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MCN Profile: thyssenkrupp Materials NA

Tackles DEI

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MCN Editor Karen Zajac-Frazee Metals distribution giant has three-phase effort to expand field of employees and ensure their success once in the door.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is an effort beyond the topic of women – it is fair representation of women, racial minorities and other underrepresented groups.  At thyssenkrupp Materials NA, DEI has and continues to be a journey of several phases.

In 2020, thyssenkrupp Materials NA paused and asked what the company was doing to make society, and the company, a better place to work for numerous groups of people. It is here where Morgan Crane, director of corporate IR, and Katrina Hill-Meadows, vice president of HR - One Source Group,  along with some other key people at the organization, began partnering with executives to talk about diversity and other topics not previously discussed. They decided to take a three-phase approach to tackle the topic, with the understanding the journey would take time.

In phase one, “Awareness and Dialogue,” TKMNA asked what things it could do organizationally that would start the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion. “For example, they came up with ‘Communication Spotlight on Inclusion’ which highlighted a number of individuals in their organization who had stories to share. They looked for diverse backgrounds, and were able to put these monthly spotlights on inclusion in place for different months and holidays that were impacting different diverse groups,” Crane says.

In the women’s chapter, the company opened a secondary channel that included employee resource groups, a place where diversity and other topics could be discussed. “The network is open to all women in our organization.  It includes impulse sessions, content sessions, specific women in leadership sessions and connection over lunches,” Crane adds.

Starting this year is the Ambassador Program, which focuses on how every woman from the ground floor up can be included on the journey and share their experiences so the company hears what it needs to be successful in different environments. In addition to awareness and dialogue, for instance, they used start-of-shift discussions, talking points on different diversity concepts for every manager on the floor to address. 

Another area under phase one is unconscious bias training, which takes place across all of the management teams and later this year they are launching a second level training for Inclusive Leadership. The training does not just look at people in recruiting, but the entire employee life cycle. 

That leads perfectly into phase two, “Inclusion in the Employee Life Cycle.” 

“We mapped out hire to retire. What are the steps that an employee is going to go through within our life cycle with us? What are things that maybe undermine diversity and equity or inclusion in those processes? It’s one thing to bring in a diverse workforce and get them in the door; it’s another thing to get them to stay,” Crane says.

This sense of belonging and having the right processes and procedures has led to phase three: “This is where inclusion is a part of what we live and breathe. It’s integrated into who we are. Just like safety is talked about at every meeting, we want diversity to be handled the same way,” Crane notes.

Though this DEI journey seems clear, some pushback is inevitable. “Just like any change management initiative, you are going to face challenges. This to me is truly a cultural change.  With this you have early adopters, and you have the middle of the road.  I don’t think we have faced anybody who has says, ‘No we’re not going to do this.’” 

Part of the journey is making sure everyone realizes the value of a diverse organization, which extends beyond just doing the right thing. There’s a sound business case as well. 

“Diverse companies statistically outperform non-diverse companies.  It’s really more about showing that having a diverse team can improve performance.  We can show statistics externally all day long.  We’re working on showing them internally and how that impacts our bottom line by having diversity on different teams,” Crane says.

Part of the process was developing a mission, to grow the population of women in the organization as a whole and leadership in specific. “That mission primarily focused around initially making sure we were creating pathways for women to get into leadership roles,” Hill-Meadows says.  “Some might say why do you need more women in this industry or company? We had to take time to come up with a mission and evaluate our current state.  Having more women in leadership roles helps to change the mindset. By bringing more women into the industry of metals, they will be able to identify other opportunities and other roles for more women.”

To have more women or diversity in the industry or in these organizations is the right thing to do but it comes with some skepticism. “Some questioned if it meant we stop hiring men. However, it means we become more intentional about making sure that the people we bring to the table are more diverse.  We need to use these efforts which become second nature to allow more women or the less represented groups into this industry,” Hill-Meadows explains.

Since the push began in 2020, the company is seeing results. More women have moved into executive roles in just a short period of time, but that’s only one part of the program. “We have been successful with not only the numbers but also with the mindset. This dialogue is new and this conversation is happening more,” Hill-Meadows says.

The gains are expected to accelerate. “We tracked the numbers when we first started the initiative.  We did a ‘where are we now’ this year as we are going into our next cycle of yearly planning activities.  With that, we have seen single-digit increase in our director and executive representation of female leaders. We’re working on the pipeline all the way,” Crane says, noting that an increase in directors and executives has also resulted in a decline in management representation, as they’ve been pulling from that pool. “We won’t see the fruits of our labor until a couple more years down the road.”

Challenges persist, of course, just as they do for all companies looking to fill their pipelines with talent. “In the metals industry, we need to try to find candidates with transferable skills that come from a diverse background that can come into this industry. We need to find diverse vendors that can help us with the pipeline outside of the business,” Hill-Meadows says.

