Judy Marks On Why She Elevated D&I To Top Priority At Otis Worldwide

The 167-year-old company was already on a cultural journey leading up to its April spinoff, but recent racial unrest inspired Marks to take big steps toward measurable equity.

Some B2B companies have been slower to respond to calls for diversity than consumer-facing brands—but Judy Marks has made clear that Otis Worldwide, a global leader in elevator and escalator manufacturing, installation and service, is not going to be one of the laggards.

In April, Marks, who took the reins in 2017, led the company through a successful spinoff from United Technologies and onto the public market. In preparation for that move, Otis had already been involved in a “culture exploration,” she says, but after the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing unrest—not only in the U.S. but in many of the other 200 countries in which Otis operates—Marks decided, with the board’s support, it was time to go further to root out social injustice and entrenched racism. “It really made us pause and assess—what can we commit to that will eventually be measurable, and that we can be held accountable for, and how do we more closely reflect the customers we serve and the communities we move with our products?”

The new initiative, titled, “Our Commitment to Change,” lays out numerous actions Otis will take to ensure that all 69,000 employees—or colleagues, as they are called at Otis—feel “welcome, safe and heard.” The multi-pronged approach will include (among other steps): an independent review of hiring, compensation and other business practices to uncover and eliminate biases; accelerating anti-racism, unconscious bias and inclusion learning at all levels of the company; and creating a new advisory group, Perspectives on Inclusion, to build in transparency and accountability. “This will be far broader than a CEO ‘call to action,'” says Marks. “There has to be a vision at the top and support from the top, but there has to be grassroots buy in, as well. And then we have to hold our entire leadership and management team accountable.”

For Marks, the motivation for creating an inclusive culture is not about taking a stand on a social issue, but rather a critical measure for the safety of Otis’s employees who, now more than ever, need to “bring their whole selves to work.” The following was edited for length and clarity.

Why was it necessary to do an independent assessment of bias at Otis? 

I think in any journey, to really have meaningful change, you first need to know where you are. Up to this point, we did not have a comprehensive set of metrics, of equity analysis, of really understanding where we are—strengths, gaps, opportunities. So we decided as a leadership team that if we were to just assess this ourselves, it wouldn’t be objective and bias would be natural.

So we brought on an independent, external expert—not a firm, but someone we knew who’s got a passion for D&I and an incredible track record of it to evaluate where we are and help us map out where we need to go so that we can actually realize this vision and develop a formal long-term D&I strategy. We’ve given her full access to our repository of data and analytics to examine how we recruit, hire, develop, engage, grow and retain our colleagues.

Do you have a sense yet of what specific metrics you will use to measure progress?

That’s what we’re determining right now. But this is about creating a culture and a place where everyone has their voice heard, feels welcome, has opportunities and has the ability to contribute. So we’re going to develop those metrics, working with our internal advisory group and this independent consultant to develop these KPIs to track and keep us accountable. We’re going to explore, does that become part of executives’ incentives? Is that how they get measured for success? And we are going to define the qualities and the actions that we expect from all leaders at Otis and then measure them.

Will the senior executive team take the bias training as well?

“CultureU,” the board game that teaches Otis employees about the company’s culture.

Oh yeah, we do it across the board. We’ve been looking at some pretty unconventional ways to deliver training, especially culture and inclusion training, and almost two years ago, we actually developed with a gamification company, a board game for Otis that we call “CultureU.”

It lays out, who do we want to be now and in the future, and how do we live our culture statements? As you work around the board game in teams—that drives collaboration—the case studies and the things you have to answer and the cases you have to evaluate are actually real cases inside of Otis. For example, when a customer really needs their elevator back online by a certain time, but there are safety implications—how do you respond?

So we started with my team and we now have had 15,000 of our colleagues trained through this CultureU game. We’ve also rolled out training on allies and “allyship” so that people who are in positions to make a difference for others, especially in diversity, equity and inclusion, understand what their role is to make a more equitable and level playing field.

So it’s beyond unconscious bias training, which has been around for multiple years and we’ve all taken it, but we’re trying to take this to the next level, to make it specific to Otis, then really drive, how do you become an ally and how do you act and deliver as an ally beyond just saying, ‘Of course, I believe in this.’ It’s about, what actions do you take and how do you deliver?

How are you encouraging the sort of listening across the company that helps people see and respect other points of view? 

From the time I arrived in October 2017, I have been consistently trying to reach out to and visit as many of our 1,400 branch offices as possible—that’s a little challenging in today’s environment—and many employees feel free to reach out to me via email or they call. We also use Yammer. But that’s not enough. So we have over 50 employee resource groups across the globe—they represent the disabled, veterans, women, LGBTQ, all different ethnicities, new hires, etc.—and we’ve asked them to also reach out and make sure people can be heard.

