Sustainability Chat with Ivannia Liljebäck Hult, Community and Operations manager at Accenture
In our Sustainability Chat series, we speak with leaders and dreamers in the world of sustainability – picking their brains on what drives them, their experiences working in the field, plus all the best tricks of the trade.
We are happy to share Ivannia’s perspectives on how equality, inclusiveness and diversity drive innovation.
Ivannia has a background in communications and experience marketing, and has in the past few years worked with diversity and inclusion, mainly focusing on Pride and the LGBTQ-community.
Let’s dive in!
You have a fascinating background – working with innovation as well as equality and inclusiveness. Could you tell us a bit more in detail about your background?
Well, I started at Accenture back in 2016 after my third child was born. It was amazing to enter an organization so driven by innovation and collaboration. I had been in other big, global companies before – and actually promised myself that I would never work for one of them again – but I suddenly found myself in an office building that was the home of much more than just consultants and support staff. The sense of curiosity and inclusion was what struck me the most, and I didn’t feel as fish out of water as I had before.
My own background has given me one super strength – I see injustice where it is to be found and I will never be quiet about it. If there is a stone to be turned, I will turn it. If this means I have to carry it with me until someone really listens to me, I will. I can be extremely persistent and I will use all the tools in the communication toolbox to get the message through. I don’t mind being uncomfortable, but I hate seeing others be put in awkward positions with no one backing them up. I’ve experienced it so many times but I, at least sometimes, have dared to speak up for myself but it would have felt great if someone else could have had my back.
We would love to hear what you are doing as a Nordic Pride Network lead?
My task as lead for the Nordic Pride Networks is to coordinate the work carried out in all the local networks in both the Nordics(Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland) and the Baltics(Latvia and Lithuania).
The Nordics is a pretty homogeneous region considering the LGBTQI-community, the level of acceptance and inclusion is similarly high - or, depending on how you look at it, similarly low - while the Baltics still have a long way to go. However, Accenture Baltics is really leading the way for us, breaking a few of the traditional conventions regarding what we can do, say or have an opinion about.
It is extremely refreshing and strengthening and fills us all with a lot of pride and courage. It makes my job a lot easier, to be honest! They show the way!
Would you like to share what you are doing from a Pride perspective at Accenture?
Probably both the hardest and easiest question to answer… we do SO MUCH! On a global level the Pride-topic is high up on the business agenda, meaning that we focus on all aspects of the topic - business, community, people, benefits, security – which gives us plenty to do and activate.
On a Nordic level, we mainly focus on two areas – raising awareness and defending the rights that are already achieved. One can argue that the awareness level is relatively high in the Swedish, even Nordic, society, however, the awareness around where there still are huge gaps and injustices is, sadly, very low. We tend to think that “the gays are ok” but I would say that there’s no greater arrogance than to then to think that OK is good enough … it's not.
Globally within Accenture, we look to find the specific local challenges to support the employees in the best ways. In some counties and regions this means looking into the health benefits so that they cover gender affirming transition, in other countries it means changing the policies so that parental benefits also include a same-sex partner and not just a normative husband or wife of the opposite sex. It’s all these initiatives that make me extremely proud and inspired to keep on working with this.
According to you, how has the space of inclusivity and representation changed over the years?
It has definitely changed, in a few areas more than others. I would say that back in the days when I started working, some two decades ago, it was mainly two areas that would be considered as diversity and inclusion – gender and ethnicity. Nowadays we include age, sexual orientation, gender expression, mental health, disability - all these segments of a human being. This is of course a great development, because we have started seeing the human being behind the employee number as more than just a one- or two-dimensional being, but still there’s a long way to go, mainly if we talk about representation and true inclusion, which are the steps beyond tolerance and acceptance.
We still comply more with the adjustments we do to our office spaces than our organizations and culture to be truly inclusive and diverse. There are still organizations that are a bit hesitant to work with Pride-topics, mainly based upon fear of doing the wrong thing, asking the inappropriate questions – instead they leave this topic unattended, conveying a message that this is not important.
My suggestion here is, look around, what other companies seem to be working with this already and reach out, ask for help, create a platform for knowledge sharing. There’s nothing worse than silence and inactivity.
If we look at the bright side of things – do you see any positive development within the field of inclusivity and representation?
Of course! There’s progress and development in all areas, but what we need to remember is the fact that also those rights gained by others before us, are worth fighting for. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget this.
If we just look at the Pride area that is mainly my expertise, there has been a huge shift in how we look at the whole spectrum of the LGBTQ-community. We can also see that this is spreading to younger generations and that is truly heartwarming. We see that we have passed acceptance, passed tolerance and now are climbing towards inclusion… I may repeat myself here – progress is being made all the time, but we are not there yet. For better or for worse – the existence of a lot of rights are just one election away.
What do you think the future of diversity and inclusion will look like in Sweden and the rest of the world?
So, you see, this is where it gets tricky. The future is so extremely unclear even if I would like to say that it looks great. I mean, in some areas we are actually backing into extremely dangerous corners. Take the US as an example – who would have thought that the female population would be deprived of their legal right to abortion in so many states as we now see. Unfortunately, this could easily spread to this side of the pond – it only takes one persuasive troll to destroy what many have fought for, for decades.
In regards to the LGBTQ-community and the Pride-topic - I think that the future looks bright, if we dare to call out the injustices and holes that still are to be found within a lot of areas, such as family law, social benefits and structures, just to name some.
I believe in us, our generation, and I believe even more in the coming generations, when thinking about the struggles that lie ahead - we will make the future bright and colored in rainbows, because we do believe that equality is for all!
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