“It's vital to be oneself and feel secure”

Exploring the complexities of implementing DEI initiatives in the Central and Eastern European region, addressing domestic violence with targeted campaigns, and ensuring the tangible impact of LGBTQ+ support within corporate structures—these were a few of the key topics we delved into during our conversation at the OPEN Conference 2023. Martina Hlisnikovská, navigating through these critical subjects as the DEI Leader for IKEA in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, shed light on the company's conscientious journey towards creating an inclusive work environment and fostering a meaningful impact in local communities.

Could you share some specific DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives or programs that IKEA has implemented in the Central and Eastern European region? How have these initiatives addressed the unique challenges or opportunities in this geographic area?

In the regions of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, our focus encompasses a variety of topics, ranging from gender equality to aiding vulnerable groups. We've established some priorities, which notably include supporting refugees, the LGBTQ+ community, and victims of domestic abuse. Additionally, we also emphasize several other areas primarily internally, such as gender balance, gender pay equality, and inclusivity for people with disabilities. Establishing these priorities allows us to maintain a profound focus and to exert the maximum possible impact. We select topics that resonate with our business and our vision, which is to create a better everyday life for many people.

What metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) does IKEA use to measure the impact and effectiveness of DEI initiatives in the Central European region? Can you share any notable results or success stories, perhaps?

It’s undeniably crucial to establish KPIs even in initiatives that deal with people. Admittedly, at times, it's more challenging to do this compared to setting KPIs in, for instance, sales. Nevertheless, we do establish a specific KPI for every initiative. For instance, we measure social impact, which pertains to the effect we have on society, such as the number of lives we change. A recent example would be our initiative focused on supporting refugees, through which we gained 72 new colleagues in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. Beyond that, we also involved more than a hundred of our coworkers in this initiative.

How does IKEA engage with local communities and organizations in the CEE to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion?

We seek long-term partners who align with our priorities and focal topics. Our approach involves collaborating with organizations and non-profits that have demonstrated the effectiveness of their initiatives, aiding us in exerting a substantial impact on society. We trust these organizations as experts possessing significant know-how. Historically, such collaborations have proven mutually beneficial for all involved parties.

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What are the key factors considered when deciding about the organizations with which you want to work?

Certainly, our decisions hinge on the topics addressed and the potential impact an organization can have. A crucial aspect of initiating collaborations is establishing clear communication concerning expectations to ensure all parties are aligned. Experience tells us it's vital to set these expectations and timelines from the outset since private sectors and NGOs operate differently, making clarity paramount from the beginning.

What are some of the unique challenges IKEA has faced when working on DEI initiatives in the CEE, and how has the company addressed these challenges?

Navigating through three different countries - Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia - each with distinct cultures, languages, currencies, and societal positions, is one of our most significant challenges. Maintaining local relevance and being sensitive to respective topics is imperative for us. To address this, we employ specialists in each country who assist us in ensuring that our initiatives are as locally relevant and attentive to the nuances of each country as possible.

Does IKEA have Employee Resource Groups or similar affinity networks in CEE countries, and how do these groups contribute to the company's DEI goals and the well-being of employees?

Indeed, we initiated what is known as an Employee Resource Group this year, focusing particularly on the topic of LGBTQ+. It's crucial to note that this group isn’t just composed of coworkers who identify as LGBTQ+ but also allies. This provides them a voice, aids the topic at hand, and ensures they are heard. This feedback is incredibly relevant for us because it allows us to understand their needs, problems, and issues, enabling us to address them more effectively, and enhancing the experience for everyone.

IKEA launched a campaign named ‘Together for a safer home’ in Hungary, targeting domestic violence. What prompted the focus on this issue, and what impact has this campaign had? Is this campaign viewed as a CSR activity or a purpose-driven campaign initiative?

We embarked on this initiative amidst the second wave of COVID, transitioning from short-term emergency assistance to a more enduring solution. We realized that domestic abuse was a pertinent issue across the three countries and was exacerbated during the pandemic. Thus, we committed to this topic. From the get-go, it was more than just a campaign for us; we cooperated with local non-profits in each country, identifying major issues and barriers. Then we established commitments, not just to raise awareness, but genuinely to support direct help and the capacity of NGOs, research (publicly available data), and engage in public affairs activities where possible. Internationally recognized, this initiative became a significant success, not only through launching an internal routine for our coworkers who might be victims of domestic abuse but also by aiding numerous women through NGOs dedicated to helping victims.

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IKEA has a history of LGBTQ+ marketing in Hungary and the CEE region. How can a company avert pink-washing while demonstrating its support for the LGBTQ+ community and conveying its policy to its employees?

While I see the rainbow as an initial step and a gesture of support, what's paramount is the actions behind this gesture and the initiatives companies undertake to assist the LGBTQ+ community. What IKEA is implementing goes beyond merely displaying the flag or participating in pride under the IKEA colors. It involves donating a portion of profits from the sales of the rainbow IKEA bag to NGOs addressing this topic. Internally, we strive to create a genuinely safe environment, providing education and workshops on LGBTQ+ topics and biases, and ensuring equal rights and benefits for same-sex couples.

How have these campaigns impacted the employees?

Demonstrating our concern for these vulnerable groups isn’t only about those groups but concerns everyone. Diversity and inclusion is about all of us contributing. We regularly hear feedback from our employees through internal surveys. From an external point of view, we know that younger generations tend to select employers who display empathy and care for others, making it vital from this perspective. For us, creating a safe working environment is crucial since we all spend one-third of our day at work. It's vital to be oneself and feel secure, which is why it ought to be on every company's agenda.

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Martina Hlisnikovská

DEI Leader, IKEA

Martina Hlisnikovská is the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Leader for IKEA in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia region. In this strategic role, she integrates Ingka Group's Equality, Diversity & Inclusion goals into the everyday functioning of the IKEA brand and its retail chain. Martina's mission is to establish IKEA as a welcoming and inclusive organization where everyone feels valued.

As an internal and external ambassador for IKEA's Diversity and Inclusion purpose, Martina's influence extends to customers, co-workers, and society at large. Her commitment to fostering diversity goes hand in hand with creating a positive impact on individuals and the community.
Before assuming this position, Martina worked approximately 5 years at the Sustainability department, leading projects centered around promoting healthy and sustainable living, resource conservation, and customer education in sustainability. In addition, she led initiatives supporting non-profit organizations, with a focus on assisting vulnerable groups like victims of domestic abuse and refugees. Martina also worked on projects to foster local collaboration with social entrepreneurs, seeking opportunities to benefit the community.

Beyond her professional endeavors, Martina's curious spirit leads her to explore new places and cultures. She relishes in savoring delicious food and enjoys bike rides with friends during her leisure time.

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