What effect does embracing diversity have on a… | Undutchables

What effect does embracing diversity have on a business?

Diversity according to Jacques Pellis

Hereby our fourth interview on the topic of diversity in Sweden! As a true believer of the added value of diversity and different cultural backgrounds at work, Undutchables would like to share some personal points of view concerning this subject and the role it plays in doing international business today and in the future.

Passport:

Jacques Pellis, 39, single 

In Sweden since November 2012

Second job in Sweden, today ‘Director Change & Leadership Support at Vattenfall Staff Function Communications’ before ‘Head of Recruitment Nordics’


What does Diversity mean to you?

The first thing that comes to my mind is ‘effort’. In my experience I have noticed that a lot of people talk about diversity as something nice and positive. However, not so many people recognize it as something that is ‘hard work’. The second is ‘equality’. I suspect that people focus on taking someone into ‘their group’ and ‘their way of working’, whilst not seeing the necessity to move towards new perspectives from both sides. 

Jacques Pellis Foto

The third one is that I believe that Diversity is ‘everywhere’, as long as we are open enough to see it. In general we often focus on aspects which are mostly visible, like skin color or gender, while forgetting aspects like backgrounds, education or personal characteristics.

I believe that (as promised in many theories) more diverse teams will be more creative, have smarter product solutions and create more engaged people. However, that will only come to surface when all individuals involved make a real effort. All individuals in the group need to treat each other as equals, seeing the potential of others.  


What is your personal working experience with Diversity?

Most of my personal experience with diversity came when I moved from Amsterdam to Stockholm for a job. I came with a different functional background, a different cultural background, and also being male in a predominant female  environment could be seen as quite diverse. This was however not automatically seen as something positive by everyone. Some of my colleagues would rather speak Swedish than English. Also some did not see the added value of someone with a different professional and/or cultural background could bring. Even though diversity was high on our agenda, it was for many people maybe not that clear that in this specific setting I was actually Diversity. Only by speaking up about it we found our way forward, together.

My employer (Vattenfall) is pro-actively building on more diversity and better inclusion. For example by having a clear strategy on Diversity & Inclusion which includes focusing on creating awareness. Just like my direct colleagues and myself had that moment of clarity a few years ago, we need to reflect continuously and pro-actively on our behavior, every day.   

I believe that more diverse teams will be more creative, have smarter product solutions and create more engaged people.

Why should Swedish companies embrace diversity and how can Swedish companies see the added value on this topic?

I think there are already many articles written where the added value of diversity is explained well. When it comes to Swedish companies specifically, the growing lack of certain technical and digital competences is probably the most important reason they should embrace diversity. But then, what does it mean to embrace diversity?

Reflecting on how we focus on Diversity & Inclusion at my company (Vattenfall) I can see that it really has been made part of our overall strategy. For example, we have a Diversity & Inclusion Officer appointed from the Executive Management Group who drives the topic ‘from the top’, we focus on a ‘diversity check’ when recruiting and we have developed ‘diversity & inclusion labs’ to create awareness and to drive actions towards more diversity and better inclusion on team level.

At Vattenfall we believe that embracing diversity and inclusion will simply support us in reaching our strategic direction. By having more diverse teams, we receive a greater variety of perspectives which will in turn make more use of our skills, experiences and knowledge. This will lead to more innovation and better results. Diversity of our workforce also enables us to understand different needs, thus meeting our customer expectations better and making us a better partner for the communities we serve. Creating an inclusive culture is very important to make sure we are all valued for our differences, to unleash the potential of diversity. For us, diversity and inclusion is important to be an attractive company and a company we are proud of!  

Why is it a necessity for Sweden to use English as a company language?

One way to create equality is to organize comparable situations for all individuals. Using English instead of Swedish is a good example to erase the challenge for non-Swedes, while keeping a good quality of communication as the level of English is quite high in Sweden. Besides the effects for more inclusion it will also have a positive effect on the attractiveness of a company for a more diverse and probably a bigger pool of applicants.

There is an inspiring example to find in Japan, with the electronic and internet company Rakuten. Their CEO Mikitani decided in 2010 to change their company language to English, although the company was clearly Japanese and most people were Japanese and located in Tokyo. The project ‘Englishnization’ was a bold decision as it did not seem necessary at the time and as the level of English was quite low. Also never before had any major Japanese company changed its official language. According to Mikitani it was simply needed as adopting to the English language was and is vital to the long-term competitiveness of Japanese business. 

Although it has been a difficult journey for them, over a timeline of 5 years it resulted in a deeper collaboration within their international teams which led to more knowledge sharing and better acceptance of differences in culture and values, making it more easy to grow and to look over the borders for talent. Now, over 80% of their engineers hired are non-Japanese, allowing them to catch up and restore growth, despite the aging population of Japan.  

Coming back to my own experiences I can share an example on ‘equality in communications’ within  my current team divided over 3 countries. We used to call into our team meetings per location, where the location with most people in the room automatically and often unconsciously had more power to steer the meeting. It was difficult for individuals or smaller groups to join those discussions via a screen. Recently we decided to use Skype for Business at our team meetings where all individuals are ‘calling in’ separately and thus also in separate rooms. Although it was a bit strange for people on the same location to not sit together any longer, now all team members have the same challenge when it comes to technology and communication. This opened the way towards more equal discussions, better knowledge sharing and I believe a higher engagement in our meetings.  

Do you have anything else you want to share with us?

Maybe one thing to close up with, Diversity & Inclusion can be steered upon by HR with KPI’s, for example female managerial hires. It’s really important and helpful to have these kind of mandates by top management as it will help to grow the awareness within a company. The real hard work lies however in the behavior and mindset. Opening up about experiences, good and bad, will bring awareness but I believe also a better understanding, which will hopefully lead to more effort. 

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