Many readers will reflect on personal and professional experiences during the difficult period of the last year. Global pandemic. Economic turmoil. Social unrest. Diversity and inclusion have been elevated in board rooms and shop floors alike for the foreseeable future. But what would it have been like to start a new job in the middle of it all, in an executive position that was specifically tied to leading workforce inclusion efforts at a global corporation during historic disruption?
Monica Jackson, VP, Global Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) at Eaton, did just that last year. She started at the multinational power management company with 92,000 global employees during the unprecedented disruption of 2020. An experienced HR leader at General Electric (GE) and Procter & Gamble, Monica began her new role at a fraught time undeterred. MAPI chatted with Monica to learn about her experience and her perspective on the future of I&D at Eaton.
VP, Global Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) at Eaton
What attracted you to the inclusion and diversity role at Eaton?
I was impressed by the visible commitment to inclusion and diversity. As I was researching the organization, I came upon publicly disclosed diversity data when scrolling the website. The transparency and commitment were obvious. I saw a clear declaration of inclusion and diversity as an aspirational goal. When I dug further, I saw representation on the Board of Directors – 50% of the board were women or U.S. minorities – and 50% of the Global Leadership Team were U.S. minorities.
What was it like to start in a leadership role dedicated to inclusiveness at a time of such isolation within a remote work environment?
My previous onboarding experiences all revolved around getting out to visit sites and connecting with people. To assess and build culture, you walk the floor. That was not possible. So, I’m thinking, ‘how do I do this?’ The laptop was my best friend, and it was a matter of making the connections one-to-one, scheduling and committing the time.
When I saw a new name – someone who's leading an initiative in an employee resource group or HR talent that's out in the field – I connected, even for 30 minutes, to establish an initial relationship. ‘Tell me about your family? Your background?’ That helped tremendously. Simple acts and gestures send a message of being approachable and help to learn the organization, to know who's who, and where, and in what role.
Fast-forward to February 2021. Share one of the successes for I&D in your role so far.
The pandemic was in full swing when I arrived, and the social unrest was unfolding. What was critical was the ability to maintain connections with employees…employees working remotely and employees impacted by the social unrest. Connection is not only physical but, the feeling of ‘am I part of something bigger, something that matters, a place where I belong?’ A sense of belonging and connection is established by our actions – actions that demonstrate you matter and we care.
Our eight inclusion Eaton resource groups (iERGs) pivoted to continue to provide programming and opportunities virtually. In conjunction with our Black/African American iERG, iConnect, and their executive sponsors, we hosted a town hall that brought together close to a thousand employees and leaders. Prior to this, our CEO passionately called on our 92,000 employees for compassion and courage. It was important for employees to know the company acknowledged the unrest.
To what extent was continuity in ERG programs employee-led or leadership-driven?
Employee-driven, definitely. Most iERG events were face-to-face, so as more employees worked remotely, there was an immediate recognition of the challenge. Employees figured it out. No one pushed them along to do it a certain way. Granted, we had to figure out how to work remotely. The beauty of this is we’ve had a greater scale in programming. What used to be local with a few hundred people invited was now virtual, and anyone could attend. It’s allowed for even broader exposure and impact than before.
What was most challenging or surprising in the new role?
The pandemic and the social unrest…the impact they had on organizations. You don't anticipate anything like that. That's not something in business school you prepare for. You can liken it to crisis management, but this was different because they were external and societal.
‘How should we respond?’ This is where the beauty of the ‘Power of Perspectives,’ our tagline for inclusion and diversity here at Eaton, comes into play pulling folks together. There is not a playbook. It required encouraging leaders to lean in and listen to different perspectives because topics could be so polarized or polarizing.
It was a great teaching moment, which ties to one of our attributes at Eaton – we learn, to demonstrate empathy, not to have all the answers. Business leaders are accustomed to having the answers. ‘I can fix this.’ But just active listening, that's a demonstration of inclusion. That was true for the pandemic and the social unrest.
BUILDING I&D CAPABILITY
You shared at MAPI’s virtual seminar in December the importance of building I&D capability beyond initiatives. What has that meant at Eaton?
I firmly believe I&D is about building capability and not about initiatives that we try for one or two years and then stop one or two years later. Think about the lack of sustainable progress in this space over many years. It is partly because many ‘initiatives’ have not focused on the long game or true root causes.
