INTERVIEW WITH HEIDI ROBERTSON - ABB Group Head of Diversity and Inclusion

08 Giu 2021

By the Editorial staff

ABB is a leading global technology company that energizes the transformation of society and industry to achieve a more productive, sustainable future. By connecting software to its electrification, robotics, automation and motion portfolio, ABB pushes the boundaries of technology to drive performance to new levels. With a history of excellence stretching back more than 130 years, ABB’s success is driven by about 105,000 talented employees in over 100 countries. We asked Heidi Robertson, Group Head of Diversity & Inclusion at ABB, to tell us about ABB’s recently launched 10-year D&I plan.

Historically, our D&I initiatives have been focused on gender. And as our current D&I strategy was coming to an end last year, we started crafting the new strategy. It was clear that we needed to expand the scope. And with the full support from our CEO, the Executive Committee and our colleagues around the world, we signed off and launched the D&I Strategy 2030 September 30th 2020, covering diversity of all dimensions. We have built our strategy on a three-pillar framework: Inclusive Culture and Leadership, Governance and Partnerships – with six distinct focus areas. The aim of the Abilities dimension is to increase disability awareness and accommodation – cognitive, emotional, and physical and to ensure that every current and future employee has the same opportunities for growth and fulfillment. Even though we are only one quarter into our new strategy, we have numerous outstanding examples in our various business areas and markets that we are very proud of and that we can leverage across the organization. One example is our Smart Power division which has undertaken the Place4me initiative, aiming to build a culture where each employee can proudly state “This is the Place4me!” As part of the initiative, on October 29, 2020, nearly three hundred employees participated in a virtual event in Italy to bring a greater awareness to what living with a disability actually means. During the program two colleagues with hearing impairment and a colleague in a wheelchair spoke about their personal experiences in the workplace and daily life. Peers from the business were able to ask them questions. The program was very impactful, resulting in a request from employees to continue the dialogue. A follow up virtual event will be held to learn the basis of sign language and the culture of people with hearing impairments. Another noteworthy initiative comes from our EL facility in Nogales, Mexico. The program titled “Opening Spaces” has been created to enable individuals with different abilities to join the workforce. At the Nogales facility we have colleagues with mental disabilities and hearing impairments. The types of job responsibilities include assembly work, distribution of material to the production lines and material handling, and packing. The project was awarded with the Smart Power Award and has received three certifications from the Mexican labor secretary government: Certification as Inclusive Company, Certification as Family Responsible Company and Recognition as Open Spaces Plant. All certifications recognize ABB as an inclusive company for the efforts

You’ve mentioned being involved in the Special Olympics, can you tell us a little bit more about how ABB is involved?

ABB has been an active and proud sponsor of the Special Olympics Germany, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the sponsorship last year. The goal of Special Olympics Germany is to support people with intellectual disabilities to gain more recognition, self-confidence and social participation through year-round training and competitions in a variety of sports.  In 2020 around 900 athletes with intellectual disabilities competed in floorball, figure skating, short track, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and alpine skiing over the week-long competition. Special Olympics Germany is the national German organization of the international Special Olympics movement. ABB Germany employees take a week of personal holiday time in order to participate in the program. Since the start of the ABB sponsorship, around 3,000 of our employees from all locations and business areas in Germany have volunteered in these games, which take place every two years, alternating between summer and winter. I highly appreciate this engagement and to witness the collaboration, care and dedication from both our employees as well as the athletes is truly invaluable. And it is also a powerful example of ABB’s commitment to inclusion.  

Like many employers, ABB had to make changes and accommodations during the pandemic. How have those continued or changed, and how have they benefited some of your employees?

We were actually just talking about how to continue to support the flexible working model as we move into the next normal. Obviously, the remote working practices we adopted during the pandemic have also supported many of our employees; for example, those who have challenges with mobilizing and traveling for various reasons. That can be due to disabilities as well as personal situations and I believe that in that sense the pandemic with its virtual nature of work has provided us with an opportunity to be more inclusive and reach further and faster with our message, communication and extended the collaboration across borders and timelines. That said, we must also acknowledge the damages caused by the pandemic and ensure focused efforts to repair and rebuild with the urgency this requires. The recession we have experienced during the pandemic has hit women and underrepresented groups particularly hard. If we look at research conducted by Catalyst, parents, especially mothers, are under pressure. According to research by the McKinsey Global Institute last summer, women’s jobs were found to be almost twice as vulnerable to the pandemic as men’s jobs. 

Has the pandemic offered any useful lessons for the future of how we work?

Absolutely, I believe that the pandemic has offered valuable lessons that we will benefit from in the decades to come. We have seen that our people have been able to adapt overnight to remote working and this sudden shift has required a strengthening in trust-based leadership where empathy, transparency and communication are critical components. I believe that company values and culture have become increasingly important. My observation is that the crisis has led to a stronger unity and feeling of belonging, as a sense of urgency has been pulling the workforce in the same direction. As we move into the next phase I think that we as an organization will benefit from a hybrid, blended and balanced approach. We have learned about the importance of the human interaction, of being able to meet your colleagues face to face during these months. The importance of the company culture, the one that differentiates “us from them and them from us”.  History and research tell us that crisis and disruption lead to innovation, and I believe that this is also what we will find this time; new ways of working, collaborating and interacting and new ways of serving the workplace, marketplace and communities. 

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