The driving force behind Indexator AB joining the project Jämvikt was to gain recruitment opportunities. Soon; however, CEO Pär Lärkeryd started to notice other benefits, and today he is convinced that the gender equality work has made the company more competitive.
‘Within two years, we went from being extremely male-dominated with only ten per cent of the applicants being women to a situation where half of the applicants are women. Now, if that’s not innovation…’
Indexator’s CEO Pär Lärkeryd feels that the company’s work in the Jämvikt project is as important to the company as other more technical innovations. The gender equality work has boosted Indexator’s competitiveness. People’s view of Indexator has changed, and the company has hired people with varying backgrounds.
‘Today both women and men apply for jobs here,’ says Lärkeryd. ‘When people who have worked in for example healthcare or at the post office start working here, they see such different things. The numbers show that productivity and growth are up. I’m very convinced that the gender equality work is a big factor in this.’
‘Then we started to notice other benefits. Both the work environment and the company’s bottom line improved.’
Indexator AB is the world’s leading manufacturer of rotators for construction, forestry, transport and materials-handling equipment. With over 200 employees, the company is the largest private employer in Vindeln, a municipality in the north of Sweden with a population of 6 000. When Indexator received the invitation to join the Jämvikt project, the company was in the process of building a new plant and desperately needed to fill it with qualified workers.
‘The biggest reason for joining was recruitment,’ Lärkeryd admits. ‘Then we started to notice other benefits. Both the work environment and the company’s bottom line improved.’
Leadership Course One Aim of the Project
The Jämvikt project was run by the Business Leadership Academy with support from VINNOVA (the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems) and the Swedish ESF Council. One aim of the project was to develop a leadership course informed by research on work of change and the working conditions of women and men. The course would teach line managers to develop their own methods for gender mainstreaming. Indexator chose to focus on its assembly unit, with about 20 employees.
‘When we started, there were no women on the assembly team,’ says Robert Hedman, production manager. By the time the project ended, seven out of 28 workers were women.’
Due to the financial crisis in autumn 2008, all women in the unit were laid off – not because they were women but because they were the assembly team’s most recently hired workers. However, the changed attitudes remained.
‘Many workers say that they hope the women will be able to return soon,’ says Hedman.
Knowledge, Dialogue and Reflection
The course consisted of three two-day meetings comprising both knowledge sessions and dialogue and reflection. Between the meetings, the course participants were asked to assess their own workplaces and think of improvements, under the guidance of the consultants from the Business Leadership Academy. The process was both confusing and exciting.
‘At the first meeting I said that women are great, but assembly work just doesn’t work for them,’ Hedman continues. ‘It’s dirty and heavy work. Soon I realised that we didn’t have any gender equality whatsoever, and our jargon was unpleasant too.’
One important idea with the project was for the line managers to suggest improvements to the top management. In turn, the management would make decisions and be in charge of the efforts. Indexator’s management decided to first conduct an attitude survey in the assembly unit, then arrange two seminars on gender equality based on the survey results and finally repeat the survey.
‘If I hear somebody say that something is “women’s work”, I immediately step in and say that it’s not acceptable.’
‘The work to change attitudes and the work climate is never-ending,’ says Robert Hedman. ‘If I hear somebody say that something is “women’s work”, I immediately step in and say that it’s not acceptable.’
The work climate was discussed at every single weekly meeting with the assembly workers. In the beginning, gender equality was never officially on the agenda as that made many workers shut down. Today things are different. The results of the attitude surveys show that the proportion of workers who think that the work climate is appropriate for both genders went up from 65 per cent in June 2007 to 86 per cent in November 2007.
‘When I started working in the assembly unit ten years ago, we only talked about hunting and snowmobiles,’ says Hedman. ‘Now we talk equally much about baby strollers, and nobody questions men staying home with their children anymore.’
Changed View of Workers’ Involvement
The project has also changed the view of how gender equality work is carried out. Before the project, most workers thought that gender equality was a management issue and not something the workers can get involved in. Those who have been part of the project have realised that all workers share a responsibility.
‘A responsibility and an opportunity,’ Hedman emphasises. ‘The project was based on an open mind, and an open mind is an asset when making other changes as well.’
At first, Pär Lärkeryd thought that the gender equality work could be delegated just like any other project, but Jämvikt made him understand that changing the company’s fundamental values takes a lot of work.
‘The person in charge of the work has to carry a great deal of authority to start with. That’s why it is important that the top management is put in charge.’
Indexator is now starting a new project. This time the whole company is involved and the focus is on values, which of course includes gender equality. The company will monitor a number of key indicators to find out whether it can be proved that the work of change is profitable. So far, no study has shown it in plain numbers, but Lärkeryd is optimistic.
‘I’m accustomed to success.’