The Missing Link in Making Diversity & Inclusion Work in Finland: Investing in Social Capital

3, Apr 2019 | Blog

During the last year I have been a witness of several local and national Finnish strategies to drive diverse and inclusive employment and internationalization. Diversity this and that and nothing seems to work. It’s boring, heavy and not my problem… one must think. Living here for 5 years and as one of the ca. 5% of people with minority backgrounds, there is a slight gap between coming to Finland as a tourist to indulge into its tripple package of lakes-forests-berries and landing in “Suomi”, in my case as a spouse and an international proffessional. Yet, a lot is being done on promoting Finnish goodies to the world that goes beyond badly needed representation. If economy hurts, diversity and inclusion figures hurt even more, even if we know that diversity and inclusion strategies factually can help the economy and Finnish companies’ growth with talent attraction and retention.

So, below offers some highlights of stuff cooking in the background, while recent Finnish Parliamentary elections mainstreamed discrimination and deep-seated racism. Looking at diversity in politics, a wooping 60 foreign-background candidates ran for seats in the election, with only two of them landing MP seats. On the positive note, this year saw more women as top vote getters and occupying 92/200 positions as lawmakers, up from the previous record of 85 in 2011.

Why we need diversity and inclusion for businesses in Finland

1.    Demographics. There is a looming crisis of the aging working population. The OECD and Finnish experts on immigrant issues note that this aging crisis is far more dire and imminent for Finland than any other European country.

2.  Because it pays off. Diverse companies can praise that their innovation is increased by 83%, profits by 42%. Moreover, cognitively diverse companies perform better, which increases decision-making by 60%.

3.  Untapped potential of people, export of products, and services. For a small country dependent on export (60%) there is a lot of untapped export potential. Companies invest in D&I to boost growth and reflect their customer base, not for CSR reasons. Even though diversity is tough to implement, research shows, the efforts are worth it because diverse teams can drive performance over-time, as the collective intelligence of the team increases with it.

4.  Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment reports that the talent shortage is blocking the growth of Finnish companies. By 2021, it is estimated that 53 000 experts are needed in the tech field, 10 000 in IT, and 30000 experts for maritime and car manufacturing clusters in South-West Finland. 

5. There are plenty of good solutions and examples, where companies have grown, benefited, enriched their operations and performance by outperforming competition.

However, diversity and inclusion is not something you can easily put into practice or even automate. It is a human, people-to-people process, which even AI can’t get right. Just think of Microsoft’s AI robot, which was “hired” to do recruitment and was stopped after 9 months due to biased patterns. Did you also hear about racist soap at the Facebook office?

Read below examples from education, state-level, and civil society which are all there to advocate for creating spaces, teams, collectives for equal participation and representation. We are not there at all, but I think the processes of getting there highlight the Finnish boldness in shaking things up: through engagement and experimentation.

Business Lead program at Hanken & SSE executive education

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Two weeks ago I observed a 5th edition of Business Lead program at Hanken & SSE school of executive education in Helsinki. I saw and engaged with 30 highly-educated professionals with immigrant and refugee background, selected for a half a year fast-track program geared for employment and entrepreneurship. 

Crowd-sourced Business Lead program, has reached 150 students since 2016 and is backed by a wide array of Finnish companies as sponsors. Ministry of Finance is one of the new supporters. Perhaps one of the most important ministries, sitting on a money chest sends a strong message that diversity and inclusion is important for the future of the welfare state and recognizes that every professional should find its role on the job market without going to waste. Ministry of Finance’s staff collaborate as mentors for this group of Business Lead class 2019 to help them with introduction to job market, working culture and various do’s and dont’s. During my observations, I heard a lot about culture, innovation, appreciating ideas and co-creation – I can summarize it with what it says on my own website: “ innovation and growth can only appear between dynamics of people and culture.”

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Hanken & SSE school of executive education makes private-public partnerships for diversity visible besides the social impact element of the program. Similar program is being designed for Vaasa campus and I believe these fast-tracks are needed everywhere especially when business community is gladly sponsoring this initiative. By serving as a trampolin to mentors, internships and future jobs, this proves my deep-seated belief that —> if people with diverse backgrounds can get the foot in the door and earn their living, integration will happen faster in a win-win situation for the individuals well-being, for companies and for the state.

