Accelerating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion through Use of Data: Interview with Jacob Nielsen

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Having a diverse blend of talents is key to developing new innovative and sustainable solutions, both for businesses and society. These are some of Jacob Nielsen’s thoughts, Senior People Analytics Specialist at Grundfos, shared in the interview we had with him.

He also told more about the data-driven diversity, equity and inclusion journey of Grundfos, the role that top management, the organizational culture, and also the employees have in that process of transformation. 

For anyone interested to know more about how to apply the newest people analytics trends in the organizations – you must read this interview or follow Jacob Nielsen at the Nordic People Analytics Summit 2022. At this event, he will share the company’s global analysis results about people in the first phases of their careers.

Hyperight: Can you tell us more about you? What are your professional background and current working focus?

A picture of Jacob Nielsen - Grundfos

Jacob Nielsen: My name is Jacob Nielsen, and I am working as a senior people analytics specialist in Grundfos. I entered the world of people analytics three years ago and I have been on a steep learning curve and exciting journey ever since. All this while maturing the data-driven mentality and ways of working with data in our HR function. I have a Master’s degree in business intelligence which I benefit from and combine with my strong interest in organizational behavior, which I kept exploring during my studies as a teaching assistant. And I must admit, people analytics is the right field for me, where I combine the best from both worlds.

Looking at my current list of tasks, I will summarize it into three main topics: 

  1. DE&I, where we just finalized a huge, global analysis about people in the first phases of their career. I will share much more about this as a part of my upcoming session at the Nordic People Analytics Summit 2022, 
  2. Learning & Development which is an area that is really accelerating. Right now, I am examining the landscape of learning analytics to get inspiration for how to apply the newest learning analytics trends within Grundfos, and 
  3. Partnering up with Divisional HR Leads. In Grundfos we are moving into a divisional structure, and each division will have a people analytics partner to help them with business cases. This is something I very much look forward to, as it is a step closer to the business as well. 

Hyperight: During the Nordic People Analytics Summit 2022, you will share more on “Accelerating DE&I through use of data – How Grundfos started their journey towards 2025”. What can the delegates at the event expect from your presentation?

Jacob Nielsen: For me, it is important to share the business case, as it is without any filter. We have experienced ups and downs in such a process, and I want to share our learnings so others might learn from them. I want to make the audience walk away with something practical and with inspiration to kick off their own initiatives. 

My presentation will contain a short background history of where it started and take us to where we are today and how we are working with DE&I. My intention is that I want to make it clear that it is important to get started with this important topic, and that doing a little is better than doing nothing. I want to share some of our key numbers and how we have tracked them over a year to provide inspiration for others. I do not see our story as something others should go out and directly replicate, but if I can inspire just a few to engage more with DE&I I will see it as a success. 

Hyperight: To set the scene, can you tell us about the data-driven diversity, equity and inclusion journey of Grundfos? When did the idea start, and what are the company’s goals with this strategy? 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Photo by Grundfos

Jacob Nielsen: Grundfos has a long history of being diverse and inclusive, making sure that, for example, people with special needs had a fulfilling work life. In Grundfos’ case, I believe it was in the DNA of the organization already, but still with room for improvement. Before I joined Grundfos in 2018, there was already an existing ambition to increase the ratio of women in leadership positions, and the goal was met in 2020. That accomplishment gave energy and inspiration for more, and our Head of DE&I, Ulla Grøn, initiated a large project with an external consultancy firm, Boston Consulting Group, to diagnose the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Grundfos. The people analytics team was, of course, deeply involved in this as well. Here, we identified several focus areas, and five themes were decided on to set focus towards 2025: Leadership Commitment, Inclusive Culture, Advancement and Recruitment of Women, Early Career Development and lastly, Reduced Work Capacity/Special Needs Representation. 

Besides these themes, the DE&I Council was founded. The DE&I Council consists of 10 Grundfos leaders from across different business units in the organization. Together, the council is responsible for developing and driving aspiration, targets, and interventions of our DE&I efforts. 

Grundfos is its people, and we believe that the key to creating a work environment where employees thrive and grow is our ability to celebrate and value our differences in background, experiences and perspectives. This aspiration helps us prepare for the future. Having a diverse blend of talents is key to continuing the development of new innovative and sustainable water solutions – both for our business and for society. 

Hyperight: In the summary of your talk, you explain that internal and external data were used to set the benchmarks. What type of external data do you use, and why is that important? 

Jacob Nielsen: We have used external sources from global DE&I ranking sites to understand how other organizations are tackling the DE&I measurements and to be able to compare our diagnostic with the market and competitors. We have used publicly available data from DE&I pioneers, direct competitors, industrial leaders and local talent competitors when they have a metric that is similar to what we are measuring. That way we can see how we in Grundfos are performing on the specific themes, and set both ambitious and realistic goals, which we track and follow the development of over time. 

Of course, we are aware that not all metrics can be benchmarked up against others 1-to-1, but we can still use it as an indicator to make data-driven decisions. 

We are also conducting surveys and focus group interviews, where we quantify the qualitative inputs which are also taken into consideration here. We strive to ensure that we align the stated intentions with what is actually happening on the ground.

