Deere’s D&I journey underscores the challenges organizations face. The company’s lineage dates back to 1837, when its eponymous founder invented the steel plow. Deere turned its humble roots in Illinois into a global corporation with just less than $30 billion in annual revenue and around 60,000 employees in locations ranging from Australia and India to South Africa and Russia and everywhere in between. Despite being 181 years old, the company has only had nine CEOs in its history, including its current one, Samuel Allen. The aggregate tenure of its workforce is 25 years. “Adjusting to the new styles of the more diverse talent they are seeking has been a challenge,” Pinzón says of Deere.
According to Wellington Silverio, Deere’s director of human resources for Latin America, the company first started thinking about D&I a decade ago, but it wasn’t prepared for what it really took to make the cultural change at the time. “Agri-biz is very traditional from a human inclusion perspective,” says Silverio. “So in the beginning we started with a strong focus on education from a cultural point of view.”
The progress has been impressive, with women, for example, filling almost a third of production vacancies during a recent selection process in this male-dominated field. But Pinzón will be back, scheduled to give additional training sessions throughout the region in early fall.
Changing an entrenched corporate culture, especially one borne from familial roots, is a Herculean task. But it can be done. Just look at Italian pasta maker Barilla.
You won’t find September 24, 2013, among Barilla’s corporate milestones, but the date is an important one in Barilla’s history. On that day, during an Italian radio broadcast, the Barilla family’s oldest brother and chairman of the board, Guido, infamously declared that the company would not show gay families in its advertising. The clip went viral, appearing everywhere from the BBC to Conan O’Brien, and sparked a global boycott of the brand. It also sparked deep soul-searching with Guido and Barilla’s leadership team about the company’s purpose, values, and aspirations.
“To their credit, rather than just addressing the comment as a public relations crisis, leadership realized it had betrayed their own self-image of how they lived their values, and leaned into learning more about where else they may not be as diverse and inclusive as they thought they were,” says Andrés Tapia, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in D&I strategy and has been part of a team working on Barilla’s efforts for the last few years. Immediately after the episode, for instance, Barilla created a global diversity and inclusion board and recruited a previous critic, civil rights activist David Mixner, as a director. Other measures undertaken include: creating a chief diversity officer role, starting eight different employee resource groups to provide support for each other and guidance for new business initiatives, and more.
They also hired Korn Ferry to conduct an assessment of its policies and practices, create accountability metrics, develop a company-wide D&I survey to assess improvement opportunities, and design and deliver the mandated in-person D&I awareness training for all of its employees in eight different countries and in four additional smaller offices via a 90-minute webinar.
Tale of the Tape
Barilla and John Deere are in the midst of respective multi-year efforts to integrate diversity and inclusion into every aspect of their organizations. Here are some data points that show how they are measuring progress and how it is being made.