MONTA group aims at advancing diversity and inclusion at the School of Business

Katja Toropainen, the founder of Inklusiiv and graduate student of the School, also makes a call for more discussion and sharing of best practices about diversity in organizations.
Ulkokuva Kauppakorkeakoulusta. Kuva: Unto Rautio / Aalto-yliopisto
School of Business. Photo: Unto Rautio
Kuvassa on Rebecca Piekkari.
Professor Rebecca Piekkari. Photo: Rebecca Piekkari

For several years, the Diversity and Equality group (MONTA Group in Finnish) at Aalto University School of Business has deliberated about why young females have become less interested in business studies. The segregation of business studies is not only a problem for Aalto’s School of Business; the same phenomenon has been recognized also at other higher education institutions offering business studies Finland. ”Unless we succeed in achieving a better gender balance through the new intake system based on certificates, we will not be able to serve the Finnish business world as well as we would like to”, says Rebecca Piekkari. She has been the Chair of the Diversity and Equality Group of the School since it was founded in 2014. In early 2020, Rebecca Piekkari was appointed Marcus Wallenberg Professor in International Business which is an important recognition of her research achievements in the field of international business.

Back in 2014, the share of women among new BSc students dropped below 40%. This was a serious concern for the leadership of the School and the student union KY at the time. Therefore, the Diversity and Equality Group was tasked to support the School in its daily equality and diversity work. A common goal is to render the School a more diverse, inclusive and pleasant environment for both working and studying – a place where professors, students, service staff as well as alumni will feel respected and welcome. Today, the Diversity and Equality Group consists of a multivocal bunch of people, including Finnish and foreign students, professors and members of service personnel.

The scope of the Group is broad, covering present and future students and alumni as well as present and future faculty. Rebecca Piekkari mentions the important role that this Group played in the renewal of the School’s communications and visual image, in the teaching of diversity and inclusiveness to students, and in the recruitment of new faculty. Dean Timo Korkeamäki has now made an initiative to enhance diversity and improve the gender balance especially in the School’s degree programmes. ”It is a shame if students believe that some programmes are designed for others such as competitive tough guys or creative bookworms – not for them”, Piekkari says.

It is time to distance ourselves from the stereotypical view that the average business student is only interested in maximizing profit for shareholders and for himself/herself. In fact, we need to let everybody know that our alumni engage in really meaningful work – work that can truly change the world.

Kuvassa on Katja Toropainen.
Katja Toropainen, the founder of Inklusiiv. Photo: Katja Toropainen

Katja Toropainen, a graduate student of the School of Business and the founder of Inklusiiv, also criticizes the persistent stereotypes that exist in working life and in universities. Inklusiiv is a community that advances diversity and inclusion in working life. According to Toropainen, the stereotypes can, at worst, prevent individuals from finding their dream career or the most interesting major. Toropainen began to pay more attention to diversity issues while working as the Chief Curator of Slush, the international startup event. She noticed that active discussion about the topic was non-existent in Finnish business and tech world at large. Also, a coherent terminology in Finnish was missing. Toropainen established a website called Inklusiiv, created an open database, and challenged Finnish technology startups to report diversity data. The initiative attracted a lot of attention from fast-growing technology companies. “When I discussed my initiative with company representatives and diversity professionals it became clear that this kind of community, which shares knowledge about the topic and brings people and organizations together, did not exist in Finland.” Many expressed their interest in this kind of activity and in response to this initial demand, Inklusiiv was founded.

Toropainen calls for more discussion about diversity, inclusion and related challenges and problems in Finland. “A year ago, when I founded Inklusiiv and returned from the international environment of Slush back to Finland, I did not realize how common it was to simply ignore difficult matters here in Finland.” But if matters are never raised, they cannot be improved or developed either. 

The Diversity and Equality Group and Inklusiiv have similar objectives: to make professional communities more diverse and inclusive so that each employee or student can thrive and concentrate on his or her own work in a psychologically safe environment. Research shows that diverse and inclusive teams generate better results in terms of both business and well-being when these teams are well led. “Fostering diversity is not enough, one also needs an inclusive work culture where it is psychologically safe to be and act,” Toropainen says. 

Like Piekkari, Toropainen also emphasizes the need for concrete everyday means and actions to advance diversity and inclusion alongside increasing awareness of the phenomenon. “Nothing is going to change if we only talk,” Toropainen highlights. “There are already lots of best practices available.”


Fact sheet:

Diversity refers to differences between individuals, such as demographic (e.g. gender, age, ethnic background, sexual orientation, nationality), experiential (e.g. family situation, phase of life, work experience) and cognitive (factors that stem from e.g. education) differences. 

Inclusion means that people can feel respected and welcome as members of an organization, team or community. It also means that no one is left outside because of e.g. opinion, skin colour, gender or native language. By fostering and advancing inclusion and diversity organizations can find new perspectives on their work and decision-making which in turn has a positive effect on the organization and its operations.

About the persons: 

Rebecca Piekkari is a Professor of International Business at Aalto University School of Business. 

Katja Toropainen is a graduate student at Aalto University School of Business and the founder of Inklusiiv.  

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