Promoting diversity is not only the right thing to do, but also good for the organisation.
More and more organisations have been waking up to the fact that there is still work to be done in work communities to welcome people who are different.
For example, Holvi, a company offering financial management services to small entrepreneurs, has made the conscious decision to hire people from different backgrounds.
– We have seen that some of the things that work in Finland do not work in Germany. We wouldn't have learned this if we didn't employ people who have been building these services for entrepreneurs in Germany, says Elina Räsänen, Holvi's Director of Marketing and Communications.
We are building an inclusive product, a product suitable for everyone.This requires diversity.
Holvi's staff of 150 employees contains people from 35 different cultural backgrounds. The wide spectrum of languages and nationalities is a conscious decision for Holvi.
– We are building an inclusive product, a product suitable for everyone. This requires diversity – people of different ages, languages, religions and genders. Diversity is coded into Holvi's DNA, says Räsänen.
Many other technology companies have also come to the same conclusion as Holvi. This summer, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced the company's significant efforts to promote diversity.
Google will train its employees to observe their own attitudes and recognise the significance of different backgrounds. According to Pichai, this training also strives to reduce structural racism at the company.
Google's efforts extend all the way to corporate management. The share of underrepresented demographics, such as dark-skinned people, in management will be increased by 30 percent by the year 2025.
Google is not alone in taking these kinds of steps. Cisco, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard are also among those tech companies that have been striving diligently to increase diversity within their organisations.
The consulting firm McKinsey has reported that diversity increases the creativity of an organisation and brings in more euros.
According to McKinsey, ethnically and nationally diverse companies fare up to 35 percent better than average when judged by the ratio of profits to revenue.
Diversity starts with everyday practices
Holvi, which began its journey as a start-up employing ten people, has been a part of the Spanish banking group BBVA since 2016. The company operates in Helsinki, Berlin and Madrid. Räsänen has been with Holvi since its founding.
Räsänen emphasises that the company must continuously challenge itself with regard to diversity.
– The work is not over when our website says that we are open and tolerant. We must be able to justify that we have an open working environment that allows everyone to come in and be as they are.
Holvi spends a lot of time and energy on recruitment processes. Recruitment messages are carefully thought-out inside of teams and people are constantly thinking about how to ensure inclusive communication. Holvi's teams and supervisors strive to use language that does not exclude anyone.
Räsänen highlights the importance of language. Whether the language is masculine, feminine or as neutral as possible becomes an important factor when the goal is to find diverse applicants for a position.
Räsänen says she constantly pays attention to word choices.
– I never talk about myself using the lens of gender, but always through the lens of expertise or position. The same applies to recruitment drives. We never discuss factors that are irrelevant for the position in question during interviews or the recruitment process in general. We focus solely on the person's expertise.
Holvi employees think that an employee's background is a part of their personal story that the whole staff must respect. Räsänen describes the idea that all Holvi employees are good people as a factor that unifies the staff.
– In an ideal world, a person's gender, looks, culture, language or religious background should not have an impact on anything.
The initiative must come from senior management
– It is not enough for an organisation to put up the Pride logo for one week of the year if the promotion of diversity is not otherwise woven into the company's DNA, Räsänen says.
Will is the most crucial factor in taking action.
Räsänen is of one mind when it comes to the promotion of diversity and equality in a work community. All organisations must be involved in this pursuit and all employees must participate in this work. The same applies to work that the employees are conducting externally with clients and stakeholder groups.
Räsänen highlights the role of management in the promotion of equality and diversity. The initiative and spark must come from senior management. Senior management must also lead by example in committing to this work.
– "HR is requiring it so we are doing it." This phrase is a curse when we are talking about the promotion of equality. The starting point must be that we want to understand and we want to be better. Will is the most crucial factor in taking action.
It takes effort to develop a culture
In order to succeed, the promotion of equality requires that staff is listened to and that operations are continuously developed.
At Holvi, the senior management team works together with HR to monitor the gender and age distribution of staff and the representation of different nationalities in real time. The company conducts a staff satisfaction survey twice a year and the management asks employees questions related to the work community and their work-life balance every few months.
– We regularly ask our staff whether everyone feels that their voice is heard and if everyone has access to equal opportunities in our work community. We also talk about these issues a lot. That is a strength of ours.