Inclusive leadership skills and capabilities help leaders lean into the conversations – difficult conversations they may be uncomfortable having. We understand leaders don’t want to say the wrong thing. That’s part of the vulnerability. Building leadership capabilities is ‘how’ to do it. Leaders are seeking guidance and want to learn.
I also think about the capabilities in our processes and practices, such as talent management…sourcing, assessment, selection, hiring, succession planning and promotion. You build capability throughout those processes to ensure repeatable, sustainable delivery. The desired outcome will follow. It’s heavy lifting.
Is I&D capability building synonymous with culture building?
I distinguish the two. I think about capability as a skill. When I think about our individual leaders, it’s the skill, the ability, and the knowledge that becomes scalable, repeatable, and sustainable. Culture is a collection – processes, practices, norms, language; it’s how we do things. This is how we hire. This is how we assess. This is how we engage with our employees. This is how we conduct one-to-ones. Capability building fuels and feeds the culture.
What are you most proud of with Eaton’s I&D journey?
Our commitment. Both our stated commitment and the actions that support it in terms of inclusion and diversity. We speak about it. We recognize we're on a journey. By no means have we achieved our aspirational goal to be a model of inclusion and diversity in our industry. But we’re on our way. Leaders are open to change and willing to challenge each other to continue to improve and be better.
Collaboration is the other thing, because I&D works with so many parts of the organization…from talent acquisition, learning & development, workforce analytics, employee relations, ethics, communications, total rewards, health & wellness, community relations, etcetra. We have to infuse and integrate I&D in everything. Hyper-collaboration is critical.
Where are you and your team focusing efforts for I&D next in 2021?
Capability, culture, and talent management processes. There is so much to do. The first is organizational capabilities, including ongoing education and learning. How do we continue to build awareness, knowledge, skill, ability, and cultural competency…to have dialog on various topics, such as understanding bias, inequity, microaggressions. Other priorities are how leaders demonstrate inclusion in daily processes and practices. This is what we do, not an initiative.
How do you think about the mix of driving I&D progress top-down and bottom-up?
There's a balance. In this space, there's a notion of the frozen middle. I reach out to HR leaders at sites because I want to know what’s going on with I&D there. It’s important we all know how to shape the culture and be good stewards of the culture. I use every opportunity to connect dots, help colleagues understand their role in how I&D plays out daily. It's not what you do on Tuesdays. It's not separate work.
PERSONIFYING THE COMMITMENT
As a professional helping to change minds and an organization, what does it mean to you personally to do this I&D work at Eaton?
I’ve been in HR, as an HR business partner, for most of my career. The I&D expertise or specialist-type role came about in the last four years, but I always viewed my previous HR roles as including I&D. It wasn't separate to consider equity, access, and opportunity in my daily work. It requires an ability to identify where things may not be happening equitably, build capability, coach leaders, intervene where necessary, ask the right probing questions, and demonstrate courage.
For me, the notions of equity, access, and opportunity are part of who I am. I live and breathe it. It’s personal. It really is important to me. It's a long game to root out injustice, challenge systemic barriers and ensure access and opportunity for all. I'm deeply committed, no matter how hard or how long it takes. I think about my nieces and nephews and want them to have access and opportunity and be evaluated on their merits and qualifications, not anything else.
As we just passed Black History Month, what does it mean for you and your work in I&D to be in a manufacturing company with a Black Chairman and CEO, Craig Arnold?
It definitely is inspiring—Representation Matters.
What other advice would you have for organizations looking to advance in their I&D journey?
Be honest and transparent with yourselves. Be clear on what you are solving for. Diagnosing and using data is critical. It’s important to be laser-focused. Companies are at different parts of their journey. Some are starting. Some have been at it for a while. Why even have the I&D organization? Answering ‘why’ will help identify what you're solving for and then focus on the real issues, the key challenges at hand.
I&D, D&I, DE&I – whatever letters companies are putting behind it – it’s a complex puzzle. There are multiple pieces. Companies with employee resource groups should know ERGs are one piece to this puzzle. There are so many pieces…processes, practices, and policies…hiring, learning, development, promotions, retention, compensation, benefits, employee listening. Your culture. It’s the integration of these pieces that’s critical for the inclusion mindset and for capability building to have repeatable, sustainable effects. Otherwise, ten or twenty years from now, you're doing the same thing. There’s real complexity. It's not black and white. It's not.
Many thanks to Monica Jackson and the Eaton team for sharing their insights.