IKEA: gender equality is a fundamental human right

Sari Brody, Global Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Ingka Group (IKEA), reveals how the company’s strategy for gender equality and bridging the gender pay gap is having a positive impact around the world.

Furniture giant IKEA is committed to creating a better everyday life for all and not just with its popular flat-pack furniture and home accessories.

This multi-national company – Ingka Group – has made great strides in promoting gender equality and set goals of reaching 50:50 by 2020 in all functions and levels of the organisation around the globe. It has also set the same target date for equal pay.

IKEA champions equality

“We believe that equality is a fundamental human right,” says Sari Brody, Global Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Ingka Group, one of 11 different groups of companies that own and operate IKEA sales channels under franchise agreements with Inter IKEA Systems B.V. “Men and women should both be treated fairly and be given equal opportunities.

“What we found, not surprisingly, is that equality is good for our co-workers, for customers and our business. Research shows that when people feel included at work they are more engaged and perform better.”

Gender equality is now part of Ingka Group’s business strategy and a top priority. The results speak for themselves. Currently, women make up 52% of the workforce and 49% of managers.

Equality is not just about numbers

“We are pretty close to reaching equality in all locations, but we know that some of the functions are still male-dominated while others are female-dominated,” Sari explains.

“For example, Logistics is more male-dominated and Human Resources is more female dominated. Also, different countries have different experiences, for example, IKEA Retail Russia and IKEA Retail China have more women in management positions. They were asking if that’s considered reaching our goal. Well, reaching our goal means creating a balance and, where there is an imbalance, it’s important to understand the reason why and to aim to set goals to reach it.”

She is keen to point out that gender equality is not just about numbers, adding: “If the numbers are equal, but the culture is such that women need to behave like men, then we have not accomplished anything.”

Sari knows full well the effect this can have, having experienced it first-hand during her four-year compulsory military service in Israel. Although an officer and the first female human resources manager in the paratrooper division, she felt that she had to behave like a man – including wearing the male uniform – in order to be taken seriously.

It was a light bulb moment that switched her on to the importance of fairness, equality and being true to who you are. On leaving the army, Sari studied social psychology and cultural diversity before joining a consultancy. IKEA was one of their clients, and she jumped at the chance to switch from consultant to employee. Sari was attracted by the company’s humanistic culture which, she says, “believes in people’s individuality and doesn’t expect me to change who I am”. That was 17 years ago.

>See also: An inclusive, diverse workplace is fundamental for business success at Philip Morris International

Six-steps to gender equality

So, how does an organisation with almost 160,000 employees in 30 different markets, implement a global diversity strategy?

The answer is a systemic approach comprising six steps, which are fully explained in all the company’s documents.

Step one involves establishing the mindset of gender equality. It involves discussing the benefits and the potential barriers with all the top leaders and includes workshops with managers. For step two, all countries and functions are required to conduct an analysis and identify any gaps.

The third step is setting goals for equality. Step four is developing a diversity plan. Creating an inclusive culture is the fifth step.

“This is where we talk about the infrastructure; how you integrate it into recruitment, succession, competence development, mobility benefits, equal pay and all the other practices and systems that enable women to be women and men to be men, or rather they enable everyone to be themselves,” says Sari.

Finally, step six measures progress…

The global framework is adapted to the needs of each country and/or function. Sari explains that, even in countries that are not so equality-friendly, people are attracted to IKEA because they believe in the company’s values. “Even if the local cultural values are not supportive of equality, it’s pretty clear that those are IKEA values,” she says.

Five years ago, Sari’s team launched a network of 80 ambassadors who would focus on promoting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) in their countries. They did it voluntarily, out of a passion for the topic. Their role has now been made formal representing their country and/or function and focusing on ED&I. She works with the ambassadors on setting the global ED&I strategy, and their knowledge helps define specific local needs. Once the strategy is co-developed, an action plan is developed in each country, adapting to the local reality.

