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Special Report: Calls for social justice resonate with our employees

 

“I am watching with concern and sadness the developments in the U.S. and elsewhere that highlight the harsh divisions within many societies around the world. It is tragic to see that, while we should be united against the global threat of COVID-19, longstanding rifts between us are widening instead.”

– Remi Eriksen, DNV GL Group President and CEO

 

When Remi Eriksen made his comments to DNV GL employees on June 3, little more than a week had passed since the killing of George Floyd on May 25 by Minneapolis police. By then, protestshad broken out in that city, and in cities large and small across the country and around the world, each demanding social justice for those who have too long dealt with systems that fell short of promises of fairness and equality.

At first blush, the protests – reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, this time with a “Black Lives Matter” banner – might be viewed in a vacuum, as stand-alone demonstrations against police brutality. But the protests across the country and around the world are not separate from the pandemic or the economy: According to multiple sources of data, minorities are disproportionately affected by the virus because they are more likely to live in housing that makes it difficult to socially distance and have jobs that can’t be performed from home.

Yet hundreds of thousands of  people defied stay-at-home orders, wearing masks as they marched in cities around the world to protest police violence against minorities and overall systemic racism, and demanding changes to fundamental elements of society.

Corporate America has also taken action. But is sustained change coming?

A recent Washington Post article was dubious: “Pushed by employees in some cases, and in others by a fear of losing customers, corporations are being forced to examine their roles in perpetuating inequalities in hiring, pay and promotion, fostering toxic workplace cultures and consumer discrimination.”

But, “their track records have raised skepticism about whether they will indeed introduce the kind of change that would make this moment a turning point for racial equity.”

For example, many high profile companies have already declared Juneteenth (June 19) a corporate holiday to commemorate the end of slavery. (The specific date reflects the moment when Army Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War was over and slaves everywhere were now free – two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.)

What DNV GL is Doing – Top Down

With a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion, companies across the country and around the world are taking steps to address the issues – and DNV GL is no different, taking both a “top down” and “bottom up” approach. From the top, DNV GL is in the process hiring of an external consultant “to assess and advise us on how we can ensure greater levels of diversity and inclusion,” said Rich Barnes, DNV GL’s Executive Vice President and Region Manager of Energy North America.

“We want to ensure that we get an external perspective and are making changes to reach targets rather than getting there through a business-as-usual approach,” he said. At the same time, he plans to invite “a small, diverse group” of employees to be part of a steering committee to interact with the consultant. Plans were to have the consultant in place in July and launch the project in August. In making the announcement, Barnes assured employees that diversity and inclusion “are top of mind for us as a company,” and that the consultant and committee were the first of several steps prompted in part by questions from employees about what DNV GL was going to do.

Second, he said, would be to establish several “sprints” to address personnel development, with one “sprint” focused on diversity and inclusion: “We have three of our Human Resources personnel in North America participating directly in this sprint,” he said, “and they plan to obtain feedback and recommendations from a larger group” that will feed into a “global effort” that includes DNV GL’s business strategy for 2021-25.

Third, Barnes said in early July that he’d already started discussions with regional managers on the possibility of a community service program involving donations from employees and the company to support organizations and fund education opportunities related to diversity and inclusion “that align (with) DNV GL values.”

“Many of these ideas,” he said, “came from (employees) reaching out with suggestions.”

A second top-down initiative was already in the works prior to the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests. While some parts of DNV GL have made stellar progress in incorporating diversity in their ranks, there is always room to improve. Recognizing this opportunity, Nick Brod, Senior Vice President sponsored a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) Initiative that was launched in January of this year within the company’s Program Design & Implementation (PDI) business unit. “When I joined DNV GL, I was incredibly impressed by the culture of care that the company gives to its employees and customers. At the same time, I saw a great opportunity to build better systems of representation and this is a long road which I’m committed for us to be on. Initially the DEI initiative was to focus on gender diversity in 2020 but the swell of public opinion on racial issues made me realize a singular focus was an error that couldn’t wait to be fixed.”

At the helm of the DEI Initiative is Senior Engineer Celia Hoag, with credentials as a Mechanical PE, LEED AP and BEMP, who leads a voluntary committee of more than a dozen employees in PDI.  The group meets monthly to map out a strategy that, she hopes, will result in a culture where all PDI employees (regardless of gender, race, skin color, sexual orientation, disability or age) “will feel connected, valued and safe at work.” The PDI DEI Initiative is also closely linked to the other DEI activities at DNV GL.

The goals of the group, Hoag said, are to 1) improve the recruitment process to ensure greater diversity, equity and inclusion, 2) develop leadership and growth by providing mentoring opportunities to all employees 3) help all employees prepare an improved individual development plan (IDP), and (4) identify and champion external organizations that foster representation in the workplace.  So far, the mentoring effort already is showing high participation: After an initial kick-off in early July, the eight mentors already had a least one mentee – with a couple having more than one.

