A summer reflection

a few years ago, we provided expert insights into an important topic, multiculturalism on the Finnish workfloor, as a research done for the Finnish Kauppakamari and TEM. As a foreign CEO, employing 11 people in Finland (Finns and foreigners alike), I have been involved with efforts to bring more cultural diversity onto the Finnish work floor since 2010.

One of my motivators has been to create more mutual understanding. Understanding for the wonderful work-life balance which most people in Finland enjoy. At the same time, also an understanding that this same, content, approach to work life is the Achilles heel of Finland as it basically pushes away a lot of very ambitious foreign top talent, who get demotivated with that same wonderfully calm life-style and the fact based observation that 95% of all board members and executive management team members are Finnish (and a few Swedes). This foreign talent was raised to drive, to never stop, to build a career, to continuously grow. When there is no space to grow, they will leave.

Research done among Henry members and clients alike, show a few astonishing facts. Like the fact that 76% of Finnish workers do not feel ready for a more culturally diverse work life. This does not mean that they don´t want it, it just means that there is more need for educating people that people are different, that these differences are very much predictable and, importantly from a business point of view, these differences will mean your company is more likely to survive (less group think means more adaptability).

Two recent projects we have been involved in give some further insights into how organisations can act more purposefully and should act more purposefully with regards to diversity and inclusion.

and the Future Finland documentary

Some tips to reflect on over the summer:

1. Language is an artificial barrier. When even Finns themselves are still grammatically checked on their “gradu” when graduating at the average age of 25/26, to expect foreigners to know business fluent Finnish after 2-3 years is simply not realistic (nor is it impossible).

a. Language fluency does not equate cultural fluency, often even the opposite as people tend to make the mistake to think people understand what is meant when said in the same language. Take for example my home country, the Netherlands, and Belgium, where Dutch is also an official language. One shared language, yet huge cultural differences. How the countries dealt differently with COVID-19 tells it all – and all of it was completely predictable: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/25/shop-shuts-belgian-half-over-covid-19-but-keeps-dutch-half-open?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Share_in_a_post

b. Another way of saying this in Finnish: “ja vaikka me puhumme suomea, me emme välttämättä ymmärrä toisiamme”

2. If your organisational culture is goal oriented enough, open enough, professional enough and easy going enough (simulation here:), national cultural differences will be easier to navigate as people are less likely to take offense or be afraid of “the other”.

3. The likelihood of diversity initiatives to fail is rather high, for one simple reason. If based on a “feel good” basis, you make the initiatives about personal feelings. From a purely management point of view, this is a big risk because you potentially end up alienating your predominantly male audience which is addressed with most diversity initiatives. Launching initiatives with clear data on why the training is needed in that specific part of the organisation, with which specific goals in mind, is something HR specifically needs to become more mindful of. The sad reality is that how most HR and management teams think about their organisational mindset is typically wrong (in our experience with over 4000 organisations globally, about 80% of management teams, including HR, misjudge the culture they actually have). This misjudgement leads to checking the box on “diversity training done, unconscious bias training done), but not to any substantial and sustainable behavioural change.

Cases like George Floyd in the US remind us how easily entire sets of a population can feel isolated, marginalized and mistreated if excluded from fully participating to society in the same terms as everyone else. Finland has pretty much everything quite well taken care of, except for the labour market equality. This is one of the main reasons why those in charge of employability, which I consider HR to be, need to up their game, look beyond color, ethnicity, language skills and in most cases even cv´s.

This world needs more of an open attitude, where the place you come from, the name you have, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, should not matter. What should matter is attitude and ability to continuously learn and grow.

And for that Finnish work-life at least does have one thing in its favor, which is calmness which enables more time to think things through. If you say, it is important for anybody to know the language or have certain educational background, ask yourself two questions. 1. Why? 2. What if they don´t have it, would it really matter?

I wish you a calm, reflective summer and happily catch up if you want to know more about how you can make this emotional topic more objective using proven ways of visualizing the impact culture has on work (and life).

Egbert Schram

Egbert Schram is a Dutchman, residing in Finland. He acts as the Group CEO of Hofstede Insights, a global cultural advisory, advising individuals, organisations and governments on the impact of culture on work life. Currently having operations in 60+ countries, and a global practice of about 150 people (of which 93% outside of Finland).