Rockwell Automation: A Decade of Courageous Change
A decade into its Culture of Inclusion (COI) Journey, Rockwell Automation is more invested than ever in reshaping its way of working, employees’ mindsets, and the engineering industry to be more welcoming to women and people of color. To ensure sustainability, its globally led, locally driven COI efforts have been embedded into every business unit, making each responsible for change. The results are impressive. Since 2008 the company has seen a 76% increase in the number of women at the executive level, a 65% increase in women directors, and a 28% increase in mid-level women managers. But in an industry where, in the United States, only 11% of working engineers are women, and an astonishing 38% of women with an engineering degree quit or never enter the profession—there is much work to do. President and CEO Blake Moret sees it this way:
Our people are the foundation of all we do, and creating an environment where everyone can and wants to do their best work is fundamental to our success.
The Rockwell Automation COI Journey began in 2007, when leadership saw a decline in the number of women in sales, and lower retention rates across the board for women and people of color. This sparked the company’s collaboration with White Men as Full Diversity Partners (WMFDP) to increase white male leaders’ awareness of their privilege and encourage them to leverage their influence to change the culture. Since then, they have made steady progress. Says Susan Schmitt, Senior Vice President, Human Resources:
When we started to understand that white male privilege was real and it had to be addressed, only then were we truly able to drive substantive cultural change.
There are three pillars to the COI strategy: awareness and learning, understanding and removing barriers, and creating differentiation.
Awareness and learning means constantly educating employees on the value of differences and the impact of privilege on group dynamics, using a variety of methods. Understanding and removing barriers involves using data to find and resolve institutional biases within Rockwell Automation’s operations, leading to innovative hiring and talent- and succession-planning processes that ensure women and people of color get the development, exposure, and visibility needed to thrive. Creating differentiation extends the COI outside of the organization to make Rockwell Automation an employer of choice for diverse candidates, and an asset to its partners and communities.
While many COI efforts are focused on changing the way white men think about inclusion, diverse groups aren’t just waiting for change. They are advocating for themselves and for one another, and creating support networks where most needed. Stephanie de Garay, Territory Sales Manager and founder of Rockwell Automation Women in the Field (RAWiFi), is one example.
For years, de Garay struggled to see herself in a leadership position; there weren’t women leaders for her to emulate and she didn’t have a “command and control” leadership style. But as the company undertook its COI Journey, things gradually changed. She jumped at the chance to lead the field communications for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Conference in 2013, which promoted attendance from Rockwell Automation women in the field. She didn’t do this just for herself. De Garay says:
Typically, one woman from the field went to the conference, but I felt there was a larger opportunity. So I put a business case together and presented it to the North America VP of Sales & Services. In all, 17 women from the field attended. I organized a breakfast for us during the conference and we realized we really needed more opportunities to be connected. That’s when it all began.
In November 2013, de Garay launched the Field Sales Committee as part of the Rockwell Automation Supporting Women in Engineering employee resource group (ERG). After a year, the committee realized this did not fully serve the needs of women in the field. Experiences of women in the field, de Garay asserted, were different from those in-house. Field employees often worked remotely and independently, and called on industrial manufacturing facilities—not known as bastions of gender equality. She brought the group together again to formulate a plan to become a separate ERG focused on these challenges. The group succeeded in obtaining sponsorship and the program took off:
Founding RAWiFi really is what gave me the courage to think I could be a leader. It gave me visibility, and allowed me to help others so they didn’t have to wait as long as I did to advance their careers. Everyone who has led RAWiFi is now in a leadership role—it’s a development opportunity. RAWiFi’s still going and growing…I can’t even tell you how gratifying that is.
Andrew Hastert, Manager, Connected Services and Partner Program, is de Garay’s colleague and founder of the RAWiFi Allies Network. He put it this way:
It took a lot of courage for Stephanie to start RAWiFi. It’s rare, especially in the industrial sector, to see a grassroots effort led by a non-dominant group grow and succeed like that. As for men being allies—we felt it was the right thing to do because of the COI, but starting RAWiFi took guts.
Regarding Hastert’s own experience as a white man on the company’s COI Journey, he says:
I see our role as advocates for women and people of color and courageous change agents. I try to start conversations I’m not comfortable with, challenge biases when I hear them, and learn how people who are different from me are feeling so I can better support them. I’ve seen others’ baggage and bias slowly melt away, and I’m still learning every day.
For de Garay and Hastert, big wins have come from consistently making small changes over time; chipping away at tired misconceptions. Says de Garay:
One of our informal mottos is that “it’s all about the ripple effect.” A bunch of small things can make a big impact. That has become a theme for me. I make ripples. I don’t want my daughter to go to work and not be able to see herself in a leadership position. Now people come here and see reflections of themselves. I’m proud of that.
Rockwell Automation is changing its culture bit by bit—through constant learning and organizational self-reflection, and by asking employees to find empathy for others as well as courage in themselves. There is more to do, but there is no doubt they will get it done, together.