Neelam Chohan – Honeywell International Inc.
Her earlier career may have proved more rewarding, but only in the tangible aspects. For at a young age, Neelam Chohan had acquired a reputation as a capable litigator with a prestigious London-based law firm. Only after a few years in that game did Neelam realize it wasn’t where she wanted to commit her career.
“I was happy and successful in London, but at some point, I had a desire to learn more about other countries and cultures,” the British-born Neelam tells Vision in March. “I realized I wanted my legacy to be in the impact I could have on an individual’s life. That’s how I ended up where I am.”
That’s at Honeywell headquarters in Morris Plains, New Jersey, as global head of inclusion and diversity. As she makes clear in a lively interview, a multicultural work force isn’t just the morally right approach to business, it’s quite simply good business, with proof evident at Honeywell.
“Diversity, it drives the culture of innovation, as it does here,” she says. “It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s a must-to-have. We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk.”
All the better when other organizations are brought into the fold, including one of Honeywell’s longstanding partners on the diversity front, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, SHPE for short. As Neelam reminds us, sometimes a company needs the vantage point of an outsider who may recognize in-house and outside talent that might be bypassed by even the most trained eyes. In this area, she says SHPE’s vision has been 20/20.
Their SHPE has come in
Founded by a group of Hispanic engineers in Los Angeles in 1974 with the intent of breaking the cultural obstacles faced by their ethnicity, SHPE now has around 300 chapters throughout the United States.
Right around the time when Neelam was moving into her current position, a kindred soul, Raquel Tamez, was resigning her post as chief legal officer and general counsel of SourceAmerica to be CEO of SHPE. The two women have forged a strong personal and professional relationship, the advantages of which have spread into both organizations.
“When the two of us first met, we immediately connected,” Neelam says. “I understood her vision and goals and what SHPE seeks to achieve in advancing Hispanics into engineering and other professions.”
That dovetails into one of Honeywell’s foundational principles of supporting diversity and Neelam’s mission, which she defines as embedding inclusion and diversity into the Honeywell DNA. Everyone on the payroll is expected to be a diversity advocate, with the message reiterated in training sessions and extracurricular events that include the SHPE partnership through which Honeywell may gain even more than it gives.
Which might only be expected. The company, after all, employs many engineers and, like a progressive baseball team, has everything to gain from expanding the talent pool into Latin America.
Hence the value of Honeywell executives tapping into the network’s directory of young Hispanics seeking the chance to prove themselves in one of the most challenging of pursuits. The company is thrilled to be the visionary co-sponsor for SHPE’s 2019 convention, The Power of Transformation, in Phoenix from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.
“Community outreach is the key and SHPE has been such an asset to us,” Neelam goes on to say. “Through them we’ve found such talent in the Hispanic community, and that makes us stronger.”
Believe and achieve
Of British and Asian Indian ancestry, Neelam says she can empathize with what Hispanics—and any minorities—must contend with, especially when going outside their own comfort zones. Neelam has done just that throughout her professional life, and while she’d encourage others to do likewise, she knows such people can use a boost when it comes to finding gainful employment.
But persevere, she advises, because the journey is worthwhile.
“Being able to work across countries, cultures and backgrounds—Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, the U.S.—has helped me grow immensely from a personal and professional perspective,” she says. “You can be successful in anything you put your heart, mind and hard work into, but you must recognize what it is that you are most passionate about and follow that passion. This is where you will find true success and make an impact on the world.”
The daughter of ambitious and adventurous parents, Neelam had role models but, just as important, the desire to make the most of herself. She’d earned her undergraduate law degree from Staffordshire University in 1995 and a postgraduate legal practice degree from Nottingham Trent Law School. She practiced law from 2000 to 2003, but then decided to pivot her career path toward what she found was her true passion and purpose, working with people.
But her time with Honeywell is where Neelam feels her HR career has truly excelled. She’s proud of the work she has done, which includes spearheading functional transformation and launching academy learning programs to grow talent to become the future leaders of the organization.
She did it so well that in 2017 Neelam was beckoned by Honeywell to come stateside and lead its inclusion and diversity efforts. Now living in New York, her thirst for learning about new cultures continues.
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