GODESS research on equality and innovation in welfare societies

There is another incubator of diversity-focused research and development institute GODESS, which stands for research areas in Gender, Organization, Diversity, Equality, and Social Sustainability (GODESS). What’s not to like about the divine-sounding word and all the perfect words it stands for?!

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Jokes aside, the Institute is based at Hanken School of Economics which joined a Nordic Gender equality project with other two big players such as Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and KHT Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm to address challenges and tackle complex problems regarding diversity and gender equality. During spring 2019 we ran a series of workshops by focusing on real challenges in Nordic companies. Above is our Finnish facilitators’ team in Copenhagen, from left to right: Leila Gharavi from GODESS, Malin Gustavsson from Ekvalita, and myself from ConnectUz. By conducting workshops with a norm-critical approach, researchers’ mission is to develop and disseminate shared solutions, contributing to Nordic competence and competitiveness. By co-creating solutions, they show a critical focus on how opportunity is often gendered: in the classroom, in organizations, and in leadership and offers tools. This project is one to watch (because it is also a new concept called #GenderLab, co-created by Kvinfo and CBS).

#TalentBoost – National Strategy for Internationalization, Recruitment and Retention

When it comes to macro-initiatives on national level, #TalentBoost program comes to mind. A first national strategy for international recruitment and retention has been launched in 2017. It is supported by several ministries and anchored in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

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Who is part of it? Business Finland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Employment and Ministry of Education and Culture. Sitra, national innovation fund arranged series of multi-sectoral design-thinking-based sprints, to help develop the Finnish brand as an employer in an initiative called, Friends of Finland ambassador’s initiative #FOF. During 2 days we have looked at Finland within 4 lenses pictured below.

#TalentBoost is hosted by different cities, which all compete for the best talent. First one took place in Helsinki, I joined as a speaker at #TalentBoostTampere, and this year I look forward to attending #TalentBoostTurku in Turku. Turku is home to Bayer Nordic, one of the largest taxpayers in Finland, also after its recent cheeky city slogan – Kiss my Turku 🙂

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Commitment from the Top

Minister of Employment Jari Lindström is an advocate of diversity and inclusion to promote growth and internationalization. It is good to hear about meetings and talks going on with these heavy-weights Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK), the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions SAK, the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK, the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland, and the Federation of Finnish Enterprises. Wonder how the new government will influence the debates and policies towards diversity? I would also ask, how diverse are these organizations if they want to drive change and walk the talk?

The new-compiled Talent Boost cookbook for international talent management is a convincing reading for why “what got you here, won’t get you there” and how attracting and retaining talent requires a co-created eco-system that goes beyond companies’ physical frames. This guide is free and must be on every leader’s office and night-table. I would add though, that when reading this cook-book on international talent and recruitment, I wish this can disrupt the way the integration process is managed and implemented. These two concepts and approaches are mutually exclusive! Trust me, I have been there. Twice.

I could not help but think about this experience across age, experience, backgrounds, social standing, and all other distinctions. Both GenderLab and Sitra’s experimentation approaches are about breaking silos and showing the richness of collective learning it can bring if we just trust the process. Such experiments should be must in any environment, in education, production, insurance, youth work, you name it. It allows us to engage with diverse stakeholders and bring their variety of skills, experiences, backgrounds, and social standing to the table. During the process of discussions and finding solutions, this social capital exchange happens and it does wonders: people build trust with each other during teamwork. As a result, diversity and inclusion can be made both visible and actionable locally and nationally by widening perspectives and giving space for alternative thinking. Nokia’s chairman Risto Siilasmaa talks about this beautifully and describes how alternative thinking must be at the heart of any decision-making.

Civil Society Engagement with #DiversityAtWork

Last week, Diversity at work event invited HR professionals, companies and students to hear about approaches to pushing diversity to the workplaces. Arranged by Finternational Ry, an NGO pushing for diversity, equality and internationalization, brings speakers, advocates, companies and another range of stakeholders on board to have a stronger say. Andre Noël Chaker, speaker and author, is one of the key influential speakers in the country, emphasized the value of diversity, which broadens perspective and decision making. Milla Ovaska, from city of Espoo told about her participatory approach to engage citizens, companies and networks to city services planning in order for the city to stay and become more inclusive. According to her, diverse citizens’ well-being brings income via taxes to Espoo municipality and it really emphasizes Espoo’s financial sustainability and raison d’être. At the time of writing, four municipalities have been in a stage of financial crisis for the last 24 months.

