By leveraging inclusion, Linde not only boosts its value but creates a working environment that brings out the best in its employees.
“Diversity and inclusion, if properly managed, can be one of the key enablers to bonding our two successful legacy companies.” Vanessa Abrahams-John should know. She spent six years at Praxair as a lawyer responsible for a business unit, mergers and acquisitions, among other things. Now, in her role as Director of Global Diversity & Inclusion for the newly formed Linde plc, she believes conscious inclusion can be one of the secrets to a successful integration.
Since the merger, Vanessa first spent time providing an overview of the Linde diversity programs to our European colleagues in Munich, as well as presenting to our Kaleidoscope diversity group in Pullach. We subsequently caught up with her before she sets off on diversity training for our global colleagues. First up: Canada. “I’ll be spending a week there developing strategy and delivering leadership training program on unconscious bias,” she explains. Following a quick circumnavigation of the globe, it’s down under to Australia and on to Shanghai for more diversity and inclusion (D&I) training. “I’m really looking forward to it,” Vanessa says, “I’ve been so inspired and motivated by how our diversity and inclusion efforts have been embraced by all our colleagues.”
Ultimately, the goal of Diversity & Inclusion at Linde plc is to embrace, value and appreciate the different skill sets and backgrounds that allow our employees to perform better and our company to be more successful.
Going beyond the numbers
You don’t have to look too far into the research literature to see how this translates into a business advantage. “Whether McKinsey, Harvard Business Review or Boston Consulting Group, studies consistently show that companies with diverse workforces – especially in their leadership and board – perform better financially,” explains Vanessa. The reason for this is because diversity leads to diverse perspectives and ideas that translates to more ideation and a more collaborative decision-making process.
There is a simple but critical distinction that Vanessa makes when thinking about D&I; one that allows Linde to operationalise it throughout the business much in the same way as other important values like safety. “Diversity is a noun,” she explains, “it’s simply a representation of differences. But ‘inclusion’ is a verb. It’s an intentional act that we ask our management and leaders to undertake so that everybody feels valued and ultimately performs at their full potential”.
“Diversity means many things”
For Linde – which now boasts 80,000 employees across 100 countries – defining D&I in such a way that it will resonate for all global businesses is a challenge. Depending on the region, there will be different definitions for diversity and therefore different goals and means to achieve them.
Whatever the region, the central message is the same: D&I boils down to recognizing and embracing differences in people to enhance commitment and contribution. That difference can be anything from age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status to even the way someone expresses himself/herself. “Take people who are naturally introverted for example, and tend to avoid speaking up in meetings. We consider how that plays out in performance management and development,” explains Vanessa. These are the differences that people bring to the workplace – and if leveraged, it becomes a better one for it.
Of course, ensuring that differences are recognised and embraced comes down to training. “We can’t plan and hold our employees accountable if they are not trained,” Vanessa adds. “Our training ensures everyone understands what D&I means, what the business value is, as well as how to avoid any unconscious biases.”
A vibrant community: a win-win-win situation
If Linde is to attract the best talent going forward, it must continue to be an attractive prospect for all candidates and employees, regardless of the differences between us. “Prospective employees and employees might have a certain image of what a company operating in the industrial gases sphere is like,” Vanessa says, “but we want to show them that Linde is a vibrant community of people that is reflective and representative of society. One where all employees are given opportunities to develop and thrive.”
She is convinced that this is what will keep Linde agile, creative and ahead of the competition when it comes to its solutions: “The whole performance culture changes when you’re not in a room making decisions with the same people from the same background. It challenges us to think differently.” And that’s a win-win-win situation: for employees, customers and investors.
Vanessa can personally testify to the benefits of D&I: “I’m not a millennial but I love working with millennials and other generations. They challenge me to think and solve problems differently”. However, she is quick to attribute the success of Linde’s D&I program to reaching well beyond her own role: “It’s all about accountability,” she says, “Each business takes ownership of D&I and sets their own aspirational goals – it’s really driven by the managers.”
Two companies, #onelinde. But with D&I at its core, there are 80,000 reasons to believe that the future for Linde looks even brighter.
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