Annual review 2020

Social sustainability

Focus on diversity and inclusion

Social sustainability is about meeting basic human needs but also about developing societies that enable equality and participation. In our companies, we work to improve conditions and awareness in production through codes of conduct, audits and training initiatives, as well as by ensuring that we build inclusive companies that in the long run contribute to a cohesive society.

Diversity and inclusion are important issues for us as a company and for society at large, and have long been a priority area for Axel Johnson. Too many doors to the business world are closed to people with different backgrounds and experiences, while at the same time companies need to become better at finding the right skills. Different ways of thinking, new perspectives and strong cohesiveness help us to develop, and to better understand our customers. 

In 2020, we shifted our efforts with the issues by setting up Axelerate, a new unit centrally to run the work even more professionally and consistently – partly internally in our companies, partly to develop societal improvement initiatives with organizations that we run or develop in different ways.

Axelerate, together with our companies, will pursue diversity and inclusion efforts that ensure we make use of all competence and that everyone feels included regardless of background. The goal is to become a leader in diversity and inclusion and to be a positive force for change in the society we are part of.

Diversity for us is about who we are – our similarities and differences. We believe the different experiences among our employees enrich our operations and we strive for diversity of perspectives, such as skills and experience, and of visible differences, such as gender, age or ethnicity. Our employees and customers should feel they belong with us and that we value differences. This presumes that we actively work to create inclusive workplaces. 

Axelerate focuses on shifting the efforts of our companies within three focus areas. The first is to ensure that we have competence-based and open-minded recruitment and promotion processes throughout our companies. The second area is about anchoring the values with action, by equipping leaders and employees to be inclusive in practice and understanding employees’ experiences of inclusion and discrimination. Our third focus area is to continue to increase our community involvement through cooperation between our companies and external actors, where we also run or co-finance a number of external initiatives.

We have a number of important partnerships that aim to drive change at both the societal level and within our companies. 

We are part-owners of Mitt Liv, a social enterprise that works with education and counseling in diversity, inclusion and mentoring programs for foreign-born academics. 

We are also the main partner of The Global Village, the organization behind Järva Week, an important Swedish meeting place for inclusion.

The ÖppnaDörren portal is a gathering place for organizations Axel Johnson supports that work to contribute to increased diversity and inclusion by creating meeting places: Yrkesdörren, Nya Kompisbyrån and Svenska med baby. ÖppnaDörren was developed within Axfoundation and in 2020 became part of Axelerate. A goal is that meetings will increase opportunities for new Swedes to enter and establish themselves in the labor market. 

Q & A with Eliza Kücükaslan, Head of Axelerate

Why is this important for Axel Johnson?

– From Axel Johnson’s perspective, there are three main driving forces: The first and most basic is to recruit from the entire talent pool. We increase our opportunity to find the best skills and we become more attractive to more people. Feeling they belong at the workplace means employees develop, perform better, thrive and are more engaged.

Secondly, understanding the needs of our customers. Differences among our employees mean we can relate to different customers’ needs better and more people feel at home with us. 

The third is that diverse perspectives enable new thinking, leading to new solutions, better development and decision-making and thus better business.

 There is, of course, also a basic societal perspective on this. Working to ensure equal treatment and inclusion leads to fairer and more inclusive societies and positive social development. 

What is most difficult?

– Change is always difficult! Taking something particular, it is that we work in an area with no ready-made answers, models or KPIs. When and at what level, for example, is it relevant and right to measure background? We want to give individuals space to develop and be assessed on equal terms, and the right to meet and be measured precisely as unique individuals and not as representatives of a group. At the same time, we sometimes at an aggregated group level want to follow developments. There is inevitably tension.  

What is most fun?

– The level of ambition! We have an ambition to be a leader, and this is noticeable in the attention the work receives, where both our CEO and Board Chair sit on Axelerate’s steering group.