Diversity & Inclusion Insights: SKF

Unlocking the full potential: SKF accelerates diversity & inclusion journey

Swedish engineering company SKF knows all about the need for speed, agility, and creativity to gain an edge in a competitive global marketplace. Convinced that an inclusive culture is the bedrock for business growth, SKF is doubling down on its commitment to fostering a work environment where every voice is heard. The Swedish Chamber is proud to have SKF as one of its Patron Members, and Yves Nys, Global Wellbeing and D&I Manager at SKF, as one of the engaged Committee Members in the Swedish Chamber’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

“Just be yourself” is a common mantra, but in the workplace, it is often easier said than done. For many employers, creating an environment where every employee feels empowered to bring their authentic selves to work, regardless of identity (and the stereotypes and expectations that come with it) can be a major challenge. For SKF, it is not just a challenge; it is at the heart of their future growth strategy.

With operations spanning 130 countries and a workforce of 40,000, SKF, the world´s largest rolling bearing manufacturer, has always been strongly aware of the need for diversity and inclusion (D&I). After all, its customers and employees live and work in thousands of diverse communities around the world.

“I truly believe that we will perform better, innovate more, and generate more value – and have more fun – if we are truly diverse and inclusive. I am fully committed to this and so are the managers of my organisation globally” says Annika Ölme, CTO and Senior Vice President Technology Development and member of Group Management at SKF.

Last year SKF launched its company purpose embodied in the phrase “Together we re-imagine rotation for a better tomorrow”. Fostering D&I is one of the cornerstones of that ambition.

“Of course we strive for inclusion because it is the right thing to do. As a company, we have our moral compass” affirms Yves Nys, Global Wellbeing, D&I Manager at SKF. “But in addition there is also a compelling business case behind it” he adds.

When it comes to D&I business-logic the numbers speak volumes – companies with diverse teams are not only 45 percent more likely to improve their market share, but also 70 percent more likely to capture new markets. Inclusive teams and leadership create environments where all members are likely to feel a sense of belonging. In such inclusive environments, employees have been found to be more than 50 percent more productive and 3.5 times more likely to contribute their full innovative potential (EY, 2017).

The difference between diversity and inclusion

Diversity focuses on the what – ensuring a workforce represents a broad spectrum when it comes to for example ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, neurodiversity or age. Inclusion is all about making this diversity work, the how – creating a culture where every voice is valued, and every individual can thrive. While diversity is crucial for representation, true inclusion ensures that diverse perspectives are not just present but actively heard and embraced.

“Together we can, and we will, unlock the full potential of our company” is a powerful statement from SKF’s CEO Rickard Gustafson.

“One of the keys to unlock the full potential is D&I, as it opens the doors to a wealth of creativity and innovative solutions for our customers” explains Yves Nys. “When all employees feel included and safe to contribute to their fullest potential, that’s when magic happens. But without inclusion, employee engagement, wellbeing and innovation will be impacted negatively” he adds.

The three why´s

For SKF the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace encompasses three key dimensions – human-centric leadership, business and compliance. D&I drive innovation, employee engagement, and brand appeal. Compliance ensures legal and regulatory requirements are met, while human-centric leadership fosters psychological safety and moral responsibility, aligning with SKF´s purpose and its core values of Collaboration, Curiosity, Courage and Care.

Empowering gender diversity

In a traditionally still male-dominated field like engineering, SKF is committed to promoting gender D&I. It has set ambitious targets for the coming years to increase female representation among total employees from 22 percent to 30 percent, among managers from 19 percent to 30 percent and to 35 percent for senior leaders. During 2023, SKF intensified its focus on gender diversity programs, including Elevate Talent for women’s leadership and career development, and gender balance targets for the SKF Global Leadership and Global Graduate Programs.

People Business Reviews, held bi-annually with executive management, ensure accountability and progress tracking on gender D&I initiatives. SKF acts according to the saying: “What gets measured, gets done”. Additionally, SKF participates in various external initiatives to promote diversity in all its aspects.

Annika Ölme is personally involved in driving initiatives to encourage more women to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, starting from early childhood education.

Time for action: Putting D&I at the heart of SKF

SKF is on a mission. Over the next five years, they´re embarking on a global strategic effort to ingrain diversity, equal opportunity and inclusion into the very fabric of its identity, with the drive spanning every corner of its operations worldwide.

The initiative represents a holistic approach, from refining learning and development initiatives to crafting job postings with a more inclusive tone. Moreover, SKF pioneers an innovative language platform designed to attract top talent from diverse backgrounds.

SKF is building from a solid foundation already in place, where they draw from successful local initiatives tailored to regional needs. Examples involve D&I ambassadors, women´s networks, the Diversity-Equity-Inclusion Council in North America, employee resources groups fostering inclusion of employees with disabilities (or rather – different abilities), LGBTQ+, neurodiversity and veterans, among others. Integration of equality into people processes, such as recruitment, promotion and succession planning, highlights SKF’s dedication to creating a truly inclusive workplace.

Incorporating D&I into its employee survey, SKF Team Pulse, ensures continuous feedback and assessment of the company’s performance in these areas. High scores in recent surveys in D&I and Health & Well-being are positive signals that SKF’s commitment to an inclusive and supportive work environment is bearing fruit.

“It´s important to remember that as crucial as our programs and targets are, it´s the everyday actions that count” says Yves Nys. “It´s about taking those small steps we can all take to break out of our comfort zone and engage with colleagues you wouldn’t normally interact with, someone with a completely different role or background from yourself” he asserts and continues: “Have a conversation, ask questions, listen to that person´s story and become an ally or mentor for people different from you, that´s when real transformation starts to happen.”

Opening doors: going beyond the norm

SKF is now casting a wider net striving to embrace more under-represented groups in their efforts.

“Consider the neurodiverse community , for instance – there is a lot of untapped potential waiting to be unleashed” notes Yves Nys. “By providing them with a platform and the necessary tools, we can harvest unique talents to drive innovation and sustainability” Yves adds.

“SKF is not just in it to meet or exceed D&I benchmarks, our company wants to be THE benchmark for others” declares Yves Nys. “We will not rest until we create an environment where every single employee feels valued, safe and empowered to contribute fully to SKF´s future success. By all means – D&I is not an easy journey, it requires navigating through some unchartered waters at times or questioning which direction to follow, but then setting sail with courage. Succeeding on this journey is of vital importance for our people and for SKF” he concludes.

This article is written by SKF for Swedish Chamber Insights.