Komatsu Looks To Lead With Commitment To Diversity And Inclusion

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Updated: April 8, 2020

Komatsu, led by CEO and Managing Director Sean Taylor, has a strong commitment to promoting and fostering diversity and higher gender representation – both within the company, and across the wider industry sectors it serves. In this special article, Taylor outlines Komatsu’s diversity vision, why it has taken this approach –and how it ties in with its continuing development of new technology and innovation.

For Komatsu diversity and inclusion means that individual differences are recognised, respected and embraced as an opportunity to learn and enhance capability – and we are very proud of our efforts to foster collaboration and inclusion.

Today, diversity is a critical issue for industrial companies globally, in particular gender balance. It seems crazy to me that in Australia and New Zealand, where all companies have to battle for the available talent, that many industrial companies are only drawing from 50 per cent of our population.

For us, the key is to make our businesses more welcoming and attractive to women. This not only involves leadership to achieve cultural change, but also requires hard changes in human resources policy around recruitment, through to things like parental leave and flexible working hours. I’ve been in the earthmoving and related industry sectors for more than 30 years, with around half of that at Komatsu. Over that period, I have to say we really haven’t changed very much in this regard.

Yes, we are talking about it, and our industries pride themselves on continuous improvement and operational excellence. We see a problem, we gather the data and we fix it. But, we haven’t done this in terms of gender balance. I feel that my generation has missed an opportunity and we are just going to pass the problem down to the next unless we get serious.

At Komatsu, our vision is one of “people powered technology” and putting people at the heart of the business.

To us, this is an acknowledgment that people are always at the heart of any business – and people love new technology too. And one of the founding principles of Komatsu almost 100 years ago was around innovation and the adoption of new technology. But despite our on-going love affair with new technology, what I have come to learn over the years is that actually people are always at the heart of the adoption and application of the latest innovations.

This is particularly the case in the application of earthmoving machines, including, perhaps surprisingly, even autonomous machines.

The operational interface to machines, whether through an operator in the cab or a controller remotely, remains the key to getting machines to really sing. Indeed, that is one of the reasons Komatsu chose to purchase training simulator specialist Immersive Technologies recently.

We are now looking to accelerate this thinking and uptake that we’ve achieved within the mining sector to also include the construction and quarrying industries. To do this I think there are probably two main obstacles around people – upskilling and changing diversity attitudes within our existing teams, and, as I mentioned, competing for the same talent as the broader economy.

For us at Komatsu, this commitment to strong diversity and inclusion within our companies are critical for overcoming both obstacles. And because business success and achievement are measured by numbers,we think it is important to have a target to work towards.

While we don’t call it a quota, we recognise that if we don’t start moving the needle, what’s the point?

In mid-2019, 14 per cent of the people in our business were women – and we have an ambition to increase to 21 per cent by the end of 2021.

Obviously, that level of 14 per cent is simply not sustainable if we want to become a stronger business.

Having said that, most industrial companies in Australia today seem to be around the 10-15 per cent mark, so where we are right now is the status quo. But like any change, getting the first bit of momentum is really the critical issue. I think once we get this rock moving to over 20 per cent, let’s say, it will be easier to get to 30 per cent and even 50 per cent in time.

Cultural or national diversity is more difficult to measure, as it relates to how people identify themselves, of course, which can be more subjective. And it is an area we want to tackle in the future. On the whole, however, I think NESB (non-English-speaking background) diversity throughout Komatsu is very strong.

In terms of Indigenous inclusion, it is recognised across industry, and indeed nationally, that we must have a different conversation.

Komatsu is a strong supporter of both the Clontarf Foundation, a non-profit organisation that assists in the education and employment of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, and the Beacon Foundation, a non-profit committed to assisting adolescents with making positive career choices. Both are working very hard to change the status quo for younger Indigenous citizens.

We are now also considering how, as a company, we can initiate our own Reconciliation Action Plan, and what the first steps are to making and embedding real change. Consultation and reflection with people within our business, other companies and the communities within which we work are all really important.

Eventually, we need to make real change here. For example, I also lead our business in New Zealand. Of course, we all know the history is very different, but it is plain to see the strength of Indigenous inclusion in that country.

Our diversity policies are designed to see more women, and people of ethnic and Indigenous backgrounds, across all facets of Komatsu’s business – from the workshop floor right through to the boardroom.

To achieve this, entry level needs to be a key part of any strategy for industrial companies. Our apprentice and graduate programs in particular are critical here.  I believe our ambition here should be a lot higher than our company-wide objective, otherwise we simply cannot move the needle.

We are an engineering and technical company at heart, so STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) qualifications are very important. This applies to our engineers and to our tradespeople. It applies to our experienced operators who can move into application engineering as well.

As Komatsu’s distributor in Australia and New Zealand, we are also the customer interface of Komatsu, so great and productive customer relationships built on trust and respect are very important.

I’m delighted to say that we are starting to have some real successes across these areas. More women are applying for and getting apprenticeships and graduate entry, more women are moving into sales and sales management roles, and more women are becoming branch and service managers.But critically, we still need to get more diversity in the most senior roles within our business to be able to claim we are going from the workshop floor all the way to the boardroom.

To young women and NESB/Indigenous people who are interested in pursuing a career with Komatsu or in the broader mining, construction and extractive industries, I would say it is a fabulous and rewarding career.  Australia and New Zealand offers a combination of great global and local companies that would-be employees can choose from. The breadth of experiences and knowledge they can gain is actually breathtaking and I would say broader than most other businesses in Australia.

So no matter a person’s interest or qualifications, there is almost certainly a role they could aspire with us.

Our industries are also at the heart of the economy. We are building our countries, we are creating – and we are at the front line in terms of protecting our environment, too.

Our entire business and prosperity relies on our ability to innovate and retain the trust of our communities. So, all in all, we are a pretty cool industry.

Diversity and inclusion are also key to ensuring we gain the most from Komatsu’s technological advance: Smart Construction, Intelligent Machine Control, autonomous haulage systems and hybrid machines.

Clearly, it would be very difficult for us to adopt the kind of technological change weare currently experiencing without stronger diversity and inclusion.

And importantly, these changes are differentto past advances in our industry, in that theydon’t exclude or advantage one group overanother.

Remember also, connectivity is a strong area of innovation right now.

Whether it’s connecting teams, connecting processes, connecting machines, they areall contributing to achieving step changes in productivity, across IoT (Internet of Things), Industry 4.0, big data, even smartphones.

When you think about it, diversity and inclusion across all our people and all our vast and geographically separated teams is pretty much on the critical path.