The most sustainable trading sector company in the world also wants to be a forerunner in social responsibility. For K Group this means, above all, responsibility for its own personnel and a greater effort to promote diversity and equality.
At the K Group, the wellbeing and safety of the employees has always been ensured in a versatile way and in compliance with legislation, but it is currently done more intensively and as a more integral part of the company’s responsibility work.
For instance, a company-wide diversity and inclusion programme is under preparation. According to Tiina Palmunen, HR Specialist Employee Responsibility at K Group who has been involved in preparing the programme, they wish to take a more anticipatory and active approach to social responsibility.
“We want to look at the things from a wider perspective and find out where we could do better. We wish, for example, to offer more work for people representing various language minorities and for people with partial working capacity. We also aim to take our diverse customer base better into account.”
Palmunen says that work which promotes diversity makes K Group a better and nicer place to work.
“Research shows that a corporate culture which appreciates inclusion and diversity improves the engagement and motivation of the personnel. Ultimately, it also improves the company’s financial result and customer experience,” Palmunen says.
Equality does not only mean equality between genders, but similarly taking sexual minorities into account, for example. Non-discrimination also calls for taking into account, for example, people with partial working capacity, people in danger of social exclusion and people with different cultural backgrounds, such as immigrants.
“The work to develop an organisation which appreciates diversity and is genuinely inclusive is something that is never finished. However, it is essential to ask what more we could do to make people feel like they are accepted. Promoting non-discrimination means continuous development of culture, and its implementation is the responsibility of each individual,” Tiina Palmunen says.
Customers value non-discrimination
Acting responsibly is important not only for our own employees, but it is also something our customers appreciate. This became even more apparent when K Group conducted a survey on the subject targeted at its stakeholders and customers. In the survey, 81% of the customers felt it was important for K Group to promote equality, non-discrimination and diversity of personnel in its operations.
The customers especially valued the employment of people with poor employment prospects or people in danger of social exclusion. It was also considered essential for the personnel to be trained to reduce any prejudice against various minorities.
Tiina Palmunen says that the need for responsibility work which promotes non-discrimination and equality is already visible in the practical work. In grocery stores, for example, we have encountered situations where a customer may have said something inappropriate concerning the ethnic background of another customer.
“One of the checkout operators recently had an experience like that and she asked how one should act in a situation like that. We are now making instructions which would be helpful, should similar situations occur. It is clear that we always do our best to serve our customers, but we also expect good behaviour from our customers towards other customers and our employees.”
More women wanted in senior management
What kind of company is a company that operates with equality? Where and how should equality be implemented and be visible?
The list of answers is long. The most familiar topic related to equality is probably salary, which we still need to work on in Finland. At the K Group, as part of the responsibility work, we have long monitored men’s and women’s access to management positions and equality in salaries. Lately in K Group’s HR department we have also had discussions on gendered job titles and terms.
“It may sound like a minor issue, but language does impact our thinking and is linked to higher-level structures,” Palmunen says.
In K Group, we could have more and more women as managers, at least when we refer to senior management.
“Our senior management is male-dominated, though there are plenty of women in middle management. The aim is for women to increasingly rise to senior management as well.”
Non-discrimination is an asset in recruitment
From the company’s perspective it is also a matter of finding good and suitable employees.
“Competition for the best talents is increasing all the time. It would be stupid to exclude applicants only because we are unable to see the potential in every one of them and that we are forced to say no only because of language skills or partial working capacity,” Palmunen says.
At the K-Citymarkets in Greater Helsinki we have already taken action with the language issue: a Finnish language training programme targeted at immigrants has been started with the aim of hiring new employees. At K Group we have also aimed to employ people with mental disabilities, and we have developed a new model to promote opportunities for people with partial working capacity to remain in working life, for example, through supplementary training for a new role.