INSIDE TRACK: Just like in reality TV shows the world over, Volvo is made up of a diverse group of enthusiastic people who, whatever it is that makes them unique individuals, all want to do their best for their audience – the customer
by Brian O’Sullivan
Wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same, had the same opinions, wanted the same things and never disagreed? Of course it would – even the closest, most loving families have arguments – and companies are just the same. The best firms are made up of a wide mixture of backgrounds, beliefs, skills and opinions. Sure, there may be more quarrels than if everyone was exactly the same – but what great solution or invention ever came of ‘group think’? Exactly – questioning and challenging ideas is the vital spark that leads to superior products and services – and happy customers.
A business is only as good as the people who work in it and research shows that talented and engaged employees are prepared to go the extra mile in order to do their best for customers. This, in turn, leads to more satisfied customers, greater financial success (for both customers and the company) and more resources available to spur yet more innovation – it’s a virtuous cycle.
There are lots of factors that attract talented people to companies – but few are more important than fostering a diverse and inclusive corporate culture. Who wants to work for a company where their views and contribution is not valued? Being truly open to everyone not only attracts people from a host of different backgrounds, beliefs and abilities, it also welcomes and respects their contribution.
Our customers come in all shapes and sizes, with differing backgrounds, beliefs and experiences – and as a business Volvo CE needs to reflect that. Gone are the days when the company consisted mostly of white middle-aged Swedish men – today’s Volvo CE is made up of a smorgasbord of different nationalities, ages and genders. While this is great, diversity isn’t limited to just these factors – there is a whole rainbow of other facets that make us the unique individuals we are, and Volvo wants to reflect that diversity in its employee base.
“For us, diversity means everything that makes us different to each other,” says Kelley Dameron, Vice President of Talent Management, whose job it is to make sure that Volvo CE’s next star employee is not just hired – but shines to their greatest potential. “It includes obvious things such as age, ethnicity and physical appearance – but also less obvious elements of our personal make-up, such as thinking styles, religion, nationality, sexual orientation and education. When we have a truly diverse workforce there is great potential for new ideas and innovation.”
While attracting multicultural people with a broad range of attributes is a necessary element in creating a high performing culture, on its own it is not sufficient. All the good work of being diverse is undone if some people are excluded or feel their opinions and ideas are not listened
to or valued.
“The ‘sweet spot’ we are trying to achieve is to have diversity and inclusion,” says Dameron. “Being more inclusive gives all employees a sense of belonging and being accepted for who they are, turbocharging the power of their experience and ideas for the benefit of the company – and its customers.
“We are working hard to create a supporting, inclusive culture, one that works together and makes the most of our differences (and similarities) for the benefit of everyone. When you achieve this, great ideas get heard, there is a lot of innovation, happier customers – and higher job satisfaction.”
Being inclusive is not always as easy as it sounds – and takes work. Making impartial decisions, listening without judgement and actively choosing to include others requires conscious effort. Did you know that most of our values and beliefs are firmly established by the time we are 10 years old (e.g. boys don’t cry, girls wear pink, etc.)? Whether we like it or not, each of us is a mass of biases – things we like, things we don’t, things we believe in – or don’t. These quite natural prejudgments work away at the back of minds, subtly shaping our actions and decisions.
Volvo CE holds an annual Diversity & Inclusion week that puts the topics on everyone’s agenda. As part of the program, employees are encouraged to examine their implicit associations, stereotypes and biases, and discuss in groups the type of thinking needed to make better, more impartial decisions. “This will help us be open to ideas no matter who brings them up,” says Dameron. “It’s about awareness. The techniques we show can be as simple as inviting input from someone in a meeting who hasn’t yet spoken.”
When we are competing for talent against the likes of Google and Apple, will Volvo’s efforts to be as diverse and inclusive as it can help it be seen as a cool place to work? “Of course,” she says. “Our products literally help make the world a better place – and that appeals to everyone, whoever they are. We are a market leader, and innovator with a great reputation for serving our customers well and doing the right thing. There is much for talented people of all kinds to find interesting and attractive at Volvo CE.”