As a young company, Atlas Renewable Energy wants to lead our sector in terms of gender balance, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). We’re pushing to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, and change attitudes – both in our industry and in the communities where we operate. But achieving this means getting our own organizational culture right. In this interview, our Head of People and Communications, Marcela Pizzi, explains how we’re doing this.
Q: What led you to center DE&I within Atlas’s organizational culture?
A: When we first started back in 2017, we were based out of Chile with projects in Brazil and plans to work in Mexico. Working within different regions poses several challenges, the differences in languages being one of the most obvious. In this context, our first major decision was to make sure that Atlas felt like one, integrated company.
In order to achieve this we had to clearly define, between our CEO and the rest of the leadership team, what our main values and our purpose would be. The most fundamental idea we had, the one that really defines our overall purpose, is that we want Atlas to be a force for good.
Q: How do you define being a force for good?
A: This involves looking at every layer of your organization through many different lenses. Being a force for good means that you have a positive impact on your environment – on one hand, this applies literally, since we work in the field of renewable energy – but on the other, we also want to have a positive impact in a social sense, on our community, on the lives of our employees and their families.
For example, when we were going over the type of benefit and compensation policies that we would offer, we once again came back to the idea of making Atlas feel like one, integrated company. This meant that the benefits we wanted to offer would be the same regardless of location. In order to offer something truly beneficial, we looked at the best practices across all the countries we worked in and shaped our policies accordingly. That’s just one of the ways in which we have addressed DE&I.
Along the way, we noticed that we had naturally created the conditions to generate diversity, and from that point, we actively worked to create inclusivity. In a way, I would argue that inclusivity is the most important element.
Q: How so?
A: Diversity is something that can come about in a very superficial sense, as a way to meet quotas. Inclusivity, on the other hand, requires you to make an effort to integrate, in a very structural sense, the values that your company wants to support.
For example, back when we were shaping our benefits policies, we noticed that out of all of the countries we worked in, Chile offered the best practices in terms of parental leave policies. We were having these conversations as our company was taking shape, and we were measuring our overall indicators, like the nationalities, ages and genders of our employees.
In doing so, we noticed that out of the 23 people that made up the company in 2017, only 11% were women. Basically, that was me and our lawyer. On top of which, both she and I were in roles that can be considered typically female positions, so to speak. Of course, at this point, you can almost hear the same, tired conversation playing out, the one that excuses these situations by claiming that there are simply not enough women who are interested in this field, or who don’t have the qualifications.
Q: How did you address that?
A: We made the conscious decision to generate the type of conditions within our company structure that would present Atlas as an attractive employment option for women. So, gender equality was the first area we tackled with regard to inclusivity.
Q: Specifically, in terms of recruitment, what measures did you apply?
One of the most direct measures we took was requesting recruiters to find variety within candidates, starting with the requisite that at least one woman be included in their selection. Of course, this approach slowly evolved, as our company evolved. To the point where, now, we have a blind application policy, which means no indicators whatsoever to identify an applicant according to gender, age, nationality, or other markers.
These types of measures are ongoing efforts. Beyond gender diversity, we also wanted to ensure that there would be enough representation of individuals from different regions, from different backgrounds, and so on. So, finding applicants with a diverse range of characteristics is the type of mandatory requirement that our recruiters need to meet.
Q: What does your workforce look like now?
A: We’ve built up our workforce diversity starting with stronger female representation, which is now at 40% in a company with 150 employees.
Q: You were talking previously about internal structural changes that support inclusivity. Can you talk to us a bit more about these?
Of course. For example, when it comes to our parental leave policies, we took note of Chile and its policy of six months postpartum leave. However, Chilean law limits the compensation that employees are required to receive during those six months. Companies can choose to extend the compensation beyond that limit, or not.
Somehow, there is a sense of fear in offering full pay for six months’ leave, assuming that people will become accustomed to receiving something for nothing. However, offering someone half-pay is limiting and stressful.
Q: Meanwhile, women are not seen as desirable employee candidates.
A: Exactly. So, to level the playing field, we decided to also offer paternity leave. Chile offers five days of postnatal leave for fathers. We offer one month with full salary compensation.