Instead of focusing on the surveys, Räsänen feels that the everyday atmosphere of trust is the most important factor. She believes it to be valuable that people can and do talk to their immediate supervisors, HR and even the CEO of the company. The CEO also encourages employees to do this in various ways, including in his monthly podcasts. In these broadcasts the CEO ponders about how major phenomena affect Holvi's operations, elaborates on his views and encourages people to participate in active dialogue.
– With us you always have the opportunity to talk, and we cherish our culture of open discussion.
The employees themselves also play a major part in the promotion of inclusivity.
Holvi has many employees who voluntarily think about best practices and suggest new ways of doing things. This brainstorming has also given rise to the idea of officially recognising diversity expertise at the company and forming a group that focuses on questions of diversity.
– We feel that we need an official job description that is visible to the entire Holvi organisation. This also sends an important message to new members of our organisation for whom our values might not yet be self-evident.
According to Räsänen, considering things to be self-evident and harbouring the idea that the work can be completed at some point are thoughts that need to be avoided. She considers the promotion of equality and diversity to be a process that involves setbacks and constantly learning new things. Open discussion within the work community is most important.
– Mistakes happen, but teams and supervisors must be able to articulate them quickly. They must be able to say what happened, why it happened and why it won't happen to us again in the future. This readiness is born out of the culture of openness and discussion.
Many listed companies are just starting out
According to the FINDIX diversity report published last year, most Finnish listed companies are only beginning to take diversity into account.
The report covered all the companies on Nasdaq Helsinki's main list. To be included in the comparison, the companies were required to have boards or senior management groups that consist of at least four persons and enough information had to be available about them. This meant that the final comparison included 112 companies. Out of these, 35 were large companies, 40 were medium-sized and 37 were small enterprises.
The companies were scored on their gender distribution, age distribution, nationality distribution and education distribution.
The report demonstrated that the larger the listed company was, the more diversity there was among senior management and the company board.
In small companies the share of men in senior management and the boardroom grows and there is less internationality when compared to medium-sized or large companies. The senior management of small companies also consists of people very close to each other in age and the educational background of their board members is very one-sided.
Best large companies:
4. Stora Enso
Best medium companies:
3. Tallink Grupp
Best small companies:
Source and further information: www.findix.fi (in Finnish)
Fixing mistakes takes different kinds of people
According to TEK's work life specialist Sirkku Pohja, equality starts from the idea that we are all standing side by side on the starting line, not in a queue.
Just as in life in general, diversity and different backgrounds must also be understood in work communities. We are different but equally worthy.
– Everyone is responsible for the attitude they convey to their colleagues and what they say to others. Not a single member of a sexual or gender minority needs to justify their existence or think about how they might be viewed by others. We must have an open and accepting attitude towards everyone at the workplace.
Sirkku Pohja thinks that it is important that diversity and inclusivity are talked about at workplaces and that training is organised on the topic. These issues are easy to commit to once one is aware of them and wishes to learn.
Management's expertise and interest in the topic is of primary importance.
– From management we need open dialogue concerning what kind of attitudes we carry and how we act in relation to each other. Are we employing different people with different backgrounds? How is equality visible in our work? These questions require answers and concrete solutions.
Pohja works with tech experts and highlights diversity as a strength.
– Typical thinking in the tech sector says that it is enough to solve a problem on the theoretical level. This is a narrow approach. We need different kinds of people to correct mistakes, create something new and further develop what already exists. In the work life of the future, different backgrounds are a professional team's trump card.
Differences are a treasure. In an inclusive work environment everyone is accepted as equally valid and everyone is included in interactions and work activities.
A person's gender or sexual orientation has no bearing on how they conduct their work, but accepting differences in work life increases opportunities for everyone.
– I believe it is beneficial for you, your workplace and business life and society in general that your products and services are truly intended for everyone and not just for representatives of a certain way of being.
TEK will be putting a special focus on these themes this year as the organisation celebrates a year of equality. The Helsinki Pride week held in early September has also been very visible in TEK's communications. TEK was one of the partners of this year's Helsinki Pride and in this context TEK also wishes to talk about the role each one of us can play in promoting the rights of gender and sexual minorities.