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Case study: How 3M is accelerating women in leadership

Joan Wong, head of human resources, 3M Singapore, reveals how the firm achieved 60% women in its local leadership team in an industry that is traditionally dominated by men.

At 3M, we are a collaborative, diverse group of people whose ideas transform the future. The way we look at it, a diverse, global workforce – people with different experience, ethnicity, age, gender, personalities, styles, and ways of thinking – is a competitive advantage that is key to innovation.

Over the years, we have successfully fostered a culture of inclusion for innovation and growth. It drives us forward – enabling us to develop a never-ending stream of powerful technologies and solutions that solve some of the world's biggest challenges while improving lives.

At 3M Singapore, we believe that diversity spurs innovation and drives growth. It brings different perspectives to the table, while helping us better serve our customers around the world. As we appoint our best women to top leadership positions, we are creating an even more diverse and inclusive culture where all our people can succeed.

This diverse leadership is important to us, given the breadth of 3M's businesses and the current global environment. For that reason, the development of both female and male leaders has always been a focus at the organisation. We believe that the top talent can make a significant difference to any organisation's success. The tight labour market and relatively low unemployment rate in Singapore has led to a shortage for talent here. This makes talent development and retention even more crucial.

I'm in: accelerating women's leadership

To support our continual goal to drive diversity and inclusion to positively impact the company on the global level, we implemented the "I'm in. Accelerating Women's Leadership" - a global company initiative that focuses on the advancement of women. While the initiative focuses on women in the management pipeline and across the company, it is part of a broader "I'm In." organisational approach to engage and develop all 3M staff worldwide.

A few of the specific elements of the campaign include:

  • Establishing a network of 84 women's leadership chapters that align their activities with global priorities championed by the executive steering team.
  • Formal leadership development programs like the 3M Leadership Way that emphasises continuous learning.
  • Encouraging everyone to have a formal development plan that includes stretch projects and opportunities to take on different roles, training, and coaching.
  • 3M's FlexAbility that supports a flexible workplace culture.
The initiative was communicated through a series of programs, townhall meetings and other communication channels to engage and encourage participation from the employees.

We also worked with strategic partners who are business leaders themselves and strong advocates for the Women's Chapter to collaborate and share on best practices. Through such collaborations, we effectively reach out to targeted communities to create an energised culture of leadership and empowerment.

Overcoming cultural norms and unconscious bias

Of course, every new initiative comes with its own set of challenges.

With the "I'm In. Accelerating Women's Leadership" initiative, one main challenge we faced was that of getting local leaders and colleagues in different parts of the world to embrace diversity and inclusion seriously and treat it as a critical business goal.

For example, in some Asian countries, diversity and inclusion is perceived as a Western concept, and women and men are not treated as equals. In such circumstances, it would take a longer time for such initiatives to permeate and become truly effective against those cultural norms and practices.

Apart from that, there is the concern that the existence of unconscious bias in the talent management process might go undetected.

Hence, it is imperative to drive our 2025 Sustainability Goal for Diversity with concerted efforts to invest time in engaging our key stakeholders on the ground and getting their alignment and commitment to get to where we want to be, i.e. double the pipeline of diverse talent in management to build a diverse workforce (e.g. female representation) by 2025; which is definitely a journey that we have started.

60% of 3M's local leadership team are women

Our efforts in driving a diverse and inclusive workplace have paid off. Today, 3M is recognised for its efforts in accelerating women's leadership, particularly in an industry traditionally dominated by men.

In 2017, 3M is one of three winners of the Catalyst Award - a prestigious honour presented to select companies that distinguish themselves in accelerating progress for women in the workplace. The award was presented based on a rigorous assessment conducted by Catalyst Inc., which cited 3M's "I'm In. Accelerating Women's Leadership" initiative, leadership development platforms, workplace flexibility, mentoring programs, and external community efforts on behalf of women.

Diversity in 3M Singapore has improved greatly, In 2016, women led several businesses and functions, constituting around 60% of our local leadership team, compared to 27% in 2011. This is in comparison to a survey by Deloitte Global in 2015, which revealed that women take up 9% of board seats in Singapore and 12% globally.

Additionally, women comprise 34% of our R&D employees, compared to the world average of 28.4%. An area of focus for us in 2017 will be to increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines in the company where we will raise awareness and share success stories of women in these fields.

Have a sense of purpose, set clear goals, and track progress

Incorporating a sense of purpose is at the heart of how 3M approaches every business, every idea, every life, and every community it touches. It is important for companies intending to accelerate women leadership to incorporate a similar sense of purpose in the organisation culture and leadership team, which should translate to desirable behaviours. In 3M, inclusiveness has become an integral part of our Leadership Behaviours, which we expect all employees to demonstrate.

Setting clear goals and tracking progress is also important. Apart from incorporating diversity as a goal in our 2025 Sustainability Goals, the focus on women’s leadership is evident from the fact that this topic is covered in all executive management visits.

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