HAUSKA & PARTNER - Diversity and inclusion have to come from genuine commitment

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Diversity column by Croatian Diversity Charter ambassador, Hauska & partner CEO for Croatia, Daria Mateljak

Why and since when does your company believe and invest in diversity management?

In a way Hauska & Partner has cultivated diversity since our beginnings. However, it was specifically articulated some 13 years ago when we scanned our corporate values and Diversity came out as one of them which is somehow cherished and shared by the team. Diversity is also well-aligned with our other corporate values and forms the genuine character of our company. Over the years we developed our understanding and respect for diversity in many ways. As a consulting firm we believe that it is our responsibility to be open-minded, inclusive and embrace diversity as an innovation driver. Consulting from the position of diversity also enabled us to suggest diversity development and inclusion behavior to our clients. 

What aspects of diversity management have the highest priority in your company?

Since we are a small company, there are challenges related to prioritizing some aspects of diversity. For example, we operate in an industry in which female colleagues take part of approximately 75 percent of workforce and it is difficult to realize gender balance. So we learned that our most important principle is to combat any form of discrimination and to enable equality to all our employees, but also other stakeholders with whom we create relations. This means that our approach is both to ensure equality and foster differences as richness. 

Which D&I activities have been implemented in your organization so far?

One of the interesting aspects is that we approach all colleagues as individuals with their particular values, strengths, talents, backgrounds, expertise. Therefore we apply the principle of employing people with different views, knowledge, background, habits, characteristics. Managing by diverse strengths enables us to create a co-working and collaborating environment. Our culture is all-inclusive, which means that participation in company ownership is open to all colleagues and that all of us participate in setting strategies and creating new approach or innovations. On the equality side, we have advanced approach that regardless of any characteristic, everybody is fully included and is an equal team member. Project leaders can be selected from various positions and responsibility levels. Since diversity is incorporated and integrated in our management processes, so far we did not have a need to have a separate diversity policy but we are presently developing one.  

Many companies aren't prioritizing inclusion and diversity initiatives right now. Why should they reconsider?

There are many reasons. I would say that first we should start from respecting employees and other stakeholder. If you, as a company, respect someone, you should consider that individual or group with all their specific characteristics. This angle contains catering to specific needs and covers the human rights perspective. Next level is not only to show respect and assure inclusion, but also to recognize advantages of each group or individual. People who are different, when gathered together to cooperate bring diverse views, sensitivities, habits, communication styles and understanding. This level embraces also risk management and goes beyond inclusion into the territory of wiser management. The ultimate level brings innovation and creating better relations, better environments to work and collaborate and consequently helps develop responsible and sustainable practices for the company. In this level companies which foster diversity can be closer to their customers, create more enjoyable working environments  and overall be more responsive to the society and can contribute better to the economy and the preservation of the environment. Such companies create better base for their own success but also for the success of all their stakeholders. 

In your opinion, what tangible benefits does diversity bring to your company?

Higher quality of distribution of responsibility and chances to participate in various segments of company operations can influence employee satisfaction. We are far from perfect and are working on improvements. Cultivating diverse approaches enables us to expand our portfolio of services and provide better consulting to our clients. We always select the mix of diverse team members for all client projects, depending on our consultants’ specific diverse characteristics, know-how, experience, creative edge and skills. In this way we constantly learn and innovate and are capable to create high-level of services for our clients. All this brings tangible effects to the company stability, ability to adapt and develop services, capability to provide high quality and our overall operations. 

Can you name three diversity challenges that companies have to pay attention to?

Trend vs. real commitment. Diversity is perceived as something “in” right now, something that “advanced companies do”. If a company feels it should push on diversity because others do so or for any marketing reasons, this is wrong. It has to be lived. Companies with traditional and conservative values have to grow in understanding diversity. Liberal and open-minded companies should learn how to manage their striving. Diversity and inclusion have to come from genuine commitment, which often includes change. Change is usually a painful process. It should never be just about the make-up.  Second trap is process vs. value. If diversity as a value is just managed as a process (or even worse “a project”) then we are doing it wrong. Diversity and inclusion can only be cultivated, not imposed. Just striking “check” on some milestones (created policy, education done, initiatives set, activities performed, etc.) -  is not the point and definitely, not long-term sustainable. The third and the most dangerous one – copy-paste vs. authentic. Companies that just copy success stories from other companies never create genuine change or progress. Diversity and inclusion are such sensitive organizational themes that they are never the same in even two similar companies, because they strike strongly into the heart and flesh of the corporate culture. They are about behaviors, organizational character, communication style, openness to adaptations, change or innovation. If actions are copied and not grown from inside the organization, they are faked and not authentic. Stakeholders instinctively recognize this failure and company loses trust.

Bottomline, it is easy to write a diversity and inclusion policy, it is easy to muster an action plan. What is difficult is whether declared promises can be lived by the company and long-term enhance its sustainability. 

What do you do to convince your colleagues to see the value in diversity management, or even more to truly get them on board?

Honestly, we as a company are presently undergoing a painful period of asserting our authenticity. This includes diversity and inclusion. We are a small company, but striving to improve and develop according to our values. Buy-in always depends on management commitment. Growing leadership within the organization is challenging. For us, leadership means respecting our colleagues’ diverse characteristics. Presently we are strongly focused on individual roles, growing capabilities, supporting team members. As an organizational consultant to large organizations I always insist on developing and growing corporate values and living them from the top leaders, setting the stance, the tune, the example. Living values cannot be faked. With diversity and inclusion we always come back to the roots – either you engage and include, you foster openness and exchange of experiences and knowledge within your organization or you don’t. Leaders’ behavior always sets the first important framework and style.

Ultimately, my personal belief is that diversity is not that much about the “feeling what is right to do about including because it’s a standard”, it is much more about genuine thinking, approach, belief and lifestyle. Personal and within an organization.