Published January 2018 by Stefano Baldani
The true power of diversity
How often have you heard somebody in the workplace talking about diversity and the importance of respecting others’ opinions? I have many times, but over the course of the last few months I have definitely come to the conclusion that the true power of diversity is released not only when we simply “respect” or “accept” differences but we value them as changing agents. Diversity cannot be defined as a simple program or a marketing operation. Extracting the essence of diversity means discover, nurture, foster and support all talent, independently of not only backgrounds, age, sex but also personalities or points of view. And Arla is doing so by encouraging new ideas, harboring different approaches of thinking and behavior, but also supporting a more flexible work environment which enables the growth of different types of leaders.
The efforts of the F15 Programme
Many people have asked me why I have decided to join Arla and the F15 Programme. And one of the key reasons was the importance given to diversity that I had experienced in the company. I was happily surprised by the great efforts regarding the establishment of a real culture of inclusion that would ultimately unleash the true potential of all our colleagues across the globe. And I believe this is the true essence of the F15 Programme. If I look at my cohort, I don’t only see 11 different nationalities, but I also see very different working styles, personalities and educational backgrounds and working experiences. And it does feel truly refreshing.
When joining the programme you are asked to become a change ambassador during your three different rotations. You are prompted to bring your own uniqueness to the business through which you will not only be able to build positive relationships but also create an innovative direction by becoming a new Arla leader. And you are also expected to take on a challenging responsibility to deliver results while developing yourself and others around you. But trust me, it does not get more fantastic than feeling you are making a difference by being yourself.
But how do you actually do it?
1) Be authentic and don’t be afraid of showing who you really are. Engaged with a positive attitude and an open mind you should always be ready to stand up for what you believe is right. Accept that diversity and change can be uncomfortable and scary for some individuals, but find a way to show the real benefits of your ideas. Don’t fight, explain.
2) Value your diversity as a source of strength to achieve results. Share your culture and your views in a non-judgmental way and while you do so uncover that competitive advantage that only you, as a unique individual, can bring to the table. Try to understand how to use your diversity as a special tool to reach goals in a way that only you can.
3) Question your biases derived by your ethnocentrism. Do not take for granted that everything you know or you have heard is true. Unfortunately, we live in times were fake news are easily spread but it is your responsibility to take the time to validate your knowledge on others’ culture and opinions. Do not jump to conclusions based on prejudices too fast.
4) Step out of your comfort zone and get exposed to new people and behaviors. Observe, ask, listen, listen and listen again. Use perception checking and get feedback often. Think before act and understand the reasons behind others’ behaviors before reacting to it.
My personal experience in the USA
Over the last four months I have had the chance to experience my first rotation in logistics development at Arla Foods USA, whose head office in Basking Ridge, New Jersey is only one hour away from New York City. According to the latest statistics, more than 37 percent of NYC residents (around 3 million people) were born in another country. In less than 30 years, what was a city with a population of primarily European origins has now become a place with no dominant race/ethnic or nationality group. And it is in melting pots like NYC where you can understand how amazingly well diversity can co-exist. The Statue of Liberty is a great reminder that you should always feel free to be whoever you want to be.
Since the first day in the US office, I truly appreciated that my two host managers and all my colleagues have focused on the needs of me as an individual to guarantee the right circumstances to release my full professional and personal potential. My project is about establishing the future warehouse and logistics footprint in view of the growth expected in the next few years in the North-American market and it was right a couple of months ago when I realized the huge steps Arla has made towards diversity. During a meeting with a potential new American logistics partner, four different nationalities (all with very different personalities) were successfully engaging on behalf of Arla Foods USA to ensure the future of the company. I found the occasion truly insightful.
Even if we live in tricky times when being afraid of the different has made some headlines across the world, we cannot forget that demographic trends prove that diversity is here to stay. The real question is whether we will be able to manage it in a positive way rather than a negative force for change in the world around us. And in this sense, I believe the F15 Programme can truly become a unique learning experience.