NTT's Chaplin on instilling inclusivity in diverse teams

Marilyn Chaplin tells WiC how to lead diverse and inclusive teams, NTT's initiatives to support women in leadership roles, and the challenges of managing a global – and increasingly mobile – workforce.

Kelsey Ziser, Senior Editor

June 18, 2020

7 Min Read
NTT's Chaplin on instilling inclusivity in diverse teams

With nearly three decades of experience in both the corporate and academic fields, NTT's Marilyn Chaplin has an extensive background in building and leading diverse teams. Now as chief human resources officer for NTT Ltd., Chaplin is charged with developing and implementing a strategy that supports diversity and inclusion across the global service provider's business.

Prior to her current role, Chaplin was the Dimension Data Group executive for People & Culture. In addition, she has worked in senior marketing and HR positions for major multinational companies and has been a lecturer at international business schools. In 1996, she founded the business school ICMD (International Centre for Management Development), together with the London Business School and Manchester Business School. ICMD was later acquired by Dimension Data in 2000.

Women in Comms caught up with Chaplin for this mentor spotlight to hear Chaplin's advice for successfully leading diverse and inclusive teams, NTT's initiatives to support women in leadership roles, and the challenges to managing a global – and increasingly mobile – workforce. Chaplin also shares how NTT is investing in the communities where it conducts business – such as the Right to Learn program which provides STEM educational tools for girls in India. Read on for more.

Figure 1: Marilyn Chaplin is chief human resources officer for NTT Ltd. Marilyn Chaplin is chief human resources officer for NTT Ltd.

Women in Comms: How do you address so many different cultures and support diverse teams in a global company like NTT?

Marilyn Chaplin: I do believe that NTT is strong because of its diversity. There are many layers of diversity, and obviously today, front in our minds is gender diversity. We have an incredible diversity of cultures in this organization.

If you look at our history, it's one of acquisitions across the globe and we work in about 73 countries. Many of these entrepreneurial companies we've acquired have now come into a global Japanese company. That is both challenging but exciting that we are able to attract and retain that kind of diversity.

We also drive hard on skills diversity. If you look at the organization that's come together it's 31 companies, and it's an amazing mix of not just straightforward sales and technical skills, but also a mix of New Age digital types of skills that may also require software skills. Our capabilities and skills are a huge part of our diversity as well.

We also bring an age diversity to this company. We're very conscious around building our bench strength for the future. Not only inside Japan, but outside Japan, NTT is being seen as a great place to work and build your career with us. There are a number of initiatives in place at NTT beyond what I call early career or graduate programs. Not everybody needs to come from university, especially in the technical space. We like to bring early careers into our organization because we have many programs to fast track them and give them coaching and mentoring so we can build the bench strength of leadership.

That's one of the ways we'll address some of the gender diversity challenges we still have at senior levels. If you look at NTT, there are only two female executives in the C suite, that's CMO Ruth Rowan and myself.

Our Fast Track program helps employees that have been with us five or six years on how they can accelerate, particularly into management positions. Fifty percent of our intake this year is actually female, which is fantastic, and tells me that we are grooming some of our young up-and-coming female talent into the "broken rung" where you're trying to get them into management. If we can get them into management positions early in their career we will have more senior women in our organization outside of the classic role of HR and marketing. It's not perfect, but we've got a real mix of diversity.

If we're not leading in an inclusive way, and consciously as leaders asking teams for their ideas and thoughts and embracing some of those into some of the solutions, I don't think you'll benefit from having the diversity in NTT.

WiC: It can be difficult for women to move beyond middle management because some are trying to start families and there may be some gaps in their career. What are some other ways that NTT supports women to move beyond middle management or return to the workforce after a break or while they're trying to build their family?

MC: Some are regional – one initiative is Women in NTT which is a network across Europe, but a lot of it is through networking within the organization. We have a specific program called "LEADs" which is "Leadership and Diversity." Women and men can take part in the program, and we tackle some of these issues you're talking about: How do we mentor and coach up-and-coming young female talent? How do we help identify them? How do we try and influence policy in the organization around recruitment practices? How do we shape and influence some of the outcomes and take on some specific topics such as women in managerial positions?

We're also launching a new flexible working program. We need to recognize that people need to work in the flow of life, look after their health and wellness, and look after their family. If you need to watch your son's piano recital, for example, you should be able to do that. Hopefully technology and the tools we have will enable us to be connected in any place where it's suitable to do work.

Next page: How to manage a global and mobile workforce.

WiC: Since NTT has such a global workforce and there are so many different countries and cultures involved, how do you support that level of diversity and support a mobile workforce by utilizing different technologies and communication platforms?

MC: We are fortunate enough to be a technology company, which means we do have access and partners like Microsoft. We do leverage tools like Microsoft Teams and Yammer to connect our people.

I see in our people a willingness to have an idea and to take the initiative to try it out. One of the senior women on my team leads some of our technical services development. She's experimenting with crowd sourcing and running some collaborative groups to help us scale.

We use those collaboration tools but we also allow people to experiment with those tools. For example, on Yammer you could create a group and put a challenge out there, perhaps on learning how to code, or put out a challenge around containers and get some people to collaborate around that. Even people that don't come from a technical background love to participate.

We have amazing, diverse people who want to get involved and make a difference in the communities in which they operate. What comes out of that is a cross-cultural team working in the community and building bridges between these different cultures of people because they are unified behind one purpose that is relevant to their communities.

We encourage them to tell their stories and the stories behind their teams, and we actually find they're all incredibly aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We also have the Right to Learn school projects in India. Our team in India works with 840 girls – we found out they were only coming to school on average two weeks out of the month because there just wasn't the affordability. The boys all came to school, but not all the girls did. We got involved in a very inclusive way, not just throwing money over the wall, but we brought the girls into our offices and got a science and tech lab going at their school. We help the parents in educating them and giving them belief and hope and the means to not only come to school but to have the ambition to take up science and technical qualifications one day and join a company culture like ours.

We have more than 50,000 people in cross-cultural teams so its working together on something that's meaningful, using our technology to make a difference, and then sharing those stories to bring to the forefront the richness of our diversity.

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Kelsey Ziser

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Kelsey is a senior editor at Light Reading, co-host of the Light Reading podcast, and host of the "What's the story?" podcast.

Her interest in the telecom world started with a PR position at Connect2 Communications, which led to a communications role at the FREEDM Systems Center, a smart grid research lab at N.C. State University. There, she orchestrated their webinar program across college campuses and covered research projects such as the center's smart solid-state transformer.

Kelsey enjoys reading four (or 12) books at once, watching movies about space travel, crafting and (hoarding) houseplants.

Kelsey is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like