Creating a culture of inclusion at 3M

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Our approach is not about box-ticking. It is a long-term, authentic determination to change attitudes

Having diverse and inclusive workforces that reflect the communities in which they operate is the aim of most successful companies. Diversity in teams can help to promote creativity and innovation – the lifeblood of a science-based technology company like 3M. It raises both awareness and respect for different outlooks and experiences.

Leveraging the unique skillset of both genders is an essential part of the mix and to maximise that benefit companies must work to improve the gender balance throughout their organisations. We were very proud that our ‘I’m in. Accelerating Women’s Leadership’ campaign won a Catalyst Award this year, which celebrates the efforts companies have made to help advance women in business.

Since the campaign’s launch in 2012 we’ve seen women’s representation at director level within 3M grow from 18.2% to 23%. At the level of vice president and above the percentage increase has been even greater – from 16.7% to 24.2% in five years. Significant progress has also been made in roles where women have been traditionally underrepresented; such as technical and laboratory managers, and plant managers. And, currently, five out of the 16 members of our UK and Ireland leadership team are women.

Such a belief in the wider role that women should play in the company hasn’t been the result of some recent Damascene conversion. 3M has a long history of focusing on women’s career progression and has had a women’s advisory committee since 1975.

However, the launch of our ‘I’m in’ campaign – which was pioneered by 3M’s CEO Inge Thulin – has accelerated diversity levels across 3M operations worldwide. The campaign’s aim is to strengthen the support provided to women within 3M. It has enabled us to share more widely the good work that has been ongoing for some years, but which wasn’t being effectively communicated across the business.

It has drawn on the large number of women’s leadership forums worldwide and has brought together leadership development and talent management initiatives that include mentoring and networking, as well as work/life balance and workplace flexibility programmes.

Having the branding of the ‘I’m in’ campaign has proved pivotal in providing a consistent message. The campaign’s three main themes are individual development, work/life experience, and energising the global culture by building stronger communities. Great emphasis is put on career development and providing unique learning opportunities. Our people are encouraged to gain experience of working in different areas and to take a wider view of their transferable skills. There are numerous examples of both men and women moving into new fields and this focus may have played a large part in why so many employees tend to stay at the company for so long – our average length of service here in the UK, for example, is 16 years.

Our approach is not about just meeting targets and box-ticking. Rather, it has to be seen by employees as a long term and authentic determination to change attitudes and create a culture where inclusion is seen as the norm.

Christiane Gruene is managing director at 3M United Kingdom

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