How to tap into the value of diversity
Bridging gaps between people and cultures requires work
“As a global company, Solvay is better positioned than most to take advantage of the diversity of its people,” says Digital Innovation Manager Maryam Momtaz.
Maryam Momtaz, whose job is to help transform the way the Research and Innovation (R&I) team in Specialty Polymers creates value through digital technologies, has been with Solvay for 15 years. Based in Bollate, Italy and part of a team that stretches across the Atlantic to Alpharetta, Georgia, she is also part of X-factor, an Employee Resource Group created by Solvay employees to promote diversity. We sat down with her to talk about how bringing diverse backgrounds together is an opportunity for any company, including this one.
Hi Maryam. First of all, can you tell us what Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) represents to you?
I come from a diverse background myself, born to Iranian parents and brought up in France, before moving to Belgium. I had the great opportunity to work in Alpharetta, Brussels and now Bollate. Fostering diversity in the workplace means including everyone when there is a decision to make, which is what I try to do as a manager. It’s a global trend, and Solvay is a good place to apply it, since we have sites and people everywhere around the world.
How do you see DEI increasingly taken into account at Solvay?
When I first joined the Group, there were contacts between countries, but not as much as today: the Covid pandemic has shown us that we are truly a global company. I believe getting to know people with diverse backgrounds is an opportunity: we can learn from each other, from other peoples’ perspectives. For example, I have the pleasure to have a diverse team, each one of my colleagues has a different education and experience and that’s a fantastic opportunity. We all have different backgrounds and perspectives, and that has a lot of value for a company.
We’ve made great progress, but we need to continue educating people about the fact that diversity is not just nice to have, it brings value.
In what way does diversity bring value?
Everywhere around the world, we encounter similar problems, but we have different ways of functioning and dealing with them. We can be more efficient by listening to everyone’s needs and everyone’s ideas and picking the best solutions from all around the world.
At the same time, it’s important to harmonize the way we work as much as possible, so it’s about finding the right balance. One recent example: we’re pushing a big change at Specialty Polymers in the IT tools we use to manage the way we store all the information related to our commercial products and how our new products make their way from the lab all the way to our plants. We have people working on this in both Bollate and Alpharetta, collaborating and helping each other understand different perspectives. We need to disregard labels based on gender or nationality and bring people together who have a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. There’s a lot of work to do explaining we need to change, but when people understand the reasons behind the change, they are more willing to participate.
Can you tell us about X-Factor, one of Solvay’s Employee Resource Groups promoting diversity that you are part of?
Two of my colleagues started X-Factor in Alpharetta. It began very small and local, then the group grew, and now we have members everywhere. We share articles, news, podcasts, and anything else that will help us learn about how we can do better collectively. Promoting diversity has also to come from the bottom up, not only the other way around. We’ve made great progress, but we need to continue educating people about the fact that diversity is not just nice to have, it brings value.
In what ways do you feel you are helping Solvay to advance as a company?
I believe I’m making a difference in the world. I’m trying to build bridges between domains, between companies, and making sure we do the right thing. My dad worked at Solvay. I love this company and grew up with it, and I love that we are such a global company. I also love its history: Ernest Solvay’s vision is still with us today, doing good for humanity and for the planet is at the heart of what we do.