Hyperight: Can you tell us more about the role of the employees as part of the journey? You advise creating what’s named Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Can you tell us more about the importance of these groups?

Businessman in a starting block on a stadium
Photo by Grundfos

Jacob Nielsen: I strongly believe that if you want to succeed with a DE&I agenda, you need the support of both top management and general employee population. The role of the employees is critical when working with DE&I, as we are working with organizational culture, which can be one of the most difficult things to change. For example, Grundfos has more than 75 years of cultural legacy, and now, we are trying to implement something that might challenge the status quo. The employee resource groups in our setup are made by the DE&I team but driven voluntarily by the employees. We have Pride@Grundfos, Future@Grundfos, Women@Grundfps and Abilities@Grundfos. 

Why these groups? They are linked to the five themes we identified in the diagnostic exercise, as mentioned earlier. By giving some of the responsibility to the employees, we are including them and letting them help in shaping the future. I believe it works. They are creating awareness for our themes and are a great way to improve inclusion. 

I am one of the voluntary country drivers for our Future@Grundfos group in Denmark. We are making online and local events and sessions for the ERG members about a broad span of topics. Even though it has been going on for just 5 months, we have already hosted sessions with internal guest speakers about career development within Grundfos, mentorship opportunities, “speed dating” where the members had a chance to meet a lot of fellow colleagues and a visit to Grundfos’ shooting range. The initiatives are a mix of inputs and wishes from its members. And I know other ERGs are doing something similar. That is a great way to include and interact with your colleagues.  

Hyperight: Is it challenging to apply this DE&I strategy? One of the learning points from your presentation is precisely that, if organizations want “to succeed with a DE&I strategy, one must invest in it”.

Jacob Nielsen: The first time we finalized a diagnostic of our DE&I numbers in Grundfos we identified the previously mentioned five themes to focus on. Some of the outcomes have been mentioned already; the DE&I Council, Employee Resource Groups, and also the help from an external vendor, which in our case was Boston Consulting Group. These are examples of investments – or actions – coming from the diagnostic. 

Both the DE&I Council and the ERGs are initiatives run by employees with an extra drive and commitment to our DE&I efforts. These initiatives are changes or additional tasks in their daily work, so leaders must make sure that there is time for this, as we have the empirical proof that if succeeding with it, it will positively impact the business. Our executive Group Management has provided the DE&I Council with freedom to make its own decisions and initiatives. This shows a high commitment, buy in and trust from our executive leaders. 

It has for sure been a challenge to accelerate all these initiatives over the last year, but the DE&I team has been working hard and is fully focused on making it all happen. That investment of creating a team to solely focus on DE&I has been crucial to where we are in Grundfos today. 

Hyperight: What are your recommendations to those interested in applying a DE&I strategy as the one Grundfos has? Where should they start, and what should they pay attention to?

Main building of Grundfos
Photo by Grundfos

Jacob Nielsen: I would say it depends on the organization. The most important thing is to get buy-in from top management to ensure that there is the right support needed. But from here, I must say that individual circumstances play a role. It is better to get started instead of doing nothing, that’s for sure. So, start with the identifiable “low-hanging fruits”. That could, for example, be finding out what the age or gender ratio are in the organization and investigate the recruitment history. Ask questions that suit the individual case. That could be: “Do we attract enough of a certain gender or age group compared with the number of applicants we get in yearly?”, and if there is public data available, it could be compared with internal numbers. 

One must pay attention to the fact that there are so many initiatives going on, and it can be a jungle to find out where to start. It is better to start slow and then accelerate when the basics – which are individually identified on a case-to-case basis – are right. In our case, we got help from the outside, but that is also something that depends on the ambitions and maturity around DE&I in the organization. We started out with improving the women in leadership ratio, and hereafter took it to the next level. 

It is better to get started today, than just waiting for it to happen. 

Hyperight:  What’s the best advice you’ve received during your career, and what would be your advice for anyone interested in starting their career in data, people analytics and data-driven HR?

Jacob Nielsen: The best advice I have received in my career is: “Whatever you do, do it 100%.” And for me, it has become a sort of mantra. On a professional level, I want to deliver on the given assignments, and on a personal level, I want to be the best version of myself. That sentence helps me stay on track. 

I would recommend everyone with the slightest interest to read more about what people analytics is and how it can elevate your business to new highs. Sadly, I do not remember the source of this great piece of learning I acquired in my early days within people analytics, but to succeed with people analytics, a mix of skill sets must be acquired. 

Not necessarily by the same person, but a team should consist of someone having: 1) the business acumen skills to understand the business needs and focus on the right problems, 2) contain strong HR domain knowledge, as we are working with people there is not always simple solutions, 3) being good at working with data and statistics to ensure the analysis results are robust. Decisions can be made based on statistical work, so it must be as correct as it can get working with data, 4) being good at making visualizations. If one is not putting together some eye-catching and interesting visualizations, one risks ending up with a boring output, or maybe something that confuses the receiver, and 5) storytelling must be mastered. Without storytelling, there is a risk of not getting the message across, and that would lead to no actions taken based on the hard work done. 

Having set the scene, my best advice is to find out where your skills or interests fit the most and then start there. That way, you can lift other areas of the chain and over time, master all parts of it as a true people analytics practitioner.

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