FLIR Women Are on a Mission

FLIR tackles gender diversity in the workplace.

01 October 2018
By Lisa Gerbracht, Rebecca Potter, and Julie Fishman

Gender diversity in the workplace is strongly correlated with business performance and profitability. In the 2018 McKinsey study "Delivering through Diversity," the authors found that companies that are more gender diverse at the executive level are 21% more likely to outperform less gender-diverse companies.

On average, women make up 20-30% of the workforce in technology companies, and FLIR is on par at 27%. From the outside, this might seem acceptable as a norm within the industry. However, we have also participated in leadership events at FLIR where the lack of women was noticeable. We have each experienced large meetings where we looked around and realized that out of 20 people in the room, there were no other female faces. Industry norm or not, we wanted to do something to change that.

Others within the company have recognized the problem and taken action as well. The FLIR site in Nashua, New Hampshire, has a Lean-In circle that meets regularly, so we reached out to them to understand what was working well. Together with some fantastic colleagues within our business segment, we decided to hold a pilot conference dedicated to women's leadership. We gained approval and funding, invited 30 participants from our Goleta, California and Richmond, British Columbia facilities, and reached out to the local university where a leading expert on diversity in the workplace teaches. Our mission was to raise awareness of the challenges women face at FLIR, improve the leadership skills of women in the organization, and create a network where participants can connect in the future.

Our HR team was instrumental in helping us prepare and execute the event, and the conference was more successful than we could have expected. We inspired each other, made connections, and brainstormed next steps as a group.

The Conference

The program spanned two days and kicked off with a review of three research articles on diversity in the workplace. We brought in Kyle Lewis, PhD, from University of California Santa Barbara (USA), to explain her research on unconscious biases and their effect on workplace dynamics within technology companies.

Next up was a module on leadership development to address the goal of developing these FLIR women as leaders within the company. Our CEO James Cannon heard of our efforts and joined us to speak about his support of our goal, and he invited the two female members from FLIR's board of directors to speak to us about their experiences coming onto the board and their prior career achievements. We also heard from a panel of high-level women at FLIR on what had worked for them as they grew in their careers, and our keynote address came from Carol Lowe, FLIR's CFO, on the importance of being purposeful as we develop as leaders in our company.

Next Steps

Our division in Richmond has created task forces for communication, planning meetings, and research. In Goleta, we are holding lunch-and-learn events, and addressing a larger set of diversity and inclusion issues, drawing more people into the conversation. We're finding that simple changes like adjustments to the language used in job postings or noting team composition can bring the topic to light in a nonconfrontational way.

Each year, FLIR conducts a leadership and innovation course with participants from across the company. Participants examine internal gaps and external opportunities, and this year one of the teams investigated gender equality at the company as part of a diversity and inclusion project. The results of their project include a set of specific recommendations to improve inclusion at FLIR, starting with assigning a leader and budget for diversity and inclusion efforts at the corporate level. From there, key performance indicators will be established.

For FLIR, gender equality is the first recommended measure, though the team is still considering how to measure improvement over time. Metrics such as "increase female representation in upper management roles by 15% by 2020," and "employee population should mirror female talent available in the country in 2025" have been given as examples. These recommendations are currently being reviewed and incorporated into an execution plan that will be released later this year.

We all can do more to support women in our organizations. Within FLIR, we found that holding a conference was a great first step. For companies in industries that are traditionally male-dominated, linking gender diversity to business performance will get everyone's attention. It's not just the right thing to do, it's better for the bottom line.

Lisa Gerbracht, Rebecca Potter, and Julie Fishman are employees of FLIR in Goleta, California.

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