Diversity at work, Helsinki 22.5.2019 with speakers and host Sami Putonen

Later that day, I have shared a story on my personal quest for diversity and inclusion in Denmark and Finland. It has been a brutally honest story of feeling unwelcome and unwanted however recourceful and talente. Partly due to media climate towards immigrants and rise of populism and partly due to feeling not accepted or included in the company.

Focus on Employee Experience

So what is missing? In order to attract diverse employees, need to feel included inside and outside the company. Consider Vaadin Oy’s, Turku-based software development company’s focus on employee experiences. Below slide says it all. For Vaadin employee experience means to offer support employees’ integration professionally, on a team, company and society level (Slide by: Anne Koskinen-Kannisto, Vaadin)

Simple as that: focus on employee experiences to drive diversity and inclusion

Working my way to enter Danish and Finnish workplaces, I had to engage myself in building human meaningful experiences inside and outside school and later work environment especially because I moved, my social circles were limited. As an international student in the Nordics, it is a blessing and a curse to be one. On one hand, you get to know the culture, but on the other hand, students are still discriminated against because they are put into a grey box of “foreigners, immigrants who are not here to stay” and also not recognized as a resourceful group of people.

Why Invest in Social Capital

So, as a protagonist for mentoring and volunteering and doing those 10,000 hours of civic engagement I proved that it offers life-confirming experiences, builds belonging to community and makes your life richer and healthier.

To companies my advice: engage fully with youth workers and associations – this can strengthen your diverse and inclusive company culture based on giving and, at the same time, cultivating young people’s professional choices and prepare their workforce for tomorrow.

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In other words, if companies engage more with local youth NGOs, schools, universities, they build up their future workforce based on real engaging experiences, beyond career fairs and open-door days. How diverse are our networks really? Therefore the encouragement! Working with Finnish youth is important (I have worked in the area for 4 years) and I can tell you, there are 70 000 young people, who are outside employment, education, and training, and at risk of social exclusion. In a country of high human capital, young people need to find their own paths to recognize their potential. Youth workers are doing their job but that too has to be changed in order to build stronger identities from an early age, who we are, what we can, and how to reach it. Only then these young future leaders can become creators of world-class solutions to change the lives of millions of others around the world. That is my rationale to work with Finnish youth; to think in 10x proportions, exponential social impact. But I can tell you more about it in another article.

If you Look the Other Way

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As you read above there many initiatives being done on every level. Yet we have a lot of everyday racism, ignorance besides the last elections, which drag Finland the other way when it comes to building a positive image of Finnish employer brand and Finnish workplace cultures. Few campaigns raise the issue of racism in the workplace and taking a stand against prejudices and negative attitudes. Yes, it is a good eye-opener but is it really effective? Moreover, time and time again, I hear that career counselors guide students with minority backgrounds to work in specific sectors e.g. become a caretaker, in a country, which promises social mobility to anyone and encourages to dream big. Why should one’s profession be prescribed based on one’s cultural background, race or gender?

Any work with D&I is going to be DIY – do it yourself and with a range of stakeholders. For me working with academia and linking them to NGOs, companies and the public sector has been a good way to find out concepts and strategies, which channel leaders in the right direction. Government alone can’t fix the problem, neither do NGOs, companies nor researchers. But together with finding the right partner in making your diversity and inclusion game run faster, experimenting and expanding the social capital of your organization is key.

Some facts to remember:

  • 1.  D&I have to be part of a company’s business strategy, i.e. ambition for diversity should be part of the company’s growth.
  • 2.  Show diversity and inclusion in action through clear values and meaningful employee experiences
  • 3. Make social capital relevant for employees in your quest for diversity and inclusion
  • 4. What gets measured gets done
  • 5. Be bold! Make diversity and inclusion contagious by sharing your DIY story

My fellow experts and I aspire to see and help build Finnish future workplaces, where no one feels excluded, where diversity is an ability and social capital is a currency to build trust with one another. I invite each of you to do as much as you can to build, lead, or influence such winning teams and company cultures where employees can belong and thrive. Because only when they have psychological safety in the workplace and they matter and they belong, can they give the very best of themselves.

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