Our Journey From Diversity to Inclusion and Onward to Belonging

By Cate Prescott, Chief People Officer and Senior VP, NI

As with most companies dealing with pandemic frenzy and heightened attention to matters of social justice, we knew it was time to take a hard look at our DEI commitments and how we were bringing them to life through our culture and the environment we were creating for inclusion and belonging at NI.

We’ve always been committed to our culture by design and in 2020 we launched a new set of NI Values — Be Bold, Be Kind and Be Connectors to better represent who we are and how we want to behave. These values are an opportunity to continue to elevate our commitment to empower our customers to Engineer Ambitiously, so they can create the extraordinary.

Integrated throughout the values is our belief in an inclusive workplace. One that fosters belonging and engagement through embracing the global differences of our teams. When we thought about the work we wanted to do on Inclusion, with so many things fighting for our attention, we knew we wanted something that would “stick” and meaningfully create a cultural foundation for our greater multi-year goals in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

We chose our partner carefully, looking for someone who could help us to create a meaningful change. Kristin Cattafesta, Founder of Leaders Advice was recommended to us by a team member. Leaders Advice has 16+ years in inclusion and belonging work for large companies, in addition to being a company focused on talent management and people strategy. We invested into a Leading Inclusion Conversation and Skill Series. This program had a monthly time commitment and was designed to give the organization a vocabulary, create opportunities to engage across differences, and do small skill-building efforts in the areas of Microsolutions and navigating conflict that arises from difference.

The program addressed inclusion in a different way than we had tackled it before. It delivered the conversation through the leaders of each team. Starting at the top of the organization leadership, all the way through our manager leaders, every team would participate in the same discussion cadence. The 10-month series, curated to support the leader at every step, included leader reflection and preparation, a leader agenda and materials, communications and follow-up activities on sample topics such as psychological safety, how to engage with others different than you, and skill building in areas like micro-solutions to address bias and communicating confidently in the space of inclusion. Before each leadership tier of the organization started, they would participate in a conversation with their leader. We coupled this with an additional inclusion community forum so that leaders globally could connect on a monthly basis to share their experience, stories, learn from each other and address obstacles. Hosted by our partner, Leaderadvice.org, leaders at NI were able to tap into expert advice as they progressed through the program. Simultaneously, our HR leaders were leading this effort from the front and were enabled with support to be a guide and partner to leaders and their teams.

Both at a qualitative and quantitative level, the results have been great!

  • A 6–8% increase in two of our associate engagement questions related to belonging from prior year.
  • 89% of managers feel more prepared to ‘create a workplace where we all belong.’
  • “I’ve been impressed with the content of the NI Leading Inclusion conversations, and the feedback the teams have shared about the opportunities this exercise has given us all to address hard topics and learn from each other. The honest and direct conversations have given me insight into how individuals think about this topic and shed light on my own blind spots.”
  • “This is important work. I truly believe these conversations help to make the world better, not just NI.”
  • “I love how these conversations and dialogues are opening up the opportunity for people to be free to engage, and challenge and share things in ways that they wouldn’t have historically.”
  • “The courage our team members have shown during these monthly conversations is inspiring. The depth of our connections and appreciation for one another have significantly increased as a result and shows that when we come together to listen with openness, we can make a real difference.”

If I think about the biggest problem we have to overcome, it was the hesitation of our Leaders at the start that they would be well enough equipped to hold these conversations. We had a pre-kickoff brief to prepare them and to guide them through the content and support framework that we had set up to support them. The conversations weren’t easy, neither were they meant to be comfortable. They were there to facilitate understanding and for people to feel heard. Even though the leaders were uncomfortable, and in many cases, this was a big stretch with concepts and topics they’ve never personally led, month over month, we watched our leaders’ step in, step up and bring inclusion to life for our teams.

This program has illustrated that we are all on a personal journey of inclusion and finding a way to talk about it at work is hard. Creating space and committing to this effort in our broader DEIB strategy has shown us how important these conversations have been for our teams. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but our commitment to a culture of belonging is stronger than ever as a consequence of what we have learned.

If you would like more information about the series, feel free to reach out to kristin@leadersadvice.org.

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