When we speak about diversity, even the meanings and perceptions might be diverse. Generation X and Boomers see diversity as ensuring equal chances for everybody, regardless the demographics (age, gender, culture, ethnicity, LGBT), while Millennials understand diversity as accommodating various backgrounds, experiences, values and needs. Presently, as diversity is this mixture of both tangible and subtle aspects, the challenge is to find ways for making the most of these differences -Valentin Păuna, HR Director METRO Cash & Carry Romania.
Why and since when does your company believe and invest in diversity management?
Throughout the 22 years of presence on Romanian market, METRO has been writing some important pages cash and carry business history in Romania. When we speak about MCC Romania, we talk about tradition and knowhow. But one of the earliest insights was the fact that all these can be built by learning from differences (e.g. different customer groups, needs, expectations, different regions or locations, different workforce profiles, etc.).
In a natural, unforced rhythm, the company, as a whole, became much diversified: in Romania we cover 23 cities in all historical regions of Romania, from East to West, from South to North. Worldwide, 169 different nations are represented among our employees. Currently our workforce is a mix of ages, educational backgrounds, professional experiences, ethnicities. The diversity is now a living fact, while inclusion remains for us a continuous process to enable the expression of valuable particularities within the frames of the strategy and business model.
What aspects of diversity management have the highest priority in your company?
I will highlight our primary aim which is to support our customers’ businesses; therefore their success and wellbeing will be our duty. Inherently, customers have various profiles and expectations, consequently our priority is to unleash our employees’ capabilities, help them adapt in a heterogeneous market, grasp opportunities and become trusted partners for our clients. From this perspective, diversity helps a lot – the more we can attract and grow complementary competences in our teams, the better our employees can provide the different customers with the right support.
Which D&I activities have been implemented in your organization so far?
At international level, METRO is an active supporter of D&I initiatives. WiT - Women in Trade (an international employee network that seeks to promote and support women in the company) and METRO PRIDE (a network and contact point for all LGBT+ colleagues as well as their supporters) are several examples. Also, METRO is a member of the LEAD Network (an European network that seek to promote female management personnel in the retail and consumer goods industry) and of PROUT AT WORK (a foundation committed to a non-discriminatory and open work environment in which diversity is valued and promoted). METRO is listed as the best-in-sector in the leading international sustainability index Dow Jones Sustainability World as well as on the Europe index.
In Romania, a consistent percentage of managerial roles are owned by women. Moreover, the age profile of our employees is proportioned with regard to all age groups. Practically, we comprise at least four different generations. Since several years now, our main demeanors were focused on providing opportunities for young graduates or high school pupils (through apprenticeships, internships, management trainee programs) to learn from and to work together with our experienced professionals, either in stores, in head office or even abroad.
But probably, first and foremost, we look at basic things – the way to recruit our employees, the way we approach our customers. When we look at candidates and depict their potential, we strive not to put them in narrow boxes. After all, each of us can be a minority with regard to a particular characteristic; each of us can have an attribute more rarely to be found.
To sum up, the D&I approach in MCC Romania is an open process - further things are to be done, further potential is to be exploited.
Many companies aren't prioritizing inclusion and diversity initiatives right now. Why should they reconsider?
At a first sight, diversity might be associated with complexity. In the same time, we all want to keep things simple. Nevertheless, “diverse” does not mean “complicated”. Perhaps, we are accustomed to interpret standard as normal – but like in statistics, the average does not tell much about the whole group and about the distribution of values. Reality shows that in many cases the novelty or the wonder are coming from the exceptional values (those values that, in statistics, are placed at the extremes of the intervals).
Like in life, in business as well, changing perspective is helpful. That does not mean that we see a different reality, we just see facets that are not visible from any angle.
In your opinion, what tangible benefits does diversity bring to your company?
In few words: enhanced creativity, out-the-box ideas, increased productivity, a higher level of customer satisfaction. We spoke earlier about ensuring complementary competencies within teams and about facilitating the expression of individual potential. The empirical observations and the probability studies show that there are weak chances to achieve different results using same, identical resources and approaches.
Can you name three diversity challenges that companies have to pay attention to?
I would say that the challenges are gathered under one larger umbrella: on one hand, being adapted, adjusted, differentiated to market and customer needs; on the other hand, maintaining the consistency of the business model.
What do you do to convince your colleagues to see the value in diversity management, or even more to truly get them on board?
When we speak about diversity, even the meanings and perceptions might be diverse. Generation X and Boomers see diversity as ensuring equal chances for everybody, regardless the demographics (age, gender, culture, ethnicity, LGBT), while Millennials understand diversity as accommodating various backgrounds, experiences, values and needs. Presently, as diversity is this mixture of both tangible and subtle aspects, the challenge is to find ways for making the most of these differences.
Besides the concrete learning tools (e.g. Inclusion & Diversity trainings) that we offer to our employees, we understand that it is important to nourish their open and tolerant attitude. Overcoming biases is not an easy thing to do, as people need habits and customs – these give them stability and make them feel safe. What we can do is to ensure everyone that different things can be safe too.
Graduate of the Computers Polytechnic University (1993, Bucharest), Master in Political Science and Contemporary History (1995, Great Britain), Valentin Pauna covered managerial positions in three major industries: FMCG, Financial Services, Commerce. His Experience was broadly extended (Netherlands, Belgium, Germany) in companies like Unilever, Euro bank EFG, Metro AG. Valentin Pauna joined METRO GROUP in June 2009 as HR Director within Real,- Romania. In August 2013 he was taking over the position of Director HR Non Food METRO Cash & Carry International - Germany, before been assigned in his current position as Human Resources Director at METRO Cash and Carry Romania (July, 2015)”.
Interview by Dana Oancea