To Drive Diversity and Inclusion, Ask Tough Questions and Listen to Tough Answers

To Drive Diversity and Inclusion, Ask Tough Questions and Listen to Tough Answers

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Employees everywhere expect and deserve fairness, respect, and safety. Organizations that put diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the center of their growth strategies are the organizations that lead.

But good intentions aren’t enough. Even an organization that values inclusivity on paper may be unaware of how its culture and practices might cause painful experiences.

The most valuable conversations your organization can have with its employees about inclusion might be uncomfortable. They call for mutual openness and for everyone’s courage to ask tough questions and hear tough answers.

Siemens Energy recently used an internal social channel to invite feedback about the experiences of its employees around the globe. The candor and bravery of some responses came as tough medicine. But five representative comments yield guidance to building DEI strategies to make your workforce happier, healthier, and stronger for everyone.

“Working moms like me are often asked, ‘You’re married—your husband’s job is safe, right?’ Do male leaders ever ask male employees if their wives’ jobs are safe? Never heard of it.”

Leadership that reflects the world’s gender balance can give companies a competitive edge. Equitable gender representation can illuminate experience gaps and an understanding of employee needs that a male-dominated C-suite might not see.

Beyond eliminating some microaggressions, having a strong gender balance may reveal ethical issues. One job candidate reports being asked point-blank during a job interview whether she planned to have children soon. She immediately withdrew her application—and with it, the ingenuity and expertise she might have brought in.

An organization that sees a gender imbalance at the executive level might establish attainable goals such as a “25 by 25” initiative—a mandate to establish at least 25% female leadership by 2025—and “30 by 30” and beyond.

“I’m an Arab in Germany. I can’t count the times I’ve been told in meetings or in one-on-ones that I need to behave less temperamentally and more quietly, and show less emotion—otherwise, I had no future.”

As with gender representation, having a broad balance of ethnic, racial, religious, or other cultural representation helps companies make good decisions for their workforce and customers, and achieve greater innovation and faster production. An employee who feels uninhibited in bringing her whole self to work, without fear of judgment or self-sabotage, feels freer to contribute creative and strategic ideas that help an organization grow beyond its established processes and groupthink.

By training its leaders to stay mindful of cultural or behavioral biases and actively work against those biases, an organization can source a broader talent pool that feels free to power innovation.

“My first direct manager told me, ‘I don’t want to work with a gay guy. And I know how to prevent your progress.’ I talked to my senior manager, and they asked me, ‘Do you have a witness?’ Of course I didn’t. I got no support.”

Every organization is responsible for its employees’ safety. Allyship means confronting social biases toward the LGBTQIA+ community—as with any other identity—by ensuring the organization’s channels and platforms let individuals fearlessly report inequity, and then get the effective, appropriate outcomes they deserve.

An organization can demonstrate allyship with any identity at every level: from establishing LGBTQIA+ representation goals in leadership to introducing gender-inclusive spaces and signage. Further, it may embrace public or government pride organizations and campaigns and build or enhance internal initiatives, such as a “Coalition of Allies” program, to ensure everyone knows their company and colleagues have their back.

“I’m 53 and have worked here for over 20 years. We’re focusing on gender quota and diversity targets that are not relevant for my age group. Is this the message to send to people of my age group who have brought the company to where it is now?”

Consciously or not, many organizations’ cultures favor and celebrate youth. As with any other representation, companies that sideline or undercut their older employees’ contributions risk missing out on exponentially greater experience and problem-solving expertise that could help uncover and solve a complex company or industry challenge.

Mentorship works in both directions. Older and younger employees who work together teach and learn from one another. As your organization refines hiring and retention targets, your DEI efforts should help build teams with wide ranges of age and experience that encourage growth not just for the organization but for every employee.

“I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and I used the employee assistance program. When I disclosed that to some colleagues, instead of being perceived as wise for leveraging organization systems, I was given the signal that I’m weak.”

Embracing physical and neurodiversity within your workforce can lead to powerful market insights. But getting those insights requires every practice to ensure every employee works safely and with equal access.

Beyond heightening awareness and understanding of mental and physical diversity through training, all practices should contribute to DEI mindfulness. Information technology must ensure employees with limited senses or motor skills can access the tools they need to work. Real estate must ensure all employee spaces are fully accessible. Human resources, procurement, governance, partnerships, environmental safety: on DEI, every practice is responsible.

The Coalition of Allies

Getting brutally honest employee feedback gives Siemens Energy a roadmap to better support its workforce, update internal culture as necessary, and help employees stand up for one another.

Many chapters on inclusivity lie ahead. But the company recently introduced the Coalition of Allies: a cross-enterprise partnership to ensure all employees drive change through mutual support. By design, the Coalition of Allies fosters allyship, offers guidance, and tests and challenges ideas and actions—as well as helps the company listen whenever and wherever an employee needs to speak out.

Painful though it may be, your employees’ honest feedback on how they experience gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, age, and physical and neurodiversity can help your organization prove its commitment to DEI as you listen, learn, improve, and heal.


Learn how Siemens Energy is empowering its workforce around the globe by driving and encouraging allyship.

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