Embracing a diverse workforce: Christine Kienstra | Undutchables

Embracing a diverse workforce: Christine Kienstra

Diversity according to Christine Kienstra

This is another interview on the subject of diversity by Undutchables.  As a true believer in diversity, Undutchables would like to introduce you to personal points of view concerning this subject and the role it plays in doing international business now and in the future.

Passport:

Passport : Dutch

Name :  Christine Kienstra

Age : 44

Current position: Managing Director Renault Finance Nordic, RCI Bank and Services

Family status: Living together with Régis from France, 3 children

Has lived in: France, The Netherlands and Sweden

And worked in USA, Australia, China and diverse countries in Europe 


Christine Kienstra

What is Diversity in your opinion?

I believe in Diversity and I know it is about gender equality, freedom of religion etc, but that is not the first thing I think about when I hear Diversity – because to me, everyone is equal. Diversity for me is more about experiences, heritage and what you bring in, ‘by diverse thinking - your team gets stronger’. By looking at things from different angles and perspectives and sharing experiences, we can gain so much more business wise, rather than just looking at things out of one’s own perspective. As for my business, I believe that the company and team should mirror the country and location you are operating. If the society has a multi-cultural mix, your company and team should also have a multi-cultural character. 

What is your personal experience on the subject of Diversity?

Working within the automotive industry, it is known that it is a ‘man’s world’. I am working for RCI Bank and Services, which is a bank within the automotive sector and within the bank, we have slightly more women.  When hiring however, we look at the competences of a person. Looking for the right expertise that we need at the moment in order to add value to the team. And the Diversity I have experienced and bring to the table is having lived and worked in several countries and speaking several languages.

What is your experience as an expat, as a non-Swedish speaker, managing a team here?

First of all, I think Sweden is a beautiful country and I really enjoy it! In all my jobs I have had, I have been seeking the international aspect in a position. This position is very interesting, it is a forward thinking company within banking and Services with lean and mean processes and yet it is complex. I think it is an honour to have the position I have. We operate in a market with relatively limited tools and that can be a challenge. My role is to help everyone to bring the best out themselves. I believe in an open and transparent communication and the strength in each individual, for everyone to take their own responsibility.  I try to work aside my team, to listen to my people and share positive and negative feedback. For example, by only speaking about the positive things and not ‘reflect’ on things that could go better, you will never be able to move forward. For me, it is OK to make a mistake, acknowledge it and look on how it can be done in a better way – this only makes you stronger. If you talk about it and are open to learn, it creates trust in the long run. I try to integrate as much as I can, by adapting to the Swedish culture and show respect to the country I work in. At the same time, I bring my expertise and cultural background (Dutch directness), pro activeness and my way of managing the business. The language barrier has never been a problem. The key for me is an open and transparent communication and I try to get my people to ‘get to the point’ and take responsibility for their actions! 

Why should Swedish companies embrace diversity and how can they see the added value of this?

We should not forget that we do work in Sweden and we all have to respect the Swedish culture. So interest in the Swedish way of living and the Swedish way of doing business is key! We need to be open to a new culture as well as the Swedish employees – working for an international company here – can be open to listen to how business is done in France for example. Sweden is not only part of Europe but also a player on the global market. To be successful and compete on an international level, a national approach is often just not enough. Here Diversity has the most added value to my opinion. Having an open view on things, being open minded and communicating in a transparent way, we can all benefit from diversity. I think, however, that it is important for each individual to be able to express themselves in their native language. You must also be open for criticism and have the mentality to be willing to learn. ‘If you are open minded about another culture – you’ll learn so much more’. 

“I believe that a company and team should mirror the country and the location where they are operating”

Christine Kienstra

Is there a necessity for Swedish businesses to use English as a company language?

It all depends on what sector you are in and what your business purpose is. If you are focusing on the Swedish market and your clients speak Swedish, it is obvious that the company language is Swedish. But I also think you need to adapt to and understand your client’s needs. For example, we are a Nordic company. Not all the Nordic people speak each other’s languages. We have a native level Danish speaker in our team, as the Danish people prefer to speak Danish and even they prefer to speak English, than speaking to someone that only speaks Swedish. For us it is therefore important that our employees have a good mastery of English, which is a ‘neutral’ language between the Nordic employees. It offers more perspectives if you have English as a company language. So this is very much about thinking Diversity as well! Each sector and each company has to see to what it is best for them, in order to decide if the company should be using English as their corporate language. 

Thank you Christine for your willingness to share this information with us!  To finish off, is there anything you wish to add?

When I first moved abroad over 25 years ago, I bought a newspaper at the central station of the French town I was living. I wrote letters to my family and friends and called home every now and then. Since then, the world really got a lot smaller with internet and low cost airlines. People learn more about other countries and do travel more. So I expect the need for diversity only to grow bigger!

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