Profile in Disruption: Standing Still Is NOT an Option

April 23, 2015Meet: Pia Höök, Global Diversity Manager for Skanska Group, a global project development and construction company concentrated on home markets in Europe and North America.

Vision for change: At Skanska, we want to mirror the diversity in society on all levels of our organization, and we want our leaders to be excellent in fostering an inclusive work culture. People seldom have trouble understanding the first part of the vision. It is obvious and clear. It is about being in tune with the society and your clients/customer base, making use of the full talent pool available. The second part on leadership and inclusion sparks more questions: What characterizes an inclusive work culture? What does it take from leaders to create this work culture?

Together with Skanska’s Senior Executive Team (SET), we’ve developed a D&I vision, strategy, and D&I Change Journey Map to move Skanska forward. During the last year, the commitment to D&I has been communicated with films and clear messages. A community of Inclusion Advocates (senior line managers) has been set up to secure management commitment and active work on Business Unit level. To provide additional input and advice to SET on matters related to inclusive leadership and culture, there is also Skanska SWAG (Senior Women Advisory Group). Finally, an inclusive toolbox, promoting safe conversations on inclusion/exclusion has been launched, to anchor change efforts in the everyday life of Skanska employees.  

Inclusive leadership and why it’s important. In our internal work at Skanska, we use three main sources of research to explain why inclusive leadership is so important to us and how we can progress. Catalyst’s Inclusive Leadership research shows that employees who feel more included at work are more likely to be innovative and better team players. It also identifies four leadership behaviors that predict whether or not employees felt included: Empowerment; Accountability; Courage; and Humility. In addition, we build on the Diversity and Inclusion Graph found in the book The Guide for Inclusive Leaders (Curl and Schmitz 2006) and the work of organizational researcher Sarah Rutherford, especially Organizational Culture, Women Managers and Exclusion, in Women in Management Review vol. 8 (2002), and Women’s Work, Men’s Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). All sources are key in creating conversation that increases awareness among senior managers.

Changing behavior AND organizational culture: Up until recently, our main focus was on attracting and recruiting diverse candidates. Building the base was seen as enough. However, after learning from our own experiences and from research such as those mentioned above, we’ve come to realize we also need to work on creating inclusive workplaces.

Our conversations on inclusion often start on a basic level: the focus is on preventing overt exclusionary behavior. That’s an important first step. However, to some extent that is the easy part, as almost everyone can agree that overt exclusion is wrong. The next step is more difficult. It means revealing hidden exclusionary practices in the culture (hidden in the sense that it is not visible to the dominant group). This is where the work of Sarah Rutherford (2002, 2011) comes in handy, and we use her framework from a broader diversity perspective. Rutherford has identified various concrete areas in a work culture that can exclude women, for instance.

1) Physical Layout/Equipment. Our workplaces consist of buildings, rooms, furniture, equipment, etc., designed to accommodate those who have historically worked in them, i.e., men. At Skanska, we addressed this by, for instance, guaranteeing access to proper work clothes, safety gear, and changing rooms and shower facilities for both men and women.

2) Work hours. Many women, and to an increasing extent also men, have care-taking responsibilities at home that make it difficult to participate in work that requires fixed and/or long hours. Several business units at Skanska have started to promote more flexible work hours. Some are also instituting guidelines for communication (for instance, not sending emails on the weekend, when most people are with their families).

3) Informal Socializing. Informal socializing among members of majority groups often gives rise to informal networks, which can limit career opportunities for diverse candidates, particularly in organizations that don’t use open posting of available jobs. At Skanska, we have an open posting policy to counteract the effects of informal socializing. Also we work to increase awareness of unconscious biases.

Making intentional effort to #DisruptTheDefault. Inclusive leadership is not only acting inclusively, but also driving systematic change: to be willing, knowledgeable, and courageous enough to challenge the status quo. Inclusive leaders are those who choose to improve—both in terms of their individual behavior as well as organizational practices and procedures.

Watch Skanska’s newly appointed EVP US talk about diversity and inclusion.

Watch Skanska’s Senior Executive Team talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion.

Watch this recent recruiting video from The Royal Institute of Technology targeting women students (a viral success)

Join Pia and other “disruptors” in saying “no” to the status quo by taking our pledge today!


The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.