusion efforts can come across contrived instead of authentic. When that happens, employees lose trust in the organization. It is critical to have programs with high-quality feedback loops that make diversity and inclusion a collaborative endeavor.

Along with its Global Inclusion and Diversity Steering Committee and its affinity group employee networks, both of which are conduits for multi-directional communication, Honeywell hosts regular listening sessions with diverse employees in order to learn more about what they need from the organization.

To that end, we have launched a “Voice of the Employee” employee engagement survey to seek employee feedback from all employees. The results will help us double down on things that are working and reevaluate things that aren’t. And as the survey’s name implies, it will help employees feel like they have a voice — like their ideas are heard and their perspectives valued — which they are.

Innovating with impact

There’s a reason that companies are obsessed with technology: Technology is an onramp to innovation, and innovation leads to better and differentiated outcomes for your customers.

But innovation can’t be manufactured or fabricated. Instead, it has to be built. Brick by brick and stone by stone. For people, but also by people. That’s what makes diversity and inclusion so impactful — when innovation is born of many, it benefits many. And if your innovation lacks impact, is it really that innovative to begin with?

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