During my career at IKEA, I have had the privilege to live and work in Asia, Europe and now the United States. Throughout my journey, I have witnessed firsthand the power of people working together: people from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, races and religions uniting to achieve our vision of creating a better everyday life.
At IKEA, we believe equality is a human right. Every day we work hard to further equality within our business, ensuring that each co-worker feels welcome and included at IKEA and has equal opportunities to grow and develop. But I don’t believe that this is enough. I believe that it is my responsibility to take a stand for the dignity and rights of everyone. I take this responsibility to heart, and I believe these actions not only benefit our co-workers and customers, but also our industry and the community at large.
IKEA values clearly tell us that “leadership” means to take action and stand up for what we believe in. As the leader of IKEA Group in Italy, Japan and now, the U.S., my experiences have shown me the power of taking a proactive stance for fair and equal treatment. When I was in Japan, I knew there was an opportunity to have greater representation of women in leadership roles. The country on average had only .3% of women in leadership positions. I believed IKEA Group could do our part in bridging the gap. We worked to create better overall working conditions to meet the needs of our female co-workers, including establishing day care facilities. We increased our management team to 43% women, but we knew there was still more work to do. We initiated dialogue around leveling the hourly pay rate for full-time and part-time employees, who tended to be women. My successor was able to successfully institute equal pay, promoting even greater equality among our co-workers.
In Italy, I was faced with a very different challenge when we produced an ad featuring a gay couple. We were met with opposition by many who found the ad inappropriate and offensive for depicting family in the “wrong way.” However, we knew we had it right because we actually spent time visiting with Italian families that came in many different configurations. Backed by our values and our research, I proudly defended our work as a representation of diverse families. In this case, being a leader meant taking a proactive stance, even though many didn’t agree, and it created quite a national debate. I knew it was a risk, but it was more important to me to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to acceptance and equality to our co-workers and customers. The risk ultimately opened the door to greater inclusivity in Italian society. The next year, I received a call from a leader of the Italian parliament asking to host a speech in our Porta di Roma store for International Day against Homophobia.
Building off these experiences, when I came to the U.S. in 2014, I shared with our organization where I’d like IKEA U.S. to be in 2020. I shared a future where IKEA took an active role in the U.S. society, where we contribute by taking a stand on equality, true diversity and inclusion. I also said that we should be a reference company on these topics and be a part of the public debate to promote a more humane society.
Since then we’ve been working to put new benefits and programs into place that support equality. For example, we’ve established Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors in all of our stores and offices. And we’ve offered new inclusive benefits, like a parental leave benefit that applies equally to men, women and those adopting children.
Once more, earlier this year I found myself in a position where I needed to take a public stand, when the White House imposed a travel ban that suspended the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries into the United States. I wrote a letter to our co-workers offering our support to those that were impacted and reaffirming our commitment to all members of the IKEA family, regardless of their background, nationality or religion. This letter was also shared externally and quickly spread around the world on social media. Nine months later, when the White House announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be halted, we once again took a stance against this initiative both internally and externally. And I am committed to continuing to speak out in defense of the rights of our co-workers and the underrepresented.
I believe that by remaining true to IKEA values – taking action to further equality and speaking up for what we believe – IKEA can help create a better life for people and communities and ultimately, have a positive impact on the society around us.
In this series, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ signatory CEOs share their dedication to acting for workplace diversity and inclusion to make impactful changes that benefit both business and society. Follow along with #CEOAction and learn more at CEOAction.com