Pia Höök leads D&I at the Swedish construction and project development company Skanska. Skanska has approximately 40,000 employees in the Nordics, Central Europe, the UK, and the US. We asked Pia to share her experiences about designing global D&I policies and about how it is to advance D&I in one of the world’s most gender equal countries.
JL: Would you tell us what your role is, and where your position is located in the organization?
PH: I am Senior Sustainability Manager at Skanska, so in my current role I head up our global diversity and inclusion as well as community investments. But when I first joined Skanska in 2012, I worked 50 percent in a global role and 50 percent dedicated to Skanska Sweden. That was quite interesting because in the global role I set expectations on myself in the local role.
JL: Given that special role, how would you describe the challenges and solutions of drafting a global D&I policy?
PH: I think the challenge with any global strategy is that it has to make sense to all different markets. You need to find a balance between direction in what we want to achieve or how we want to work, and freedom to adapt things for the local context, to grow local ownership and commitment. You need to be humble and accept that the framework you develop at your headquarters might not fit in another context, most probably it doesn't, at least not 100 percent.
JL: How have you approached this in practice?
PH: Well the strategy that we set is pretty generic. It does have clear focus areas but also enough freedom to ensure local units can plan meaningful actions in their contexts. So the strategy doesn't say what the outcome of each focus area should be, it just gives you enough direction to know where to look.
One focus area in the strategy could be “recruit from a diverse talent pool.” What that looks like—and what diversity aspects the focus is on and in relation to which job category—depends on the local setting. For example, in one country the primary focus could be on gender, while in another it could be ethnicity. In other international companies, this could look very different. For us the local context matters a lot.
"You need to find a balance between direction in what we want to achieve or how we want to work, and freedom to adapt things for the local context...You need to be humble and accept that the framework you develop at your headquarters might not fit in another context..."
JL: Do you have a specific example of a situation where the local context impacted your work?
PH: Yes, to me it was quite interesting how the #MeToo movement traveled across the world and how it grew really strong in the Swedish context. It especially grew important in relation to work life. Basically every industry in Sweden has their own #MeToo movement...And the focus here was not so much pinpointing some bad guys, it has been more on highlighting systemic inequities.
I would say by [and] large, that the #MeToo movement opened a very constructive discussion about the more systemic things in work life, like intended and unintended exclusionary practices. In most other markets, it was obvious that #MeToo hadn't at all created the same impact there. Here we have worked with gender equality for such a long time and we have come such a far way that we were ready for these discussions. And, of course, as a company we have to be ready to take part. So while #MeToo is a global movement, the effects on our work have been somewhat different in different contexts.
"I would say by [and] large, that the #MeToo movement opened a very constructive discussion about the more systemic things in work life, like intended and unintended exclusionary practices."
JL: Is there something else you think D&I professionals working in other countries could find surprising in your work in Sweden?
PH: What people might find surprising is this gender aspect. The whole society has bought into this and you couldn't really run your business and not address gender questions. And here gender equality truly is about both genders, or all genders. If we discuss parental leave, it's not about how do we make it easier for women to have a career and have children. Doing that you would be frowned upon like, ‘What planet are you from?’ Discussing parental leave is also about men. It is about men becoming fathers and taking paternity leave. So this interest in gender, in combination with the social infrastructure with free childcare, free school, free university and free elderly care and… I mean, [it’s] free [because it is] paid with taxes! I think these are things people would find surprising.
JL: Could one think that promoting D&I in the Nordic context is easier, that society and companies share some of the workload?
PH: Yes. Definitely. You have a lot of things working for you. It is easier for a company to promote women when society pushes it in general. But I also think people would find it quite surprising that even though we have so much working for us we still are not more successful. We also have obvious room for improvement, on many levels. We still have gender pay gaps and there are more men than women in senior level positions. Women also do more of the unpaid care work. I think that would be surprising to people.
JL: What is the most important bastion to focus on? What needs to change?
PH: What we need is to engage even more people into advancing equality. Especially in the private sector, there is room for improvement [in that regard.] And I would say that the reason we aren’t fully there yet is what one could call old habits. Every organization has a culture and ways of working that often go a long way back and it is so easy to just adapt to the old way of behaving and acting. To break that you need to have a level of awareness and you need to have a sincere will to break it and change it. In society at large, the level of awareness and general knowledge has increased step by step, and that has created an impact. But it is not until in the last five or 10 years that companies in the private sector sincerely have wanted to see a change. In the last years, something has happened and now companies do take it more seriously. Today, the capital market and investors are starting to care about diversity and inclusion, and that also creates change.
" If we discuss parental leave, it's not about how do we make it easier for women to have a career and have children. Doing that you would be frowned upon like, ‘What planet are you from?’ Discussing parental leave is also about men. It is about men becoming fathers and taking paternity leave."
JL: Looking back on your career, what advice would you give a young colleague moving into D&I?
PH: I would advise anyone moving into a role to secure top executive commitment. That is really, really important. You need to feel that a person truly committed to this area, and willing to take some risks, backs you. This is a more difficult topic than other topics. Part of your job is to expose and change systemic inequities that have a concrete impact on people. This evokes feelings. On one hand some people might get provoked and upset because they don’t want change; on the other hand, some are frustrated because change isn’t quick enough. It might be a bumpy ride and changing behavior is always difficult. For you to manage all of that, you need to be sure you have committed, courageous leaders above you.
JL: Is there anything that people tend to get wrong or ignore about your job?
PH: What we struggle with in this area—and that's why I also welcome this magazine [D&I in Practice]—is that it's not always seen as an area of expertise in itself. The assumption is that if you're a woman or if you're a minority, then you can do this job. The thing people don't realize is that this is a complex area. It requires understanding how inequities are systemically ingrained in our organizational practices, and it's a lot about change management. Part of that is building and leveraging a business case. When you work with this topic, you work with the core of the organization. It's not something separate on the side. D&I is connected to the deepest level of the organization’s culture, structures and people.
Diversity Doers is a monthly D&I In Practice original by Jonna Louvrier. Each month, Jonna features a different global D&I leader who is making a difference in furthering equality around the world. If you have a suggestion for someone you would like Jonna to interview, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.