The power of inclusive workplaces

Published 6 February 2020
Have you been frustrated in a meeting where you were not asked for your opinion or were talked over? Or have you felt pressure to fit in? Feeling included in the workplace makes a difference – in our wellbeing, but also in team performance.

One of the biggest fears for human beings has always been to be excluded. A few thousand years ago, exclusion meant that you could not participate in the hunting and sharing of wild game, which was a question of survival. Today, exclusion can present itself as discrimination, harassment, and bullying which are all serious threats to a healthy and productive workplace.

“We are each other’s work environment: if it’s not safe, it’s just as dangerous as if a machine doesn’t work properly,” says Per Lyrvall, Executive Vice President, HR and Legal at Stora Enso. “People should feel supported and respected for who they are – and empowered to thrive at their job. It’s a question of health and wellbeing but also us being able to hire and keep talented people in the company.”

Everyone who works for Stora Enso must live by our values of “Lead” and “Do what’s right” but that does not mean we want everyone to think in the same way. Diverse work teams consisting of people of different ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds, for example, foster innovation and enable more informed decision making. New team members with different views can also point out questionable ways of working that others may not notice anymore.

“Diversity makes us stronger as a company, but it’s inclusion that makes it possible for us to really hear all those diverse voices,” says Lyrvall. “When people feel safe to share their thoughts and different perspectives, teams collaborate better and make better decisions.”

Meeting challenges head on

Stora Enso has a zero tolerance for exclusion, harassment, and other inappropriate behaviour. They exist nonetheless, and every case is one too many.

“There are still too many people in our company who feel that they are not respected for their professionality but rather as representatives of their gender or cultural background, for example,” says Lyrvall. “We’ve also had cases of sexual harassment, where positions of power have been misused. This type of behaviour is absolutely unacceptable and disciplinary actions have been taken against those who behaved this way.

“We also expect respectful behaviour from our business partners. We’re not afraid to stir the pot or have direct discussions with them to raise awareness of a changing business environment. There was a case where a supplier published discriminatory marketing material, and we made sure the supplier understood our view on this unacceptable practice. The supplier discontinued the production of the material.”

More awareness and better listening

So, what can we do to end inappropriate behaviour altogether and create a workplace where everyone feels safe and valued?

“While everyone has a role in making their workplace more inclusive, it’s also a question of leadership,” Lyrvall says. “Team leaders and managers must listen up to understand how people are doing and make sure that everyone feels part of the team. But it’s also a great opportunity to make the team more productive.”

We are also investing in raising more awareness of inclusion within Stora Enso through internal campaigns targeted at all our employees, and by providing managers with discussion points, background materials, and concrete examples of what is acceptable behaviour and what is not – and what the consequences of breaking the rules can be.

“Sometimes inclusion requires effort: we must be ready and willing – and feel safe – to speak up when we see excluding or inappropriate behaviour. Stora Enso has several channels that our employees and other stakeholders can use to report this type of misconduct,” Lyrvall says. “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t need to be complicated: inclusion can start with a smile and by listening to each other.”