Creating a strong pipeline of diverse hires ultimately falls on the people hiring, and demands an active approach. “Traditionally, without that awareness and education on where we are going from an HR standpoint, you will have leaders that will continue to hire people or move people into roles or promote people who are just like themselves.  It’s that unconscious bias,” Hill-Meadows says. 
Being a global company with its roots in Germany has also allowed the operation to share successful best practices. “It has been a two-way street. In Germany, they have a lot of focus on women and leadership. They certainly have created a very extensive global network which we enhance,” Crane says.

“We try, however, to interconnect programs from the global and North American teams so they seem complementary.  There are a number of resources that come from the global team that we extend to North America and there are additional resources for our women that are more localized in content. Then, we tie the two together,” she adds.

At this point thyssenkrupp Materials NA has not been working with any competitors in the industry as they are focusing on themselves. “Although we are not networking with our competitors or other companies in the business, we are discussing how to market our company as a place that is viable for women in the metals industry. How do you get women to view this old, metal company as something that has a trendy feel to it that attracts talent?” Hill-Meadows says.

Therefore, through this journey thyssenkrupp believes it has become a cross section company that competes within metals and outside of metals where women and other underrepresented people want to come to and work.

“Our mission is really focused on getting women and other minorities in those leadership spots because there is really something to be said for ‘if I can see her, I can be her.’ There is something to be said for this company that supports women in leadership, and you can see that by the makeup of women on our board. We would like to see representation within our company of the population in which the leaders are serving within our teams as well,” Crane says.

Executives have learned some aspects of the effort need to be tailored throughout the company. “The one size fits all sounds nice, but it doesn’t reach the breadth and depth of our organization. That’s why things like our ambassador program are key. Yes, there is a three-phase approach, a broad approach, but within that we try to get feedback from employees themselves to say, how are we doing in this space and what can we be doing differently? We do need to have a different approach for our workforce on the shop floor than for our executives. It is multi-tiered with many different facets,” Crane says. 

Take recruiting. The company first looks to find a diverse candidate pool, but also backs that up with interviewers who aren’t operating with unconscious bias. This only happens with systems and processes in place. 

“If you have a diverse panel, you will get different opinions on candidates. Hopefully, then the best candidate will win out. Then after people are in the door, we have to keep them here. It’s the age-old question that metals businesses are facing, how do we retain talent? What does our workforce need? How can you provide the right systems, processes and  benefits to help make an inclusive workforce? It’s harder the more diverse you are. There’s different needs from different employees. How do you find things that can help provide inclusivity at all levels?” Crane says.

So what does the data show after using these intensive approaches? According to Hill-Meadows, “Phase one is awareness and we are still in the early stages of that and in phase two we are pulling data and analyzing it. We have done exit interviews, which are good, but it would have been better to have known issues that bother workers before it’s too late. My team is now doing welcome interviews within the first 30 days.

They are to welcome new employees and do a check-in. There are other check-ins at 30, 60 and 90 days to see where our employees are and what they need and what we can do better. We are gathering data from that, not quantitative, just feedback to tell us should we be doing something different.”

The leaders must have access to the data, to study it and see where the needs are. 

There are some realities the company must face. “We have to be realistic. We have so many locations and at different geographic areas of the country. In some places, let’s be honest, the diversity may not be there,” Hill-Meadows says. 

Throughout all of this, the advice thyssenkrupp Materials NA has for other companies that want to join the DEI journey is that there are multiple ways to start. “We are trying to integrate it into the business, building the ‘why.’ Why does this benefit us as a company, continuing to talk about ‘why’ and then building in these inclusive topics into every discussion with the leadership team, and then coming up with actionable steps to get there,” Crane says. 

“If we want to be a best-in-class company, what do we need to do? The leadership needs to see here’s where we are and here’s where we need to be with setting realistic targets. What are the steps we need to take to get there? This is not just some corporate initiative. This is ‘yes,’ corporate wants to support this,” Crane explains. 

Hill-Meadows asserts, “The first thing I would tell someone is why diversity is important. You need to understand why, and how this would benefit the company. Not everybody feels this way or if they do, they are not sure how this will benefit anything. You need leadership buy-in. In some cases, you may need to go deeper to get someone to understand. Listen to feedback. We have to listen to hesitations and tweak something so it’s understandable. And don’t be afraid of pushback. You will get pushback. You will get people who are going to challenge you. People who didn’t quite believe in it yet. This should challenge you to get more information. This should not deter you.

Lastly, if you are going to start on this journey, start with a diverse group such as women or people of color. You want those perspectives before you go in and talk to a group of executives as to why this is important. If no one is a part of this group, it is hard to sell it as you don’t have their viewpoint. Try to have as diverse a group as possible going into this.”

As DEI continues to evolve in the workplace, this odyssey, along with its challenges and changes, will also continue to evolve.

A chart reflecting thyssenkrupp Materials NA’s path to DEI.
(Photo courtesy thyssenkrupp Materials NA)

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