Sandra Dietrich, Global Director Qualitym, Tenneco [NYSE: TEN]
In 1982, the year I started college, seven of the top ten Fortune 500 companies were in the gas/oil industry. This year 2019, only one of those remains in the top ten, Exxon Mobil. Who would have predicted the rise of the retail giants Walmart and Amazon and the appearance of health care companies? It’s interesting to think about what the top ten Fortune 500 companies will be in 2050. It’s likely there will be industries we have not even discovered yet. In preparation for the unknown, we need to engage one of the best tools to prepare for change: diversity.
We don’t have a crystal ball to determine economic drivers of 2050, therefore our defense must be the ability to adapt and change quickly. The automotive industry is over 100 years old, yet it has been anything but stagnant. Innovations have driven more efficient manufacturing and better reliability. However, our future is going to be created by innovation across industries, not just high-volume manufacturing.
All industries, not just automotive, need to be working together and sharing diverse ideas and opinions. This is already evident in the blending of computer technology in autonomous driving as an example.
Diversity makes sense for organizations. A Harvard Business Review study in 2018 (Lorenzo and Reeves, 2018) showed a significant correlation between diversity and bottom-line results. Further, the more diverse a company was, the better financial and innovation performance. Data show us that having a diverse workforce pays off.
We need to welcome and encourage diverse thinking to leverage our global networks and multicultural workforce. Different viewpoints can offer creative solutions to design dilemmas. One way this can be accomplished is by short term overseas assignments. It might be an engineer from China working with a German design team for a few months in Germany. The expense of moving a worker and their family to another country can be leveraged over multiple employees for shorter periods. Less time and travel is also possible using technology. Options such as video meetings and live chats allow collaboration across the globe. We can connect globally using social media as well. Applications such as LinkedIn can facilitate idea sharing from diverse cultures.
Diversity extends outside of the company as well. Complex issues require multifaceted thinking from different viewpoints. Public policy, government, non-profit, education and other industries provide a wealth of knowledge and potential joint research projects. Automation Alley (Troy, Michigan) is an example; they are a non-profit organization bringing together academia, government and industry to accelerate innovation.
In addition to organizations’ commitments to diversity and change, we all need to look at ourselves. What are you doing to stay relevant? It may be a formal learning experience such as another degree or certification. Yet there are many informal opportunities to challenge yourself and your perspective. Look at local conferences or webinars. Many professional organizations offer free webinars taught by experts. National organizations have local chapters which offer meetings outside of their larger conferences. Network, read white papers, watch TED talks or listen to podcasts. Seek out the thought leaders. Read books. There are so many opportunities to watch and listen.
Our futures may be uncertain, but we can prepare to meet the challenges. We can’t predict the top Fortune 500 companies in 2050, but we can prepare ourselves and our businesses to succeed. Engaging diverse perspectives both in and outside of our organizations will help us succeed in the uncertainty. Diversity will drive our future.