Big Interview: Jacobs.

We talk all things diversity and inclusion with Tom Price, Jacob’s Senior Vice President of Global Growth Strategy & Solutions, based in the USA, and Aaron Hochwimmer, Jacob’s Director of Operations, Power, Australia and New Zealand – and a company director, based in Auckland.

Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. is a professional services firm with employees around the world, and a proud Diversity Agenda member and Accord signatory. We managed to sit down with Tom and Aaron while Tom was visiting the New Zealand office, from his base in California. Together they discuss Jacob’s important focus on diversity and inclusion on both a global and local level. They share personal stories, give us insight into why they signed the Accord, the organisation’s journey, business benefits, and how they are looking to move forward in this space.

Why was it important for Jacobs to become a Diversity Agenda Accord signatory? And have you received positive feedback from staff since signing?

Aaron: Inclusion is a strong company value. It’s a cornerstone of our strategy and how we work as a business. So it was really obvious for us to sign the Accord because its synergistic with our own values. It was a no brainer – it’s how we act and perform as a business and a demonstration of how we operate. We’ve been on this journey for a number of years in Australia and New Zealand, so it’s great to have this public commitment. I really like how we’re obliged to report on our progress as a company and as a sector – it keeps us honest, which is really important. We’ve received great feedback from staff since signing the Accord, and have had comments about how enthused they feel to be a part of a company that’s inclusive. As an employer, it’s really positive to hear that.

Across our global business, we’re seeing a strong focus on diversity and inclusion. Particularly in Australia, we have a number of really senior people getting behind this. I felt as a local business leader, it was the right thing to do for us, to really get behind what we believe as a company.

With the recent major Government announcement about infrastructure spend here in New Zealand, will this require additional engineers and where do you think they’ll come from?

Aaron: We’re delighted that we’ve seen this infrastructure spend in New Zealand. I think [the additional engineers we’ll need are] going to be a blend of sourcing local talent and talent from our global offices. We operate in tandem with some design offices overseas, such as India, Poland, Malaysia and the Philippines, so cultural inclusion and diversity are really important.

For me personally, I’ve just returned back from the Philippines, where I was based for the last five years. That gave me a perspective of being a minority in a different culture. I felt it was valuable for me personally and professionally. It gave me a good understanding of how to make that transition easier for people coming from overseas offices to NZ. We’re doing certain things, like when hosting different cultures here in the office, working on specific inclusion events. So in November, we have an inclusion week event that really focuses on cultural inclusion and cultural ways of working together.

Tom, can you share some tips about engaging men to create a more gender diverse industry?

Tom: One of the things I’m really proud of at Jacobs, is I’m a Male Champion for Change in our women’s network. What I’ve learned on my journey (and look, I’m not an expert – I’m still learning) is there are a few things we need to do. We need to help folks understand that gender issues are not just about women, it’s about all of us. Looking at some of the actual business benefits of a more inclusive and diverse workplace helps to get more folks involved. It helps people to further understand that it’s the right thing to do – to give all your teammates opportunities to succeed, to be themselves, and to bring their best to the workplace. We discuss the actual business benefits of that.

“It’s not enough just to have diverse people. You have to activate that diversity, so everybody can bring it to the table.”

Tom Price

With the most successful companies and organisations, what you find is they’re the most creative and innovative, and that creativity and innovation come from diverse ideas and inputs. But it’s not enough just to have diverse people. You have to activate that diversity, so everybody can bring it to the table. We do that through a big focus on inclusion, so we can be creative and innovative, and produce better solutions for our clients. That’s where we become a company that’s like no other and a really special place to be.

With your global perspective, can New Zealand learn from overseas regarding diversity and inclusion practices?

Tom: I think I’d start with this. We shouldn’t look at it as ‘what can New Zealand learn from the rest of the world,’ It’s about ‘what can we all learn from each other.’ I don’t really think there’s any specific place on the globe that’s more of an expert than others. There might be more focus in one place than another, but it’s really about coming together, having the regular dialogue and really sharing our learnings as we go on this journey together. There’s as much that the rest of the world can learn from New Zealand as the rest of the world can bring. So just really creating a culture of the dialogue, the discussion, the sharing of the best practices so we can all get better together.

Aaron, what changes are the senior leadership team making around diversity inclusion from the top level approach?

Aaron: We have this thing called a leadership shadow model, from the Male Champions of Change. We use that as a guide to how we behave and how we perceive and measure priorities as leaders. This goes for all senior leaders of the company. So our global CEO and our local business leader and across Australia and New Zealand are recognised Male Champions of Change. It’s important to drive change in this area from top-down. We try to be active in industry and external forums by leading by example. We get good comments from our staff – they see those behaviours. We’ve got some ambitious targets with females in leadership positions across Australia and New Zealand. We’ve committed to that and we have plans and a way of meeting these commitments this year. We’ve also focused on providing opportunities and sponsorship, for those from different minority groups. Women in engineering is still a minority group so we’re going to address that and we’re looking at tangible things like pay parity, as one example. We’re seriously looking to narrow the gender pay gap and finally close the gap.

