16. September 2020

Why Diversity & Inclusion Matters

Nowadays, it is extremely important for a successful company to create and maintain a diverse and inclusive culture. We spoke to Sina Faeckeler (Ph.D. HSG) - “Global Head of Learning, Talent & Leadership Development, D&I / Wellbeing” at AXA Group Operations - about the importance of diversity both in the workplace and in the private sphere. She shared some fascinating insights.

In your opinion, what’s the difference between diversification and diversity?

Diversification happens when we enable a recruitment policy increasing the number of employees from minority backgrounds in our business – this whether they’re women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, or have disabilities. But we can and must go further, by putting in place a diversity and inclusion policy that not only transforms our workforce landscape, but also guarantees equal access to benefits and opportunities in terms of salary, promotions, mobility, training, etc.

Diversity goes beyond diversification: it’s an ongoing commitment to review our human resources process, to ensure no one is discriminated against. At AXA Group Operations, we focus on diversity of gender, age, origins, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression as well disability. As we’re a global company, the diversity of our workforce is representative of the various markets we operate in.

 

Both AXA and the University of St. Gallen celebrate Pride Month every year. Why is this important? Should every University/Company follow suit?

An inclusive workplace values all expressions of diversity, and this goes for sexual orientation and gender identity too. At AXA, LGBTQ inclusion is a core part of our global diversity and inclusion strategy. At a group level, we are committed to creating an inclusive workplace for all our employees through awareness-raising and positive action. On a local level, some of our entities sponsor events during Pride Month, or run their own community initiatives based on their cultural and legal framework.

On a more personal note, I know how difficult it can be for an LGBTQ employee to come out to their colleagues and managers. We want our colleagues to know it’s up to them to decide if and when they take this step, in a way they’re comfortable with. But we also want them to know that they are more than welcome just as they are!

For AXA Group Operations, celebrating Pride Month is a way of fostering a warm, welcoming environment for our LGBTQ colleagues and allies. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that LGBTQ all have their place within the organization and that there’s no room for homophobia or transphobia in our community.

I think any university or company that values diversity and inclusion should celebrate Pride Month. However, it’s even more important to focus on what we can do year-round to create an open and tolerant environment.

 

What are your key areas of focus working at AXA? What matters to you and AXA when it comes to diversity?

My role at AXA encompasses three areas of responsibility, all of which have a role to play in our capacity to promote a more inclusive environment. Firstly, Learning and Development. Our goal is to ensure everyone has access to the resources they need and that our training sessions reflect the diversity of our teams. Secondly, Talent and Leadership Development. We work to ensure equal opportunity in all aspects of employment, as well as a fair promotion process. And thirdly, Diversity & Inclusion and Wellbeing. Here my role is to promote greater awareness among our colleagues, and to establish the channels allowing us to anticipate and detect any problematic situations, and solve them should they arise.

At AXA, we’ve identified global priorities to help us focus and measure our efforts in inclusion and diversity. They are Gender, Disability, LGBT+, Origins, Multi-Generations. The aim is to create an environment where all employees are treated with dignity and respect, and all individual differences are valued.

 

What personally matters to you as a D&I manager?

I have a very strong personal belief that diversity enriches all of our lives and that there is no way around an inclusive society and workplace. Why? Because I’ve experienced this enrichment throughout my whole life. I would not be who I am today and would not have enjoyed so many wonderful experiences, if diversity and inclusion hadn’t been such a vital part of my life so far. To give you a few examples: I grew up with my cousin, who has a handicap since birth, and she has always been equal to me. I have lived in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.K. and France and as a result have experienced the beauty of Europe’s diversity. I have a half-Chinese/half-German sister, my wife is half-British/half-German. No matter how we may try to set ourselves apart from each other, we’re all interconnected. I encourage everyone to embrace diversity and inclusion instead of separation and exclusion – your life will be significantly enriched. On the job, I try to lead by example – by being who I am and being fully out as well as through my everyday behaviour and leadership style. I’m always here to listen to my colleagues, and I strive to be as inclusive as possible in my approach and behaviour. For me caring leadership is inclusive leadership. The more I care for the people working for me, the better I can create an inclusive work culture for all of us. I make sure my teams know I’m always available to discuss any personal issue that may come up in the workplace.

 

What should companies avoid when it comes to D&I?

I think the biggest mistake for a business would be not to engage with the issue. No topic should be taboo, and no employee should feel excluded or unwelcome. Diversity and inclusion are deeply resonant, and it’s always worth questioning how we can do better. I think a solid D&I policy has a measurable effect on how attractive a business is to potential employees, and on effective teamwork.

 

What is your position on the Black Lives Matters movement? Why is this topic relevant in general, and to AXA in particular?

On a personal level, and as a citizen, I’m moved and saddened by the discriminations Black people still experience. Personally, I believe that such inequality is unacceptable. I recognize that the Black Lives Matter movement is one way of highlighting these issues, to give a voice to those who deserve one and to initiate change. For many of us, witnessing this moment can act as a catalyst to ask ourselves if we’re doing enough, both in our personal lives and in the workplace, to address racial inequalities and discrimination.

 

What do you think every company should do to foster diversity as well as an inclusive workplace?

There’s no ready-made answer or magic formula! Inclusion and diversity should be built into companies’ culture and business strategy. We need leaders who are held accountable for progress and who are active allies, willing to advocate for those whose voice is less heard. Let’s encourage employees to take any opportunity they can to educate themselves on these issues. We should be offering equal opportunities for all, but that also means tracking any bias that could lead to discrimination and reviewing policies and processes on an ongoing basis. And of course, we should celebrate and acknowledge differences, because everyone benefits when we can all be ourselves at our workplace. It makes us stronger together. Businesses can absolutely be agents of change in an evolving society.

 

Thank you very much Sina for this insightful interview and all the best for the future!

About the author
Noah Buergin is currently studying in the Master's Degree Programme in Business Innovation (MBI) at the University of St.Gallen. He also works as a student assistant at the Executive School of Management Technology and Law at the University of St.Gallen.