Then—and we had this last year but expanded it this year—we had a series called “Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers.” Last year, we did it in person and there was food, which crosses all boundaries and cultures. This time it was virtual, but for the 150 slots in the U.S., they were filled within 10 minutes of being posted. It’s just an opportunity to have conversations and listen to your peers and others you might not know to say, hey, I’ve run into this situation and here’s how I felt, or let me tell you what it’s like to be new, or this is what it’s like to be handicapped on the manufacturing floor. We’re going to do it again. We kept the title, even though there was no bread, but some people replied that the virtual presence allowed them feel more comfortable speaking. It kind of leveled the playing field. So we’re trying many, many things.

The ultimate goal is to get to inclusion, where people’s voices are heard and they bring their whole selves to work That’s critical because we’re in the life safety business where at times people are working at heights—40,000 of our 69,000 colleagues work in the field as field professionals so they don’t come into offices, they’re working at customer sites—and we need their whole self there so they go home every night.

So this is a safety issue for you?

You bet. This gets to safety, it gets to health, it gets to mental health. And that was one of the six platforms in our commitment to change was promoting and expanding mental health and well-being benefits.

As a relatively new old company, right now we’re defining so much of our new processes, our practices, our benefits—we have a fairly open palette now. We’re focused, we’re agile, we’re the leader in our industry, but now we have the opportunity to just focus on Otis and on our colleagues. You can’t change if they can’t bring their whole self.

Most of our employees went to work every day, either in our manufacturing facilities or these 40,000 field professionals, they were essential workers, they were in the hospitals making sure the elevators were working, they were making sure transit was running. So there was all tremendous amount of stress as they left their homes.

Over half of our maintenance portfolio is maintaining 2 million units in residential buildings, condos and apartment complexes. And so everyone who was locked down, they still had to go out at times to get food, to go to the market or whatever, and we had to keep all those elevators working. This goes beyond Covid—we really do believe there’s more stress in our lives and it’s time that we did something to promote and expand mental health and wellbeing benefits.

The other unique juncture is, again, as a relatively new public company, we get to define our CSR initiatives. What do we want to be? How do we want to influence the communities where we live and work? So to us, as we came up with this commitment to change, it was the perfect nexus for us to intersect what we wanted to do to help vocational education, what we wanted to do to help STEM, what we wanted to do in our communities.

Some companies manage to move the needle down at the entry level, but the promotion pipeline is a bit leaky and few diverse employees make it to the executive level—which would suggest that middle management isn’t getting the message. How do you deal with that? 

First of all, you define the message, which is, it’s not enough to assume that just by entry level hiring of women and minorities that that will eventually work its way up in any large corporate organization to where there will be parity throughout the organization. I’ve been around this 36 years—it doesn’t work. That’s one important element, but there has to be sponsorship. There has to be active expectations that if you’re reviewing a slate of candidates, the slate must include a capable female or minority—and then you have to hold people accountable to it.

One of the things that I signed up for recently is Paradigm for Parity. It’s a great initiative that says by 2030, we will have gender parity in our executive ranks. Currently, globally, 30% of our executives are women, and in the U.S. it’s 40%. But to move from 30 to 50 in a decade, it will take overt action, it will take sponsorship, it will take external hiring, and it will take development.

If you look at our executive leadership team on our website, you’ll see we’re very diverse. It’s easier at the board level to focus, it’s easier even at the executive leadership team to focus—but you’ve got to have this permeate the company. You’ve got to make sure that you break through that middle general management layer so that everyone understands what’s expected of any level of management or leadership in this company, and that is that they will constantly be out looking, sponsoring and making us reflect more of the communities, and the population by 2030.

As a B2B company, is there less of a business imperative on D&I than a consumer-facing company? 

No. Customers make a decision every day who they’re going to do business with, just like shareholders make a decision every day who they’re going to invest in. Why wouldn’t you want the most inclusive, engaged team showing up every day, period?

And it sounds like your board supports this investment? 

They are very supportive. As a matter of fact, in the early days when some of the protests for social justice, my phone was ringing off the hook from our board members. We’re a new board because we’re a new public company, so there’s a lot of engagement right now. Five of our nine board members are diverse and that was purposeful as we selected our board. It was important to me to have to have not just different experiences, but people with different backgrounds.

I recall someone earlier in my career saying, “you have to see it to be it,” and that’s what leadership needs to show. We ourselves need to look diverse and be diverse, but more importantly, we need to be inclusive.

Why is your vocal backing, as CEO, so important here?

I think it’s a leadership responsibility. I’ve always stepped up when there were discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion. I don’t know if that starts from me being a young female engineer and I’m obviously the first woman to lead Otis. But I think it’s a responsibility we have as leaders.

When we look back on legacies, and you read about other leaders, at the end of the day, and I fully recognize how important, creating value for our shareholders is—but this is part of it because if you can motivate and engage and have a workforce that feels so included, you will perform better. You’ll perform better for your customers, you’ll perform better for your shareholders and people will genuinely want to be part of your enterprise.

We are also local globally—our colleagues are local and can make a difference. So I think that’s what leadership is: You define that difference, you set the vision, you eliminate the barriers, you listen and then you empower your teams and your colleagues to make a difference. It’s early days, but that’s the journey we’re on.