Q: So, you offer both maternity leave and paternity leave?
A: That’s right, but we actually offer more than that. We also offer a bonus of US$2,500 to all new parents.
Underlying these monetary compensations, however, are the thought processes that led us to implement these policies. One of the issues, in general, when it comes to juggling work and parenthood, is precisely the idea that individuals simply can’t do both. At some point, employees feel like they have to choose between their careers or their family life, usually due to other costs associated with childcare. In order to allow our employees to feel secure in their decision to continue working, we also offer an additional US$300 a month, applicable once the maternity or paternity leave ends until the child is three years old.
Q: Do your efforts extend to include other gender considerations?
A: Definitely. We conducted various trainings within our company with regards to several topics, including gender in the workplace and focusing on new interpretations of masculinity – all of which are issues that are reflected in our broader society. As these conversations took shape, so too did our understanding of how our policies need to extend beyond traditional heterosexual relationships, and should also be inclusive of same-sex couples or even single-parent households, or for those who wish to adopt or foster. Our benefit policies with regards to maternity or paternity leave, the additional birth bonus, and the monthly childcare expense bonus, therefore, apply to all parenthood scenarios.
Q: While all this is exemplary behavior, it does require a huge investment. How do you measure your returns on this type of investment?
A: If we go back to our core values, that of being a force for good, we measure our success in terms of how close we come to meeting those aims.
Beyond that, there are numerous studies that show the advantages of making this type of investment in your workforce. Extend this to society in general, and we see that the benefits of gender equality in the workforce and family policies that include the role of men in childcare are all benefits that cross over onto the next generation and beyond.
Monetary returns are secondary since they have never been our main driver. Instead, we’ve sought to measure the extent to which we can integrate our values within our company structure. Our various training sessions on topics of diversity, sensitivity, and so on were initially voluntary but now our employees are required to attend a minimum of 16 hours of training sessions per year.
Q: As you say, these processes have been changing and evolving since 2017 – what have been the biggest lessons learned along the way?
A: I think the biggest lessons we learned have to do with the seriousness in which we applied our measures of diversity and inclusion. So, having many conversations to determine the type of values we wanted to support and came to the realization that these require the full participation of every single member of our company, and also the participation of any partners we choose to work with.
If you remember, I was talking about the lack of female representation in the field of energy, which is something that we wanted to improve upon on a greater scale. So we amended our contracts to make sure that any outside partner that participates in a project with us would meet certain diversity percentages in their hired workforce. We’re talking about our engineering projects, solar power projects, and so on.
Coming back to your question about the ways in which we measure our returns on investment into these practices, I would say that creating a name for ourselves as a company that embraces and promotes these values is definitely another way we can measure our success. This draws interest from investors who know and support what we stand for, and we are able then to generate new projects that fit into our model from the get-go.
We’re now in a place where we’re recognized for these values, and people want to work with us because of them.
Q: What happens if someone wants to work with Atlas, but claim to be unable to meet your diversity percentages, for example?
A: It’s happened before. In these cases, we like to propose ways in which we can meet them, by offering training programs, for instance. We train them, our contractors hire them, and we both meet our goals.
So, the real challenge has been to really solidify our values, and look at how to go beyond buzzwords and bring about change in a very real sense. I’ve mainly talked about gender inclusivity, I know, but there are so many other areas we’ve tried to cover. Healthcare, for instance. We offer our employees health insurance that covers dental and vision insurance, which extends to their significant others, regardless of the type of partnership they have. I only mention this because in some countries we work from, same-sex couples still don’t have equal legal recognition, but we honor all partnerships just the same.
Q: How do you see all these efforts progressing in the future?
A: For sure with complete participation from our employees. In the end, our company model is not one that functions by following predetermined paths. We’re looking to grow through the personal development of all the individuals that make up our company. To this aim, we have initiatives like our She Leads program.
We also regularly conduct diversity and inclusion surveys, for instance, to make space for any groups or individuals who don’t feel represented by our policies to speak their mind. In this way, we’ve previously addressed concerns regarding topics of ageism and religion, among others. Maybe we can talk more about those some other time!
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