Tom: I can add a little bit to that. So Aaron mentioned our CEO, Steve Dimitrio – we’re really lucky to have Steve leading this company. He walks the talk. I think it’s hard to find a CEO these days who doesn’t talk about diversity, but are they demonstrating measurable actions around that? When Steve took over as CEO of Jacobs, we had an executive leadership team that was all male. In a very short time, Steve led change and now we’re 60% female. He’s [also] driven a lot of change in the diversity of our board of directors.

So we’ve got our CEO setting the right example with visible actions. Some other things we’re doing is we have global training for leaders at all levels around conscious inclusion. This is all about understanding our unconscious biases and how we can get past those, and making sure everyone feels included. We’re trying to make this just who we are and what we do and weave it into the fabric of our culture.

What are some of the business benefits to having a more diverse and inclusive workplace?

Tom: Again, if you look at those most successful organisations, they’re the ones that are the most creative and innovative and produce the best solutions. How you get those creative innovative solutions is through diverse ideas and input. By having a diverse workforce, we get these great ideas from our diverse team if they all feel included and safe bringing their ideas and their whole self to work. As long as we get the diversity, and we activate that diversity through inclusion, we get the best ideas, create the best solutions, and be a successful company.

Aaron: I’m more involved in inclusion and diversity now, and I think back in my career of projects and teams I’ve been involved in, and it’s really interesting – when we’ve had a more diverse group of people, we’ve had great success on those individual projects. I’ve found that reflection useful, and I’m taking that forward, as when I recruit into teams, I try and bring a more colourful blend of people in.

With the Diversity Agenda, our initial focus was on getting more women into engineering and architecture. The scope has broadened, extending to people from all diverse backgrounds. Can you talk me through how you’re looking to increase Māori representation in Jacobs New Zealand workforce?

Aaron: We’ve got some initiatives going at the moment, and I’ll go through those, but we’re  learning from other parts of our business. In Australia there’s a lot of work happening with the Aboriginal and tourist rights communities and how we engage and bring those groups into the workforce. I’d say New Zealand is further along culturally, so specifically, what we’ve done recently is engaged at the grassroots level with STEM in schools.

We had a partnership with Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Mangere and De La Salle. So a couple of schools with pretty high demographic of Māori and Pacific Island students. With one of our projects for the Auckland Zoo [The Southeast Asia precinct project], we paired up with these schools, worked with them on some of the design concepts, getting students involved in the different balances between the animal enclosure and the visitors. They came along to the project, looked at the construction and connected the theory with the practice. So I think that’s been a useful outreach activity to encourage that demographic to get into engineering, and then hopefully to Jacobs eventually.

We also have a program called First Look where we engage with the local universities. We have a programme with the University of Auckland and part of the criteria for selecting our students is an inclusion of diversity lens, thinking about how we increase our Māori representation.

We have a focus on language training, cultural training for all our staff, to embrace our national identity. There’s also the small but important things, like the meeting rooms are Māori place names, as these bring that topic to the front of conversation.

What are Jacobs doing for the rainbow community?

Aaron: So as we mentioned we’re trying to focus more on inclusion for the minority groups. The LGBTQI+ community is one of those. So that’s called The Prism Network at Jacobs. Just reflecting personally, I mentioned I was up in Asia for the last five years, which is a really interesting place to work – but unfortunately, there still a lot of prejudice towards this community. I found it was quite a hard place to try and stimulate the Prism network. However, during the last five years we’ve had a great level of success and it’s ended up becoming quite a vibrant group.

There were some lessons from that experience that I brought back to New Zealand. We’re fortunate that the rainbow community is more open here, in comparison to some other parts of the world, so it should be easier to foster that. But coming back to the comment about leadership engagement, our VP in ANZ, Rich Hayes, is involved as a champion in terms of the pride and diversity group in Australia. So that sort of leadership and outward focus sets a really good example. We want to do more of those initiatives here locally as well.

Tom: It’s really about the ongoing dialogue of all of us. We’re all different and we’re all the same. We’re different because we’re individuals. We’re the same because we all work at Jacobs. So how do we celebrate all of that together, no matter what label might be attached to an individual. We try to establish that culture where we celebrate the individuality of every one of our employees and make them feel comfortable bringing that to work. And we try to do that with many visible examples at all levels starting from the top. So to add to Aaron, It’s just the broad cultural inclusion culture we’re trying to establish at all levels for all of our employees.


Thank you to Tom and Aaron for taking the time to talk to us. If you’re a Diversity Agenda member with a great story to tell, please get in touch.

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