The following story is an excerpt from the book, ‘The five disciplines of inclusive leaders’ by Andrés Tapia and Alina Polonskaia. Here we look at how John Deere made DE&I a business imperative and inspired it’s leaders to employ a workforce that reflects the global diversity of its customers. To learn more about the profile of an inclusive leader and why they are so important in the journey to building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization, click here.
Optimizing employees through inclusive leadership
John Deere may have created the first-ever steel plow, but it is not a farming company—at least, not anymore.
The United Nations forecasts that the world’s population will reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, and John Deere’s chief economist, J.B. Penn has estimated that global agricultural output will have to increase by as much as 70% over 2015 levels to feed them.
To meet this need, John Deere has transformed itself into a technology company, producing GPS-guided, cloud-enabled tractors, plows, and harvesters that are accurate to within 2.5 centimeters.
But it is not just artificial intelligence the company is relying on to help meet its mission to “feed the world.” It has also sought to optimize the contributions of all its employees globally—and inclusive leadership has played a key role in driving this effort.
D&I transformation in the agricultural heartland
Over the past decade, John Deere has been relentless in creating awareness around diversity and inclusion. All 68,000 employees, in offices and on factory floors around the world, have gone through foundational D&I training. The company has also put in place various best practices, such as having a global diversity council and regional diversity councils. Ten years ago, they celebrated having the first-ever African American woman general manager of a factory.
In Latin America, the region’s head of HR, Wellington Silverio, launched a comprehensive D&I program in 2016, which has now touched more than 13,000 employees in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. Silverio is himself part of John Deere’s D&I story, representing an emerging wave of Afro-Brazilian executives (Afro- Brazilians make up nearly half the population in Brazil but are almost invisible in corporate management). For him, it’s not just about rising to the fullness of his potential; it’s also about leveraging his seat at the table to ensure his story is not the exception.
In partnership with Vladimir Alves, the region’s first-ever D&I leader, Silverio has successfully engaged and enrolled the company’s Latin American business leaders to sponsor and lead the cultural transformation effort. They have made the case not only from a mission-driven imperative of equal opportunity but also form their business-driven imperative to feed the world. For a company like John Deere, having a leadership team that promotes—and a workforce that reflects—the global diversity of its consumers is simply smart business.
In Latin America, where agribusiness has until recently been very traditional from a human inclusion perspective, this has meant the company engaging in a concerted effort, not just to raise awareness of the importance of D&I but also to provide structural inclusion support and, crucially, build employee skills. In the company’s Horizontina factory in Brazil, for example, one of the main challenges leaders and managers express is how to conduct sales presentations for gender-diverse audiences, as many of them have never had to make deals with women before.