Engaging men is key

A key part of getting the buy-in was not simply to set a female agenda, but a gender equality agenda that also engages men. For example, the communications and HR functions tend to be female-dominated, but IKEA is keen to recruit and promote men who may be interested and competent in these fields to reach a balance.

“Also, all the benefits that are good for women are also good for men,” says Sari. “Now we offer paternity leave in many of our countries. Our male co-workers are enjoying it and our business benefits from it as well, because,  we believe change starts at home.

We encourage guys to take paternity leave and to participate in responsibilities at home and at work – diversity benefits everybody; it’s not just isolated to women.”

>See also: Knowing who is in the building is key to inclusivity at MediaCom UK

She has been surprised and delighted in equal measure by the uptake of the various initiatives. For example, IKEA Retail India recognised that there was an issue with safety for women who work after hours and there is now private transportation provided. Child day-care facilities on site are helping women, who would normally have to stay at home, to continue working. The facility is open to men to bring their children.

Also, in IKEA Retail India, IKEA has made part-time work an option, including promotion as a part-timer. In addition, the company is matching the six-months maternity leave for women, provided by the Indian government, to extend it to men.

In Italy, Spain and Portugal, the company has been addressing a worrying trend of domestic violence that has a negative impact on women’s ability to be themselves and be productive at work.

“So, they have all combined resources and collaborated with external organisations to offer some training about domestic violence and support for women who may need to stay away from home until they feel safe,” Sari reveals. “I never thought that this would need to be in the infrastructure to enable equality, but they have focused on what’s relevant to them.

“In Switzerland, they have such a long maternity leave that often, when women return to work, their skills are no longer relevant. We offer re-skilling and retooling for women so that they can join the workforce with the right skills. And so, our offer is now very rich, thanks to what’s special and specific in every country.”

Commitment to equal pay

Turning to gender pay gap reporting, the CEO met with UN women in February last year and signed the Women Empowerment Principles (WEP), that also included equal pay and transparent reporting. Since then, the company has been analysing pay equity in all its operations worldwide. Then, last September, Sari was at the UN in EPIC (Equal Pay International Coalition) where she pledged that Ingka Group would aim for equal pay for work of equal value by 2020.

“All the countries are aware of this global commitment and it is in their goals, in their budget and in their business plan,” she says. “We don’t only look at what you get paid today, we are also looking at the potential issues that might lead to differential payment later and we are accounting for them.”

Another string to IKEA’s bow in promoting gender equality is working in coalitions with other global organisations as one big force for driving the topic forward. For example, there are three coalitions in Romania, Serbia and Croatia, involving global organisations such as L’Oreal, Unilever and Orange.

In Japan, where part-timers were paid an hourly rate half that of a full-time employee, given that most women fell into the first category, it meant they were earning a fraction of what men received.

“We said everyone should get the same hourly pay and we changed our system to reflect it,” Sari explains. “Then we collaborated with the government; we were invited to the President’s house to talk about how we can change society and the way it impacts gender equality.

“Whenever we have the opportunity, we collaborate with local government and, when we don’t, then we create a force with other partners in society and move as a coalition.”

Sari’s advice to other organisations for achieving gender equality is to get buy-in from the top, engage the men and women and have a plan that considers the needs of each country and/or industry.

>See also: Johnson & Johnson’s ‘You Belong’ campaign sets the benchmark for D&I communications

About Ingka Group:

Ingka Group (Ingka Holding B.V. and its controlled entities) is one of 11 different groups of companies that own and operate IKEA sales channels under franchise agreements with Inter IKEA Systems B.V. Ingka Group has three business areas: IKEA Retail, Ingka Investments and Ingka Centres. Ingka Group, formerly IKEA Group, is a strategic partner in the IKEA franchise system, owning and operating 367 IKEA stores and digital touchpoints in 30 markets, with 160 000 co-workers.

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