Volvo Group is one of more than fifty leading European companies in the industrial and technological sector that have signed on to the first pan-European commitment of its kind, promoting inclusion and diversity in the workplace.
To be committed to create the right environment and conditions for all employees to reach their full potential – that is the promise. The pledge, called #EmbraceDifference, states that diversity is not just about gender, race, sexual orientation or disability. It is about welcoming a full range of talents from across the entire spectrum of society.
#EmbraceDifference is an initiative by the European Round Table of Industrialists, a forum bringing together around 55 chief executives and chairpersons of major multinational companies. The pledge is summarized in six topics: An inclusive culture, inclusive leadership, aspiration and goal setting, clear responsibility, equal opportunities, and societal engagement and responsibility.
For more than a decade, Volvo Group has worked systematically to increase inclusion and improve the gender balance of the organization. With an ambitious target of 35 % female leaders by 2030, and a broad variety of initiatives designed to work towards that target, the Group is striving to move the needle towards increased gender equality, bit by bit on a daily basis. Why? Because an equal world is an enabled world.
“In the Volvo Group, we work actively to promote gender equality not only because it is ‘fair’ and ‘the right thing to do’, but because it is essential for our business performance. Equality is not a women's concern, it's a business concern. Ensuring an inclusive culture and a diverse workforce will have a positive impact on our productivity, our efficiency and our ability to innovate. Increased gender equality will also strengthen employee engagement, enhance our ability to attract talents, and boost our reputation as a company,” says Diana Niu, Executive Vice President HR, Volvo Group sharing the 2020 International Women’s Day theme #EachforEqual.
We are more creative in diverse environments – that is one reason why diversity is so important in a workplace. And when everyone in a group feels safe to express their ideas, the group actually performs better.
People tend to trust people who are like themselves. And even if that bias is not meant to be hurtful, it causes an exclusive environment that inhibits creativity. At Volvo Group these questions are highly prioritized and discussed in workshops that are held on a regular basis and called Diversity & Inclusion Labs. The purpose of the Labs is to challenge the participants’ unconscious bias.
One of the Labs facilitator explains: “We work harder, think more and are more inspired in diverse environments. And, if we also feel included, we don’t hold back with our ideas or energy. Studies show that homogeneous teams have the impression that they are very efficient. But, in laboratory tests, mixed teams had far better results even though they had the impression that the process was not as smooth and less efficient.”
In most countries and industries, there are fewer women than men in the fields of engineering. This does not stop Mina Mirhendi, standardization engineer at Volvo Group, to aim for the top. “I feel that Volvo Group gives me this opportunity,” she says.
Mina moved to Gothenburg from Iran to study materials engineering and joined Volvo Group in 2017.
“Before I joined, my perception was that it is a high-tech company, and this has proven to be accurate. I’ve discovered that there is also a strong sense of teamwork, trust and mutual respect. Volvo Group gives its employees room to develop.”
Mina describes her job as very challenging, but she is ready to do what it takes to continue develop.
“One day, I would like to become an expert in my field of technology. To achieve this, I need to constantly improve my knowledge and be able to contribute ideas on what can be improved in my field,” she concludes.
Growing up, Elinore Axelsson was one of those kids who loved everything science related: physics, math, mechanics – she found it all fascinating. “When I was 15 and about to apply for the natural science program at high school, I went to see the guidance counselor and she said, ‘don’t do it, it’s probably going to be too hard for you’,” Elinore says.
“She knew nothing about my grades or me – her assumptions were based on the little blonde girl sitting in front of her. But her words didn’t knock my confidence; in fact, they made me even more determined!” Elinore went on to study civil engineering at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. She joined Volvo Group in 1995 and since then she has held seven different positions across the organization.
“What continues to motivate me to this day is my ability to influence the place I work, to continuously learn new things, and work with people,” she says. “If I could speak to my 15-year-old self, I’d reassure her that she was on the right path, tell her to believe in herself, and never be afraid to work hard to achieve her goals.”
Are you curious about what it is like to be a LGBT person at Volvo Group? Listen to Volvo Group employee Nathalie Fontaine’s eye opening Group Talk on openness, trust and respect. Group Talks is a learning tool provided by Volvo Group University to spread knowledge and inspiring stories shared by Volvo Group employees around the world, in a format inspired by the “TED Talk” experience.
Laurent Chauvin, vice president of Governance, has been with the company for 20 years. He feels that Volvo Group is a respectful and safe environment in which people can feel at ease about being themselves at work, including being open about their sexuality. In the company’s Code of Conduct it is clearly outlined that discrimination based on “who you are”, including your sexual orientation, is unacceptable.
“Feeling supported is key,” says Laurent and mentions V-EAGLE, Volvo Group’s global LGBTQ+ network established 15 years ago as a first in the industrial technology sector. The network provides support for employees and has developed a guide for managers with the intention of facilitating dialogue and improving understanding and workplace inclusion.
People’s private lives intersect with their professional ones on a daily basis. Being secretive about who you are creates distance between colleagues and can even affect productivity.
“When we start our week at the coffee machine with our colleagues, we all discuss our weekends and mention our families. After I came out to my team, they were relieved because not only did they feel that they knew me better, but they also felt they could now discuss their personal issues with me,” says Laurent. “In turn, both team spirit and efficiency were improved starting with me being open. Being transparent is empowering for everyone.”
Hiring a minimum of five per cent of employees with disabilities is Volvo Group Brazil’s priority – good for both the company’s business and the community.
Rafaela de Camargo who works at Volvo Group’s site in Curitiba is one of many employees who communicate using sign language. There to help her is a specially assigned employee who is fluent in Brazilian sign language and one of those responsible for assisting employees with special needs.
One of the more successful hires is Jose Claro Melo, a blind operator who uses his advanced sense of touch to find imperfections in paint and bodywork.
“They told me they were having trouble finding defects and they asked me to try it out and I did. Blind people are often restricted in job opportunities but at the Volvo Group I have gained widespread respect. This work has made me an example for other blind people,” he says.
“Just like Jose sees things that other people can’t see, deaf people are often able to concentrate better because they don’t hear distractions. It’s always hard to generalize, but the work they do is exceptional,” concludes the training manager.
What can a young employee teach an experienced manager? Reverse mentoring is, as the name suggests, a mentorship that reverses roles.
Maria Bergving and Joel Laestadius are one of seven pairs taking part in Volvo Group’s reverse mentoring pilot project. Though Maria Bergving is a member of the executive management team at Volvo Trucks and has far more professional experience, Joel Laestadius is the mentor.
The objective is to stimulate curiosity among leaders, encourage development and bridge generation gaps. The older person learns about digitalization, new ways to work and other things that interest the younger generation. The younger mentor has the opportunity to develop his network and share the senior person’s experience.
Joel Laestadius, who is involved in purchasing logistics services for the Volvo Group, is convinced that the two can learn a great deal from each other.
“Sharing knowledge does not have to take place from the top and down in an organization, it can also move in the other direction,” he says.