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CEO Conversation with George R. Oliver

CEO Conversation with George R. Oliver

November 17, 2023

Why is gender diversity important for you personally and for your company?

Gender diversity – and all diversity – is vitally important for society and for businesses to succeed. Personally, I see great value in learning from people with different perspectives, experiences, different backgrounds and with different points of view. It makes us stronger as a company and makes me a better leader to learn from their experiences and understand people more deeply.

For Johnson Controls, we’re proud of the culture of diversity, equity and inclusion we have taken great care to build. Employees are empowered and encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work each day and are welcomed in a workplace that values uniqueness, celebrates creativity and drives innovation. This, in turn, sets up the organization for a successful future and creates an environment where our colleagues can thrive. Research shows employees who feel accepted and valued are happier and stay at companies longer. This is a win-win for the employees and for companies. Teams that are more diverse are more creative and productive, which is exactly what we need to solve the world’s most complex problems, like climate change.

Diversity among our employees also ensures our workforce represents the customers and communities we serve. Equity ensures our teams have access to the resources they need to succeed. And inclusion ensures our employees are empowered and encouraged to share their voices and drive exceptional customer outcomes.

How does the company benefit from a diverse board and executive leadership team?

As a company that prides itself on powering our customers’ missions, we understand our role in empowering employees to bring their authentic selves to work each day, which in turn adds value, ignites creativity and inspires change across the organization. At Johnson Controls, our diversity, equity and inclusion mission, vision and roadmap informs our strategies and drives business objectives, further advancing our culture of inclusion.

There are many tangible benefits to a diverse board and leadership team. Research has shown that job seekers say a diverse workforce is important when considering job offers. To build the workforce of the future and be an employer of choice in Milwaukee and globally, we need candidates who can see themselves at Johnson Controls. And part of that is seeing people who look like them.

I also believe there are customer benefits to a more diverse workforce. By having a diverse workforce, organizations have been shown to have greater visibility into the concerns and preferences of different population segments.[1] There are also more tangible benefits to a more diverse workforce. According to McKinsey, ethnically diverse companies are 36% more likely to outperform the national industry median and companies with diverse executives have the highest likelihood of outperformance on profitability. The benefits really are endless.

How did you achieve your high percentage of women leaders and employees?

At Johnson Controls, it has been a journey to get to where we are today, and there is much more to be done. I am proud of how many women leaders we have in the organization. In 2022 we created a DE&I roadmap to help ensure we attracted the right talent. We elevated the focus on ‘equity’ to further enable all employees to have access to the opportunities, resources, support and networks they need to develop and succeed.

As we continue to evolve our diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, we look at the imperatives of the business combined with our goals, progress and employee feedback to evaluate our next steps. Our focus on equity ensures we continue moving toward sustainable, measurable progress leading to meaningful change. This focus fuels a culture of inclusion where the voices of every employee are heard, their contributions are acknowledged, and every employee can bring their most authentic self to work.

We also built diversity into company performance goals at the highest levels of the organization. Johnson Controls has outlined comprehensive environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments that will have a measurable impact against our three healthy building pillars: healthy people, healthy places and a healthy planet. Social and governance sustainability goals include:

  • Increase the number of women leaders globally and U.S. minority leaders by the end of 2025.
  • Include sustainability and diversity goals in senior leaders’ performance assessments, which are linked to executive compensation to drive accountability.

What advice/best practices would you offer to other executives who want to diversify their board and leadership team?

The journey toward a more diverse board or leadership team is a journey and takes long term commitment. At Johnson Controls, we’ve embedded diversity into our long-term strategic goals and are part of “how” we intend to build a performance culture and become an employer of choice. We also continued building relationships with early career and professional organizations – like Society of Women Engineers and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers – as well as firms that specialize in sourcing minority talent, to attract high performing candidates from across the world.

This year, we proudly launched the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Distinction Awards to recognize employees who are living our company’s DE&I mission by taking an active role in creating a culture that values uniqueness, celebrates creativity and drives innovation. These awards encourage employees throughout the organization to nominate an individual who has made a substantial impact. In our inaugural year, more than 800 peer nominations were submitted, and 12 individuals were selected for living and modeling diversity, equity and inclusion and leading the way in employee experience. The DE&I Awards also include a badge that allows employees to give peer-to-peer recognition to team members who have adopted key DE&I behaviors that promote our culture of inclusion using our Bravo employee recognition platform. I highly recommend recognizing employees who are living and breathing a culture of diversity, their enthusiasm is contagious!

We also have business resource groups (BRGs) available to help employees feel supported and provide leadership opportunities. This has been critical for retaining some of our best and brightest leaders. In 2022 BRG membership has grown by over 200%, across 55 chapters.

For example, one of our business resource groups created the Women in Leadership Program. This seven-month development program explores the unique issues that women face in the workplace, specifically in operations and enhances leadership skills to empower participants to strive for their full professional potential. This year’s cohort consisted of nearly 500 women in 25 countries with a combined 1,500 years of experience in more than 20 business areas. Such a wealth of knowledge!

This year we also launched a pilot of our Dimensions program, with a curriculum that addresses the unique experiences and issues people of color may face in the workplace. While open to all employees, we recognize great value in inclusive development programs that serve the broader experiences and needs of our diverse workforce.

Another example is our Women in Engineering interest chapter of the Women’s Global Network. The chapter leveraged the company’s BRG governance framework to elect a leadership team and secure executive sponsors. In partnership with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, this group invested in a new professional growth program by purchasing 280 Society of Women Engineers memberships as part of a new Women in Engineering Sponsorship and Mentoring Program.

Why do you and your company support MWi? 

Our commitment to DE&I aligns with the mission of MWi to achieve balanced representation of women on boards of directors to maximize the performance of public and private companies. We continue to develop and mentor women executives and provide them with networking opportunities to give them exposure to future board consideration.

Anything else you would like to add?

Lasting success comes from approaching DE&I as a systemic business element, whether it’s for more effective problem solving, innovation, or ensuring access to more of the resources we need in the competition for talent. And ultimately, it matters to our people and to their sense of belonging and impact. Everyone deserves access to the same opportunities and as leaders, it is our job to role model and ensure that our businesses do what they say they are going to do.