Diversification builds competitiveness

Chronicle · Malin Rosqvist, programstrateg för PiiA · 2019-04-30

Malin Rosqvist, programme strategist at PiiA. Photo: Jenny Simonsson.

Sweden is perceived as a country that is at the leading edge of the transformation to digital industry. We are proud of our ingenuity, revolutionary innovations and excellence in research. We are enterprising, cooperative and often described as an egalitarian country with a well structured society. Swedish industrial companies enjoy a high level of credibility and a good working climate. This is in many respects a fair picture and one to be proud of. But we cannot rest on our laurels. We must constantly work to maintain our position, and these days we know that competitiveness and equal opportunities go hand in hand. Without one, we cannot have the other.

The biggest prime mover in every company is to be competitive, and competitiveness is all about skills. Studies show that a diversified workplace with a mix of employees young and old, men and women with a variety of experience from different cultures and backgrounds are a recipe for success. Skills are not a question of gender or where you come from, they are about what you can contribute.

The competition for the best employees is tough, and companies have to make an effort to be attractive. For today's young people – generation Y – the working environment, colleagues, development and creativity are very important when it comes to choosing an employer. Many simply prefer to work for decent, honest companies. We see a trend where companies lacking equal opportunities are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit, while companies with equal opportunities are perceived as being attractive employers.

A good example of a company that acts on the basis of this standpoint is Billerud Korsnäs in Gävle, with whom I collaborate in several projects. Billerud Korsnäs has trained all of its employees in diversity and inclusion by arranging workshops to spotlight so-called unconscious bias. The company sees diversity and inclusion as a matter of survival and competitiveness, both on its own part and that of Swedish industry in general.

Another conspicuous example is SSAB, which like so many other industrial companies has set up measurable goals for recruitment. Its diversity and equal opportunities policy stipulates that a better gender balance is expected to make a positive contribution to the company's performance culture and increase sensitivity to customer needs.  In order to increase the number of women in senior management, SSAB introduced an equal opportunities goal in 2015 whereby 30 per cent of the company’s management positions must be filled by the end of 2019.

How should companies behave to further reinforce this positive trend and increase the pace of their equal opportunities efforts? Begin by analysing the current situation and rendering the existing structures in the company visible, preferably with the help of an expert who is able to see the organization from a different perspective. The next requirement is a strategy with short and medium-term goals. This is a matter for company management, but it must gain the support of every employee. Introduce a gender perspective to activities and projects, where it should be a guiding principle aimed at safeguarding continued competitiveness.

For those who our keen to get started with work concerning diversification and equal opportunities, I can recommend the Albright Foundation's reports on how equal opportunities contribute to competitiveness, and also the Industry Council's paper (in Swedish) entitled Discrimination and Equal Treatment – a Guide.

Sweden is perceived as being at the forefront when it comes to equal opportunities. We must work hard to maintain that image and develop it further. It's up to each and everyone of us, individuals, companies, organisations and authorities. Set good examples, learn from others and teach each other.

Malin Rosqvist
Programme strategist for PiiA

Malin Rosqvist is with RISE SICS Västerås and is a program strategist for PiiA, the strategic innovation programme Process industrial IT and Automation (with funding from Vinnova). PiiA is one of the first innovation programs, and its project portfolio comprising around 150 projects promotes innovation and helps create a safer, more efficient and productive process industry. Every year, PiiA coordinates two open tenders in research, development and innovation.