Everyone from directors to team members can help to create an inclusive organisation 

There are many forms of diversity in our society. For example, gender, ethnicity, ability or educational background should be reflected in organisations from start-ups to multinational corporations or NGOs to academia.
KAUTE talks x Aalto University on diversity

KAUTE talks and Aalto University webinar on 2 February addressed the importance of diversity and inclusion in organisations. Experts from academia and the business world agreed that while there are challenges in creating an inclusive organisation, accommodating employees with diverse backgrounds is a strategic strength.

The webinar was hosted by Rebecca Piekkari, Marcus Wallenberg Professor at Aalto University. Visiting speakers, Kristina Sweet, CEO of The Shortcut and Sami Itani, CEO of Adecco Finland and President of Finnish Athletics Federation, both work to create a more inclusive culture in the business world. 

There are many forms of diversity in our society, whether it be based on gender, ethnicity, ability or educational background, which should be reflected in organisations from start-ups to multinational corporations or NGOs to academia. 

Still, the speakers’ personal experiences show that there are patterns and policies that support the homogeneity of organisations. 

The responsibility to overcome these patterns is shared. While the business owners and managers are responsible for creating policies that support diverse recruitments, it is the middle-management and team members that actually make a person feel included in the community, the speakers said.

The lively discussion raised great questions by the audience. To continue the discussion we interviewed our speakers of the questions left unanswered from the webinar.

How should diversity and inclusivity be acknowledged in terms of language? Should Finnish employees be expected to work in English? 

Kristina Sweet: Of course Finnish and Swedish are the official languages, but not all jobs that claim to require Finnish actually need it for the work itself. And if you are considering hiring someone who does not speak Finnish, why not invest in their language development?

Sami Itani: If even one individual doesn’t speak Finnish well enough to communicate, then a meeting should be held in the lingua franca. In general, the language seldom becomes a true issue if the culture is inclusive and safe.

Does gender make it even more difficult for foreign women to gain leadership positions?

Kristina Sweet: I believe the overall challenges for educated foreigners are quite consistent across genders. I would love to see the data of studies on the number of foreign women in leadership positions in Finnish companies.

Rebecca Piekkari: We do have some encouraging examples of Finnish companies being led by foreign female leaders such as Sanoma, Stora Enso or Bayer Nordic, although still few in numbers.

How can organisations be more accessible and inclusive to people with physical disabilities?

Rebecca Piekkari: Managers should approach the issue of accessibility by embracing the idea that if a person in a wheelchair can access the premises, the building is also accessible to people with e.g. small children moving with a pram. Contemporary building technology has an equalizing effect in terms of the availability of electrical tables, LED lights, elevators and escalators.

Kristina Sweet: I think the best way is to walk the talk. Hire someone, invest in learning how to navigate around their disabilities, educate the team. There is no better way to support real diversity than by reflecting that in your team.

What are the best practices for an organisation to stress the importance of inclusion? 

Rebecca Piekkari: Managers can lead by example. Diversity and inclusion work should be the responsibility of top management and integrated into hiring processes. In addition, advances in diversity and inclusion need to be measured as part of the organisation’s planning cycle.

Sami Itani: The more we have people from diverse backgrounds sharing their stories, and possible obstacles that are not visible to others, the better the organisation can begin to understand the necessity of an inclusive culture. What differentiates the genuinely inclusive organisations from the rest is the small things in the mundane everyday action that create the company culture.

How can the local employees help the inclusion of international staff?

Sami Itani: I believe that the implicit and emotional connectivity – informally executed most commonly – helps a lot. The first months are the most pivotal ones. We should also take into account the Finns who return back home after several years abroad who might be experiencing the so-called reverse cultural shock.

Rebecca Piekkari: It is worth remembering that making international professionals feel included in the organisation is a collective responsibility. It might be good to recruit more than one international professional in order to justify the changes in organisational practices, systems and norms.

Kristina Sweet: Simple gestures like inviting your new colleague for lunch or post work drinks. You can also ask to help navigate the culture or language challenges.I believe that kindness and empathy are the starting point. 

The next KAUTE talks x Aalto University webinar on sustainable reconstruction will be on March 25, 2021.

KAUTE talks x Aalto University is a new webinar series bringing together representatives from the industry and academia, to discuss and learn about world-shaping phenomena of our time through focused and thought-provoking presentations. Webinars are produced in cooperation with KAUTE Foundation.

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KAUTE talks x Aalto University, photo: Mikko Raskinen
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