Employees at Navistar embrace the triad of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Now that the US-based commercial vehicle manufacturer is part of the TRATON GROUP, this principle is being taken to a new level, with lively exchanges ensuring that the ideals are spreading even further.

Text: Christian Heinrich

Differences can be problematic at first glance. When two people speak different languages, they don’t understand each other. And when two employees from different cultures meet, they may have different priorities in their work and therefore find it difficult to cooperate smoothly. You would think that a strong, efficient team needs more common ground than differences. Yet too much homogeneity in the workplace can quickly lead to teams becoming uncreative and inflexible. That is why it is important to create room for differences and promote diversity within corporate culture.

More than just a buzzword

For many companies, diversity is one of those trendy buzzwords that they love to use, right alongside sustainability and climate protection. But US commercial vehicle manufacturer Navistar doesn’t leave it at that. “We don’t just talk about diversity, we live it,” says Nicole Wiggins, Chief Diversity Officer at Navistar. “In fact, differences are celebrated here as opposed to being just tolerated.” Navistar’s company culture is characterized by a strong sense of community precisely because of the employees’ differences, not in spite of them.

Nicole Wiggins, Quotation
Nicole Wiggins

Nicole Wiggins
Chief Diversity Officer at Navistar

One of the ways in which workplace diversity is practiced is through the various interest groups that meet on a regular basis. Among those groups are, for example, the Professional Latino Association at Navistar, Military Veterans at Navistar, the Navistar Pride Alliance, Women in Navistar, Navistar Young Professionals, the Navistar Asian Professional Association, and the International Community of African Americans at Navistar. And that’s not all: new groups are forming all the time — such the Parent and Caregiver Alliance and the Wellness Group. Each group is sponsored by a member of management.

Differences desired

“You can see from the groups that diversity here is not just about skin color and origin. It’s also about different orientations and interests,” says Wiggins. All the groups have specific goals as to what they want to achieve within the organization. The Navistar Young Professionals, for instance, want to promote the growth and advancement of junior staff, while the Professional Latino Association seeks to foster cultural diversity and a sense of community among the entire workforce. “The groups are a meeting place for likeminded people where they can represent their interests in a way that allows them to live out and give space to their diversity without alienating others,” Wiggins adds.

At Navistar, the focus is thus not on diversity alone, but on a triad that is known under the acronym DEI, where D stands for diversity, E for equity, and I for inclusion. Today, DEI is as much a part of Navistar as the famous International Trucks with their diamond logo. “Equity also means meeting people where they are,” Wiggins says. “For instance, someone who has difficulty with our corporate language, English, will get support.” At the same time, everyone in the workforce gets an opportunity to share their own perspectives and issues with other people. One element of Navistar’s inclusive coporate culture is its regular meetings at which an individual member of staff can give a presentation on a diversity issue that matters to them. “These are often controversial topics, such as what privilege means or what it is like to belong to a certain generation,” Wiggins explains.

Differences desired
Haydee Nunez, Social Impact Manager and Nicole Wiggins, Chief Diversity Officer.

Haydee Nunez, Social Impact Manager, and Nicole Wiggins, Chief Diversity Officer

“You don’t have to fit into the group!”

Of course, not all problems can be solved, nor can all differences be overcome — but simply noticing and acknowledging the differences within such a diverse workforce is often enough to build bridges — from gender to ethnicity to disability. “One important message is: you don’t have to fit into the group — everyone is welcome!” says Wiggins. “The fact that we recognize and accept each other for who we are is a great source of satisfaction.” This really does create an inclusive corporate culture and sense of community in the workplace. And that, Wiggins is convinced, makes Navistar something of a global home for its approximately 14,500 employees.

That these efforts make people feel at home at Navistar is by no means just theory. “Inclusion feels like you finally belong. Inclusion feels like Navistar,” Pradeep Bhatt, Senior Project Manager at Navistar, shared in an emotional post on LinkedIn recently. What prompted this was an event the day before: Pradeep Bhatt’s team had discussed barbecuing, and a teammate later asked whether the discussion had offended him, since cows are sacred in Indian culture. “We then ended up having a long conversation about my culture, rituals, and traditions,” Pradeep Bhatt recalls. He was moved by this inclusive behavior; the fact that his coworkers were even thinking about how the topic of barbecuing might feel to him and that they wanted to learn about his cultural background. Inclusion at Navistar feels like safety, like compassion, “like your team’s got your back and you’ve got theirs,” he says.

Haydee Núñez, Quotation
Haydee Núñez

Haydee Núñez
Social Impact Manager at Navistar

Not measurable, but noticeable

That sense of belonging and the celebration of differences in the workplace is something many employees at Navistar experience every day. “You can’t measure it directly or translate it into sales figures, revenue, or other performance parameters,” says Wiggins. But it noticeably improves employee satisfaction and the sense of community — as well as creativity and spirit. “It’s also thanks to DEI that our teams are so harmonious, diverse, and helpful,” Wiggins says with conviction.

To ensure it stays that way, Navistar is mindful of diversity as early as when it hires new employees — and to them, the company’s focus on DEI acts like a magnet. “In interviews, applicants often ask what we’re doing for diversity — and we have quite a bit to share,” notes Haydee Núñez, who works closely with the DEI team to grow the company’s impact on people and planet as its Social Impact Manager. “Employees are looking for purpose in their work, and our commitment to diversity inside and outside of the company makes Navistar particularly attractive as an employer.”

A win for diversity

Navistar became part of the TRATON GROUP in June 2021, and this represented a shift for Wiggins in terms of the company culture, too. “We’ve already had workshops with Scania, MAN, and Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus about what pluralism and inclusion mean for all of us,” she says. From the very first meeting, she was struck by how curious and enthusiastic her new coworkers were. “They are open to diversity issues, which is great for us,” Wiggins says, “because we can use our experience in this area to provide plenty of input. And at the same time, we’re also gaining fresh ideas.” To her, that is what healthy integration looks like: not just adapting to each other, but achieving a win for diversity.