From a company perspective, Hoag said, the program will help “foster and develop new leaders” across DNV GL – with a focus on building “high-performance, diverse teams.” This initial launch of eight mentors is Phase I, Celia said, with the goal being to make this a permanent part of DNV GL’s Program Design and Implementation division.

“My colleagues should not feel obligated to participate in this mentoring initiative,” Hoag said, “but I want them to see it as an opportunity and provide them with the framework to engage and learn from some of our leaders and increase their own knowledge and skillsets.”

What is Happening From The – Bottom Up

From the other end of the spectrum, at least two bottom-up grassroots initiatives have been launched by employees to open a dialog on race relations and related diversity and inclusion issues: An off-line book club and a division-wide discussion group.

The book club, known as a “Conversation About Race,” was launched in June and seven breakout groups meet periodically via Zoom to discuss the New York Times best-seller “How to be an Anti-Racist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, an American author, historian and scholar on race relations in America. All of the meetings take place on the group’s own time using personal email.

In contrast, the other group remains inside DNV GL and was initiated by Jarred Metoyer, Vice President of the Western Region for DNV GL’s Energy Insights division, who took on the project from a personal perspective: he is a descendent of a women born a slave who then gained freedom and subsequently owned the plantation and slaves. “So I made a personal commitment; lead by example,” he said, “which I hope will influence larger groups and then society.”

Metoyer said his launch of the racial injustice forum within DNV GL’s Energy Insight division was related to focusing on taking actions under our control and using our sphere of influence in addition to what we will do across all of DNV GL.  The initiative, he said, got its start at an internal group meeting at which the topic “Racial Injustice Stops Here” was briefly discussed: “After I opened this section of our group meeting,” he said, “I asked some simple questions: what can we do with our voices? What can we do within our division? And how can we be a change agent – in our own communities?”

Interestingly, Jarred started the meeting with a safety message – which is mandatory for all company meetings – with a review of psychological danger and psychological safety: “It usually applies to the workplace, but given the topic we’re going to talk about, we need to be in a place of safety; we need to learn from past failures; we need everyone to be open (when) sharing ideas, we need better decision making.”

“And then,” he said, “we’re going to become more comfortable admitting mistakes and then get into this safer cycle of sharing instead of a fear of speaking up and not wanting to share views because they might offend or they might not come out correctly. So we need to say that we’re in a safe place and that we do want to hear all ideas in a way that’s constructive.” In short, he said, “we need to no longer be silent. We want passion, but we need to channel it constructively so we (foment) change that lasts.”

From the first meeting, a series of ideas were proposed to explore by the group, including having a guest speaker, promoting a DNV GL internship program for disadvantaged students, promoting DNV GL’s existing paid volunteer day, targeting scholarships for minority students going into engineering and other DNV GL-oriented careers, and ultimately reviewing the company’s existing hiring practices, including current job descriptions. After the meeting, an online internal poll continues to gather feedback, examples, and ideas of how staff at different levels and in different communities can ally and take action.

“Many of you want DNV GL to move faster in terms of taking actions,” Rich Barnes said. “And many of the ideas (I’ve) presented came from you reaching out with your suggestions. In the spirit of inclusion, your involvement in discussing our current situation and what can be done is essential.”

Where Things Stand Now

DNV GL prides itself on maintaining diversity in its ranks: According to our 2019 Annual Report, “We seek diversity at all levels of our company in terms of age, gender, nationality, experience and mindset. Diversity is a source of strength for DNV GL. It provides the widest access to global talent and is the best basis for delivering excellence to our customers. Managed well, diverse teams can also identify and capture more opportunities and manage more risks than homogenous teams.”

As of the end of 2019, 116 nationalities are represented within DNV GL, and 33% of employees are female. Nevertheless, officials concede that “we are underrepresented in several areas, (such as) minorities and gender, etc., and need and will take actions going forward to improve it.” Although DNV GL provides data on racial and ethnic demographics as part of its mandated annual report to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the most up-to-date data “isn’t ready for review and or release, officials said, adding that “there is more work that needs to be done to make sure it is accurate and complete,” but that “generally, our Affirmative Action reports and results have not indicated any disparities within North America.”

For Metoyer’s group, the goal is to take actions “that create internal change, that positively affect our industry and communities, that mentor and foster youth, and attract people of color and women to DNV GL in the long term.” Our challenge, Metoyer said, is to continue internal discussions that lead to permanent change in those demographics, “so it festers no longer.”

Read more in the latest issue of Connects.

Craig Farrand is an award-winning journalist with more than 45 years’ experience in print media and who joined DNV GL in 2012 as a marketing and communications specialist.

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