The goal of Danish Supermarket Group Ltd. regarding recruitment and retention of employees is “getting the right people in the right positions” as the HR partner puts it. Diversity is a key concept for this: the goal is not to exclude anyone based on prejudices or assumptions of their capabilities and to keep an open mind and a wide perspective in the attitude towards the company’s employees. Danish Supermarket believes that the time and money spent on this will be visible on the bottom line, and that diversity can thus contribute to increasing the company’s economic performance. An additional goal is to live up to society’s heightened demand for corporate social responsibility. The strategy of Danish Supermarket is to make room for each individual employee at their specific point in life, even if they need special help or cannot perform fully. Alongside this, the strategy is to communicate this mind-set intensively to all employees (especially shop managers) to make it an embedded matter of course in everyday work.
Organisation: Danish Supermarket is a large private limited company with an annual turnover of almost € 7 billion. It is Denmark’s largest retail chain with approximately 1,200 shopping centres and supermarkets across the country, several of which are located in Bispebjerg. The company was founded in 1960 and currently employs 32,000 people. The central HR administration employs four people working specifically with diversity. Initiatives on diversity have been an explicit focus area since 1996, beginning with the creation of light-work positions. The target audience of diversity initiatives in Danish Supermarket are all current and possible employees of the company, thus making the initiatives people-based. The activities of the diversity initiatives revolve around recruitment as well as retention of staff; that is, employing people that would ordinarily not be given the opportunity to work. Danish Supermarket uses a wide range of public aid schemes for employment on special terms (e.g. salary subsidy and flexible jobs) and specialised training programmes (e.g. for disabled people or for ethnic minorities with linguistic challenges).
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Danish Supermarket has a wide perception of diversity ranging from age, gender and ethnicity to disability and people struggling with disease or with mental problems. Diversity is primarily considered in relation to employment i.e. recruitment and retention of employees. Tolerance and openness are key concepts; either as a deliberate strategic tool or as more of an underlying idea. Diversity has been a pronounced value for Danish Supermarket since 1996 and has become an embedded part of the everyday mind-set of the company. The philosophy of Danish Supermarket’s diversity initiatives is a pluralist one (Syrett & Sepulveda, 2012), focusing on the strength in difference and accordingly the importance of acknowledging differences in needs and perspectives of the employees. Furthermore, the hyper-diversity of the employees and their situation is recognised: Employees are seen as more than i.e. ethnic minority people with consideration of individual situations and competences.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The political and public climate regarding corporate social responsibility applauds initiatives for diversity. This is one of the central external success factors for Danish Supermarket’s diversity initiatives. Another is the ongoing collaboration with NGOs, research centres, employment authorities and local job centres. Good cooperation with these actors is a necessity in securing the resources, the specialised knowledge as well as the municipal approvals for subsidies and flexible jobs necessary for realising diversity efforts. According to the HR partner, this collaboration generally works well. Furthermore, the wide range of public sector aid schemes for flexible jobs and subsidised training programmes is a vital tool. A very important internal success factor for Danish Supermarket is the integration of diversity as an underlying mind-set of the company rather than something to be constantly stated as a concept. According to the HR partner, diversity cannot be pushed, it must be given time to develop, like the ethnic minority boys that started out years ago as trolley boys in their local supermarkets who are being made shop managers today. A second success factor for Danish Supermarket is the advantage coming from being a very large company: Their voice carries great weight in discussions with authorities or in public debates. A final, but very important, factor is the attitude of the employees towards one another: Treating everybody with respect and taking a team-oriented approach is crucial. This is done through avoiding an ‘us-versus-them’ approach of the stronger employees helping the weaker. Instead, everybody is considered equal. A key element in this is to give every employee from manager to trolley boy their own area of responsibility and make them feel that they are making a difference:
“It is important to remember that this is about all of us, and at some point in time we could all become dependent on someone being open and tolerant towards us […]. It is an important message to send that diversity is about everyone in a workplace, not just a small disadvantaged group” (HR partner, Danish Supermarket)
A number of external failure factors can be identified: Firstly, cooperating with the 98 different municipalities of Denmark, each with different systems and practices, is a challenging task. Secondly, regarding the work in Copenhagen and Bispebjerg, Copenhagen Municipality can seem bureaucratic and rigid to work with. However, cooperation with the city’s local job centres is much better, according to the HR partner. Thirdly, in recent years, gradually weaker and weaker people are being approved for flexible jobs. For a large part, they are struggling with a number of comprehensive personal problems. However, when in employment, the employers of these persons have to deal with ever more serious problems, and according to the HR partner, many of these people are far from ready for employment. Three internal failure factors can be identified: First, some employees in flexible jobs struggle with a range of problems, thus making it difficult to train them. At times, employers have to start on a very basic level such as making the employees show up on time. Second, implementing diversity as a mind-set in every single shop is difficult. Communication and assistance to shop managers is a demanding but very important task for the HR diversity team, as the shop managers are key figures in putting the diversity initiatives into practice. Third, the recent financial crisis has affected Danish Supermarket as well: Sometimes financial limitations have hindered the permanent employment of good trainees or municipally subsidised employees. According to the HR partner, the financial situation of the company is improving, currently making this failure factor less influential.
Diversity initiatives in Danish Supermarket are founded on the belief that openness and tolerance towards employees is essential for recruiting and retaining the best staff for the company and thus for the company’s economic performance. A well-functioning cooperation with the public sector is necessary for this to work. The key success factors are to avoid putting people into rigid categories and instead of acknowledging each individual person and situation. It is vital to treat every employee as part of the team and avoid distinguishing between the ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’. Accordingly, integrating diversity as a way of thinking in every single shop of the retail chain as well as on the executive level is a key focus area of the diversity initiatives. Making diversity a matter of course and embedding it into the everyday mind-set of the company is the key innovative potential of diversity initiatives in Danish Supermarket Group Ltd. An underlying premise for the diversity efforts of private companies is some extent of profitability which can be expected to shape their initiatives. However, private companies add an additional arena for diversity efforts, namely one that is grounded in the mainstream labour market as opposed to isolated projects.