Best workplaces encourage diversity

Net 2/2015,  2015-11-12

The strength of a workplace is in its diversity, in a group of people where different skills complement one another. It is the leader’s job to get the individuals to work towards a common goal. This is the only way to achieve excellent results.

The autumn sun is shining hazily into the fireplace room of Fujitsu’s head office in Helsinki. Some days it smells wood in here, as the fireplace room is adjacent to sauna. But the sauna is not warm today. Instead, we are warming up a discussion about leadership, women leaders and diversity.
Three leaders have gathered here to discuss the changes in the Finnish leadership culture, the diversity of businesses, and women as leaders.

First off, MD Tuija Keronen of Lindorff Finland, MD Henry Nieminen and HR director Terhi Pietari of Fujitsu Finland, throw all the myths of leadership out of the window. They swear by diversity, believe in future geBest workplaces encourage diversitynerations, and agree that the scariest – and the easiest – thing in leading are clones.

Different situations call for different leaders

Let’s first tackle the issue of female leadership. Fujitsu is participating in the Dialogi 2015 project coordinated by communications agency Ellun Kanat, to promote women’s career advancement and leadership.

In Finnish companies 25 percent of top executives are women, and in their boards of directors only 13 percent. Compared with other EU countries, we are below average.

We have leaders and female leaders. Of course, this should not be the case. Everyone agrees on that.

”We often end up talking about why there aren’t enough women as MD’s or in boards. This is the wrong approach. Instead, it would be important to discuss as to how and with which recruitment and remuneration policies on other levels of the pyramid we could encourage diversity. In other words, focus should not solely lie on top but on the entire company culture,” Lindorff’s Tuija Keronen says.

"And one of the first things to do is to dismantle the myth that there are only one kind of women leaders. There are all kinds of leaders, and different leaders are needed in different leadership situations,” Keronen points out.

According to our trio, all forms of pigeonholing must be discarded – whether it’s about gender, religion or educational background.

”Then why do we need to talk about having more women in leadership positions? Because not enough has happened over the past twenty years. There’s been some progress but not a giant leap. We’re heading towards the right direction but not fast enough,” Keronen says.

This is why projects like Dialogi 2015 are important.

Technology is for everybody

In Henry Nieminen’s opinion, change is triggered when we shift our focus from different categories to people’s qualities suitable for a job, and their ability to learn.

”A leader has to be able to leverage their own personal strengths and qualities in different leadership situations. Many different ways can lead to top results, there is no one correct way. I really can’t think of any difference gender or origin could make here,” Nieminen says.

Since there are so few women in top positions, the example one sets may easily become a stereotype for all women holding leadership positions.

We are at Fujitsu, after all, so we can’t avoid the question of the tech industry, which is traditionally not too attractive to women. ”In the Dialogi project it has become evident how important it is for enterprises to make visible the women who work for them,” Terhi Pietari says.

By setting an example one is able to lead the way, open up the company’s operation and increase transparency. These are important values in today’s leadership, too.

Nieminen points out that it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that opportunities will not be cut off from children and youth by creating stereotypes. For example, girls should be encouraged to study mathematical subjects.”Gender equality begins at home.”

Keronen emphasizes that in tech companies there are all kinds of jobs for all kinds of skill sets.
”Hard-boiled technology expertise combined with business and service knowledge is the key success factor for many a company. This means that you don’t have to be a coder to work in the tech industry. It has a lot more to offer. Success is created by combining different strengths. I have no technology savvy whatsoever, and yet I worked ten years in the IT industry and did all right,” Keronen says.

Clones vs. diversity

Diversity is also one of the today’s buzzwords in leadership and the entire society. What is diversity needed for? Doesn’t the old way cut it anymore?

No, it doesn’t, say Keronen, Pietari and Nieminen in unison.

”The definition of being qualified is too restricted, to the extent of being scary, even. In a management board with members that are each others’ clones the MD probably isn’t comfortable with themselves,” Tuija Keronen says.

”When I myself first came to Lindorff and gathered a management board I activated a sensor in myself to spot the moment when they disagree with me the first time. I think it took two weeks. That was a moment I felt I’d done something right.”

A group of homogenous people may work pretty well together, but Terhi Pietari does not believe they could develop anything new.

”It’s easy to work with people that are similar to you. It’s human. But if everyone is the same, you can’t find elements in them that would complement one another. There may develop a huge sympathy of souls among them but what about something new or innovative?” Pietari wonders.
”In worst case they will create an illusion. Tapping one another on the shoulder, satisfied, like in a bubble,” Keronen and Pietari continue.

Management by strengths

Henry Nieminen admits that leading a homogenous group would be easiest for the leader.
”But it wouldn’t lead to excellence or excitement. When building top teams it’s completely irrelevant whether they are men or women, or what their background or religion is. It’s about people with top qualities that stem from their history, experiences and ability to learn,” Nieminen says.

”With a team of different people and strengths, also the leader’s job is more demanding.”

The leader not only has to create trust, team spirit and a foundation for success, they also need to challenge their team members to evolve in accordance with their own ambitions. Leading by diversity requires insight in the strengths and weaknesses of one’s employees, ability to motivate them and make changes to the familiar structures.

”One of the challenges of leading is to find such a way of leading that at the end of the day your team will leave home just as refreshed and energetic as they were in the morning. Your way of leading has to make it possible for them to leave from work early enough,” Nieminen says.

Challenge your own skills

The today’s leader is more of an enabler than a dictator. The leader does not sit in an ivory tower giving out orders but finds the best capabilities, hands down responsibility to employees, listens to different views and based on them makes their decisions.

This has been under debate for years, but is there yet any evidence of this sort of management culture in Finland?

”Presumably the changes are a little different in different lines of business. You still hear traditional discussion about what managerial work is. On a general level, however, there’s been some positive progress,” Pietari says.

”Top-quality managerial expertise is relatively high in Finland, and it evolves particularly with new generations. However, modesty is our weakness in the international competition. We are innovative and capable of creating remarkable stuff, but we tend to keep quiet about it and just lay low. This is a huge thing that we should improve on as an entire nation,” Nieminen says.

According to him, a leader must be able to create an atmosphere where it is allowed to challenge the leader. ”One of the signs of true leadership is courage to hire people that are better than the leader. This takes self-esteem and preparedness to evolve and challenge oneself.”

 Nieminen believes that the force for change comes with the new generations if not sooner. For them, diversity is a given and they also know how to demand more out of leadership.

Leader doesn’t know everything

Terhi Pietari reminds us that one’s competency in leadership roles is tied to the situation at hand.  ”This is being talked about more than before. The shrinking of the world adds diversity, and change always begins with discussion.”

The myth whereby the MD should know everything there is to know about the line of business is also about to be busted as collaborative leadership gains ground.

”The leader should encourage employees to create their own solutions, to make decisions and trust them,” Pietari says.

”Not everyone likes the idea that the MD doesn’t decide everything but instead spars with the team and asks them to decide for themselves. But we need to promote this culture as well,” Keronen says.

In her opinion, leaders should have the courage to hire people that complement their own weaknesses.

”Identifying and acknowledging one’s own weaknesses require maturity from a leader.”

There’s room at the top

Dialogi is an annual work life development project of the communications agency Ellun Kanat. In Dialogi 2015 the focus is on women’s career opportunities. Aalto University is participating in the project along with ten collaborative companies, of which Fujitsu is one. The Dialogi 2015 project also comprises the Fempower movement which encourages concrete actions towards leadership diversity and better female career opportunities.

More Information

Published in the Net Magazine 2/2015,  2015-11-12

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