John Deeres Leslee Hager leads with an inclusion mindset

John Deere's Leslee Hager leads with an inclusion mindset

 March 30, 2022

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When Leslee Hager, Vice President of Internal Audit, talks about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) at John Deere, she often references square zero. It's a phrase, or marker, that describes the starting point in an employee's personal journey toward educating themselves in understanding the differences inherent in all people, including race, ethnicity, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender, etc.

And understanding, she said, is the key to moving a company from attracting diverse talent to becoming a company that retains diverse talent.

"As a company and organization, we did a good job of bringing in diverse talent, but we weren't always connecting and creating the environment and the culture where people felt comfortable staying," explains Leslee. 

The John Deere Accounting & Finance organization had earned a reputation for being diligent in DEI, but during a late 2020 roundtable discussion, Leslee recalled a tipping point that motivated the team to raise the bar.

"We were told, 'No, this is not enough,'" Leslee said. "One of the leaders said, 'We need to take big action and we need to make sure all our leaders are engaged.'"

That's all the team needed to hear.

Elevating the process

John Deere Diversity Inclusion

The Accounting & Finance team has workstreams focused on career development, diversity in leadership, recruiting and early career, culture and engagement, DEI conversations, and — linking them all — inclusion and communication. Each workstream has employee champions who hold regular meetings and facilitate subgroups that meet more frequently to keep interaction topical, educational, and engaging.

The Accounting & Finance leaders also piloted the United Way's United for Equity program — a 21-day challenge. The team used the program's structure to keep the DEI conversation moving.

Shane Edwards, Regional Group Controller for North America, leads the DEI conversations. His monthly meetings typically have more than 500 employee participants.

"Conversations create understanding, understanding creates empathy, and empathy creates action," Shane said. "With that, I believe the more we really listen to each other, the more we will work together to create a truly inclusive environment across all the workstreams."

The Finance Development Program (FDP) is another program that further supports the DEI movement within Accounting & Finance. In addition to the broad support provided to all FDP participants, the program pairs diverse new hires with a mentor and coach, and connects them to professional organizations like the National Association of Black Accountants.

Seeing impact

The process, planning, and passion are proving effective. Three years ago, John Deere noticed that the percentage of women in middle-to-upper-level Accounting & Finance roles did not reflect the percentage of women in lower-level positions. With focused efforts, the department made meaningful progress on building a pipeline of diverse talent for these middle- and upper-level positions and has seen the percentage of mid-career roles in the U.S. held by women increase.

With results like that, the team's efforts haven't gone unnoticed — in fact, the organization's DEI educational model is currently being implemented by the Supply Management and the Global Law Services Group organizations.

One item highlighted during the 21-day challenge was Amy Wilson and Nicole Shearer's Perspectives blog. The blog, known for its positive and unflinching approach, began as a look at being a woman at Deere and immediately earned a following. It has since grown in inclusion, encompassing everything from gender, religion, culture, race, and dual-career dynamics.

Since its February 2021 launch, the blog has generated and gathered dozens of submissions and posts. Many of the real-life stories share career issues and personal encounters.

"In almost every blog post we tried to include an action item because that's ultimately the point," Nicole, Manager Cash Management, said.

"We're hoping that we can be a voice that encourages people to really think about something from a different perspective and then hopefully have the conversations, raise awareness, and, if it all goes well, change behaviors."

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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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