Let diversity be part of our collective future

September 9th, 2014

thumbnail 100x100By Mattias Nord, Kenneth Johansson and others

More and more companies and organizations are realizing the importance of working with diversity in their businesses. The reasons may be different, but it is sure that we are paving the way for an increase in community development through strategic diversity programs. We want to ensure that we incorporate this important issue in our collective future.

Today’s [Swedish] society is facing major challenges and unequal access to various social forums is one of them. It could be exclusion from the housing market because a name sounds different than Svensson, it can be exclusion from a network if you haven’t lived at a residence for 10 years or more, there may be exclusion from the labour market because “birds of the same feather flock together.” This does not only result in negative consequences for the individual, but may constitute discrimination. It also means that we miss out on a nice neighbour, a new business contact and a development idea for the company.

Diversity is all the ways in which we humans are different. There are visible factors such as gender, age, visible disabilities or ethnicity but also invisible differences such as sexual orientation, education, experiences, invisible disabilities, and attitudes and opinions. There are several studies that indicate that focus on diversity within companies and organizations results in a more engaged workplace. This in itself can lead to increased growth but also reduced absenteeism, increased customer satisfaction and retaining a skilled workforce, which in themselves are economically important factors in a workplace.

One size does not fit all

A key to openness and diversity in the workplace and society at large is that we stop limiting our understanding of people on the basis of first impressions filtered through our prejudices and replace it with a culture that allows employees and fellow citizens to use their skills, capabilities and perspectives and express their different needs. Different people with different views allows for questioning, challenging and development activities as well as a broader recruitment base that gives access to the whole workforce and not just parts of it, whether it be a service, a health care business or a political party.

The needs that can be met with increased openness and diversity are many and various activities can testify for that. However, individual organizations have varied needs and one size does not fit all. Each would need to analyze what their needs are, how deficiencies can be rectified or how they can implement a diversity strategy.

Research also shows that in addition to increased growth for an individual company, openness and diversity is also a prerequisite for the development of whole regions as an increased range of services and cultural initiatives follow in their wake along with highly educated people. Added to this is the very serious development across Europe of right-wing populist and extremist parties gaining ground. Hence, to counter them, it is more important than ever to embrace democratic values, diversity and openness.

To create a national forum to expand the diversity agenda, a collaborative initiative was started in June in Karlstad with several partners. We are confident that talks across sectors, a knowledge base, inspiration and good examples are just part of what is needed to manage diversity and meet one of the biggest challenges to our future.

This opinion was first published on the IFS website in Swedish and this edited translation is reproduced here with permission. The people who have signed it off are: Mattias Nord, CEO Visit Karlstad; Hans Olsson, Chairman of board Brottsförebyggande Centrum i Värmland; Kenneth Johansson, Senator of Värmland; Jan Scherman, debater and founder of  Oss alla; Anna Lundmark Lundbergh, CEO Almi Företagspartner Värmland; Johan Engström, branch chief of Swedbank Karlstad; Ulf Sandlund, CEO Ninetech; Tomas Fogdö, advisor; and Johan Plate, advisor.

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