Q&A: Nicole Theophilus, EVP and chief human resources officer, Wabtec Corp.

Nicole Theophilus, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, Wabtec Corp.

RailPrime: Last year, Wabtec Corp. established a Diversity and Inclusion Council to oversee diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives. In its 2020 Corporate Sustainability report, “Moving and Improving the World,” the company — a global provider of rail equipment and systems — connects a diverse and inclusive workplace with its ability to innovate. Explain how that works.

Theophilus: Wabtec’s longevity and success are a result of the company’s ability to innovate and create solutions that disrupt the industries we serve. Our employees are central to that innovative spirit. To create that mindset, it requires a workforce with unique and diverse talents, experiences and viewpoints. In my experience, innovation does not occur in a vacuum with similar people and like-minded thinking. It comes from employees with different backgrounds working together, sharing ideas and valuing and inspiring each other with one goal in mind — succeeding as a team.

RailPrime: Describe how the company’s commitment to diversity/inclusion is being applied. For example, describe what the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Council is and does.

Theophilus: I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words when it comes to a company’s culture and its most important audience, their employees. The commitment to diversity and inclusion must start at the top for it to succeed. I am proud to say Wabtec’s executive leadership team has bought in and is passionate about fostering a diverse culture and workforce. The Wabtec Diversity and Inclusion Council is a perfect example of that commitment because it is led by four members of the executive leadership team. They have a vested interest and passion for the success of our diversity programs. The council oversees the policies and initiatives as it relates to diversity and inclusion. The employees see their involvement and genuine interest in the company’s initiatives, and it becomes contagious at all levels of the company.

RailPrime: In trying to achieve its 2030 diversity goals, what have been some of Wabtec’s most effective policies or initiatives when it comes to increasing the representation of females and people of color among the workforce and salaried employees? Can you provide examples?

Theophilus: There are several programs at Wabtec. I am particularly proud of our Employee Resource Groups or ERGs. This approach empowers our employees to take an active role in promoting diversity. There are seven ERGs at Wabtec representing women, LGBTQ, African heritage, Asian Pacific, Hispanic/Latino, MyAbilities and veterans. I appreciate how these ERGs provide our employees a platform to support one another, to educate the company about their diverse backgrounds, and to drive community outreach. While there is a social aspect to these ERGs, the main function is to promote personal and professional development among the members. More important, the employees are in-charge and taking the lead on these efforts. They are developing programs that drive professional growth through skill development, relationship building and a support network. The employees are taking control of their destiny and positioning themselves for future growth and leadership.

RailPrime: In February, Wabtec announced it had recently debuted on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2021 Corporate Equality Index, the CEI. Explain why being on that index is important to Wabtec. How does a company get listed and how will being on it help improve diversity and inclusion at Wabtec? What does it mean?

Theophilus: I believe it is important to measure yourself against the best in class. It enables you to measure progress and identify areas of improvement. When it comes to LGBTQ workplace equality, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index is the gold standard. I have taken my last two companies to 100% on the Corporate Equality Index and we intend to do the same at Wabtec. To that end, it was an honor to be ranked by the Corporate Equality Index in 2021. Our inclusion in the Index demonstrates we are on the right track, but we have more work to do and our LGBTQ ERG is working with us. Building a diverse and inclusive workplace is a journey, and we are focused on continuous improvement.

RailPrime: How does or will Wabtec measure its success or progress on the diversity/inclusion front? What are your results showing so far?

Theophilus: We are a goal-oriented, results-driven company. It provides focus, spurs action and sustains motivation. Our Sustainability Report established diversity goals that we are working to achieve by 2030. We strive to meet and exceed a female representation by 20% globally and 25% among salaried employees. We also are targeting to have 30% of people of color across the U.S. workforce and 25% among U.S. salaried employees. When developing these goals, it was important to be aggressive and realistic. Establishing a diverse and inclusive workplace takes time when you are cultivating the ideal culture. I believe these goals are achievable by 2030. More important, it will put us on the right path toward workplace equality.

We have made progress. Currently, Wabtec has 18% female representation among salaried employees and 16% globally. Among people of color, Wabtec has a 25% representation across the U.S. workforce and 19% across salaried employees. The Diversity and Inclusion Council and our ERGs are playing a big role in growing those numbers and further positioning Wabtec as an ideal place to work for people of all backgrounds. We also will know we are making progress when all our employees are engaged, inspired and feel valued. 

Nicole Theophilus joined Wabtec as executive vice president and chief human resources officer in August 2020. She has more than 20 years of senior leadership experience in human resources and legal departments. Prior to joining Wabtec, Theophilus served as the chief human resources officer for West Corp., and before that was chief human resources officer for ConAgra Foods. She also has been a partner with Husch Blackwell Sanders, a national law firm. Theophilus earned a B.A. and an M.B.A. from Drake University, and a J.D. from the University of Nebraska College of Law. She’s a Pittsburgh resident and serves as a director for the Wabtec Foundation and the Midwest Housing Equity Group, and is a trustee for Brownell Talbot School.