Fostering innovation through Autodesk’s inaugural ‘NEXT LEVEL’ cohort

Categories: Our Company People & Culture
Tags: autodesk-life diversity-belonging employee-resource-group

Often, people focus solely on the moral and social benefits of diversity. While these benefits are critical, I’m a firm believer that we should also focus on the business case.

Diversity fuels new ideas, creativity, and business growth. It is also a key driver of innovation and a critical component of being successful on a global scale.

Attracting a diverse workforce is a priority for Autodesk. And we realize that we’ve got to be just as committed to retaining, developing, and advancing talented individuals.

One of the ways we’re realizing our commitment to development is through our NEXT LEVEL program.

Group photo of Next Level program capstone participants

In November, members of the first NEXT LEVEL cohort convened in Atlanta for a capstone case competition.

NEXT LEVEL is a sponsorship and leadership development program designed in partnership with our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). The goal is to increase underrepresented people of color in leadership by creating a strong bench of talented individuals. 

Learn more about ERGs at Autodesk.

The program offers a nomination-based review and selection process, after which participants are supported by a Personal Advisory Board, including an executive sponsor and mentor. Participants also receive one-on-one coaching from both senior leaders and an external Better Up coach.

One thing that I find remarkable is that participants are tasked with navigating the program in addition to their day jobs. To do so requires incredible support, from their managers to senior sponsors, and is a testament to Autodesk’s commitment to this initiative.

I recently spoke with Susanna Holt, VP Strategic Technologies at Autodesk, and sponsor for one of the participants, about her experience. She shared, “Creating additional opportunities for employees from underrepresented backgrounds is very near to my heart. I was excited to learn about the NEXT LEVEL program and was almost certainly among the very first to sign up as a sponsor. Here was a chance for me to become involved in a program that is larger and more impactful than anything I could make happen on my own. It is at scale where we can really start to make a difference, and Autodesk can provide that scale.”

Crowning an Innovation Idol’

After an incredible six months of collaboration and learning, our first cohort of participants completed their training this past November, capping it off with “Innovation Idol,” a capstone case competition co-sponsored by the Platform Services & Engineering Technologies team.

Next Level program participants on a Zoom call

Capstone competition teams met remotely for weeks, balancing workloads and time zones to prepare for Innovation Idol.

As part of this exercise, participants were grouped into six teams to exhibit their problem-solving skills and pitch a recommendation for a real-world Autodesk opportunity. The proposals focused on providing automation and insight for design and make processes. The objective is for Autodesk to consider investing in one or more of these solutions to deliver customer value with machine learning (ML).

And what’s fascinating is that none of these participants had any prior professional experience with ML.

Throughout the program, they spoke with experts across Autodesk, polled colleagues in customer-facing roles, and conducted research to better understand our customers’ problems and the best ways to offer solutions.

Hosted at Autodesk’s Atlanta office, participants attended the competition from places like Germany, Singapore, the UK, and across the US. In addition to these in-person attendees, Autodeskers from around the globe tuned in for the livestreamed event.

Meet members from our first NEXT LEVEL cohort.

The winning team was selected by a panel of leadership judges and awarded the title of ‘Innovation Idol’ and a $10K prize. A ‘People’s Choice’ award was also awarded based on the popular vote among employees.

Taking Autodesk to the Next Level

A diverse and talented workforce creates innovative products, solutions, and experiences.

Through efforts like the NEXT LEVEL program, we’re ensuring Autodesk cultivates a workplace where all employees can realize their potential and thrive. I can’t wait to see what’s next for these emerging leaders and the incredible value they’ll bring to Autodesk.