Culturally diverse companies are more successful

  • Cultural diversity enriches workplaces and enhances company performance
  • Continuous conversation is important when solving challenges
  • Read about the experiences Naapurin Maalaiskana Oy, Benete Oy and Silo.AI have on workforce with an international background

Organised as part of the action-packed TechTurku Week, the Talent Boost Breakfast was aimed at employers interested in hiring international talent and focused on Successful Culturally Diverse Companies. Some 60 people gathered in the Visitor and Innovation Centre Joki in Turku to hear about and discuss the topic. There were people from companies operating in the Turku region for which hiring international talent or learning more about it is current. People with an international background living in Finland shared their experiences in entering the Finnish working culture or searched for jobs better suited to their education or work experience.

Minna Karhu, Marketing Director, Turku Science Park Ltd encourages companies to use their services when planning international recruitment. Photo: Emilia Reponen
Minna Karhu, Marketing Director, Turku Science Park Ltd encourages companies to use their services when planning international recruitment. Photo: Emilia Reponen

– Business operations continue to flourish in the Turku region, but we badly need skilled employees, Minna Karhu, Marketing Director of Turku Science Park Ltd said about the current situation. Turku Science Park Ltd aims at responding to the needs of companies by developing business services and helping to attract experts through different campaigns. Companies can utilise campaigns such as Tech Summer Trainee and Talent Call Turku.

Through the Tech Summer Trainee campaign, university students of technology and engineering studying outside Turku and who have got a summer job in the Turku region can apply for housing and public transport benefit for the summer. This year the campaign involves an international angle, as one-third of the total of 30 places are reserved for international degree students. The Talent Call Turku campaign was organised for the first time last year, and in turn focuses on leading experts with more experience. In 2020, the goal of the campaign is to find the expertise that companies critically need. Around five experts with their families get a chance to visit Turku for a week and learn about the local companies as well as living in Turku.

– This year we want to help the participants to find jobs after their visit. In view of that, we hope companies to get in touch with Turku Science Park Ltd and tell us what kinds of experts they are looking for, Minna Karhu encouraged.

It is not always necessary to head abroad to recruit international experts.

Talent Boost Breakfast gathered around 60 participants. Photo: Makoto Chiba
Talent Boost Breakfast gathered around 60 participants. Photo: Makoto Chiba

– It is estimated that there are around 1,200 highly educated, yet unemployed migrants in the Turku region. Each year approximately 3,000 international students graduate from Finnish educational institutions. Keeping them in Finland after their graduation is in our interest, said Tiina Vainio from the Turku Chamber of Commerce.

Satu Salonen manages the Talent Boost project in the Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce and introduced the newly published Talent Boost Index. It is a free online tool with which companies can map their own capabilities for recruiting international experts. It takes about ten minutes to enter the information, after which the program will provide an estimate on the readiness of the company for recruitment, and additional information on the services that the company should check out to be even better prepared.

Managing the language issues

The highlight of the event was a panel discussion on the topic “Added value to the workplace from cultural diversity”. The panel featured Mariia Bieskova (Operations and Privacy Manager, Benete Oy), Tuuli Suominen (Head of People Operations, Silo.AI), and Tuija Kantoluoto (CEO, FoodHR, Naapurin Maalaiskana Oy). The panellists touched a number of issues related to the topic, such as how have companies succeeded in crossing the language barrier when hiring international employees.

In Naapurin Maalaiskana Oy, based in Lieto, more than half of the 170 production employees have an international background. The company’s official languages are Finnish and English, but a total 17 different languages are being used at the workplace.

– Our challenge is that people should to some degree speak either Finnish or English when they come to work for us. We strive to appoint a support employee who speaks the same language to a new employee. In addition, our plant offers Finnish language courses at three different levels in which the people can participate at a time suited to them, Kantoluoto said. She has also commissioned translations of instructions for production into languages such as Vietnamese and Thai which are spoken by several employees.

The Turku-based health technology company Benete Oy’s official language is English. Mariia Bieskova nevertheless felt that Finnish is important and mentioned the gap between the Finnish language learned in courses and the professional language used at the workplace. She thinks that it is important to receive further training in Finnish language while in the working life.

Reruitment at many fronts

It came up in the event that employees are usually sought through many different channels. Some experts are found through newspaper ads, recruitment services and social media, but grapevine is also still an efficient mean of communication. Furthermore, hiring leading experts of a specific field helps in attracting other talents.

– We are a highly research-oriented company. We hire experts of e.g. AI and machine learning through universities. We have many well-known researchers on our payroll whose reputation attracts more experts, said Tuuli Suominen. Around one-third of Silo.AI’s 70 employees come from outside Finland. The staff of the AI solution provider company represents eleven different nationalities. English has been the official language of Silo.AI since the company was established.

Collisions of cultures can usually be sorted out by talking

Political crises, such as war, can cause friction at a workplace with citizens of both warring countries. Challenges can, however, emerge from much more mundane cultural differences as well.

The highlight of Talent Boost Breakfast was a panel discussion on added value to the workplace from cultural diversity. Photo: Makoto Chiba
The highlight of Talent Boost Breakfast was a panel discussion on added value to the workplace from cultural diversity. Photo: Makoto Chiba

– A workplace can have all kinds of guidelines on tolerance, but they are just words. There needs to be open discussion on what kind of corporate culture the company wants to create. In Finland, people want a self-guiding job culture, but in other cultures e.g. even slight criticism of the management’s decisions is completely unheard-of. Those issues usually require compromises, said Tuuli Suominen from Silo.AI.

Tuija Kantoluoto from Naapurin Maalaiskana Oy also emphasised the importance of discussion.

– We had a case in which a man had trouble accepting a younger woman as his supervisor. Despite continuous discussions there was clearly friction between them. We made it clear that if the man is not satisfied with the hierarchy, he should make his own choices. He left the job, continued his studies, and later returned to work for us. Then he said that he appreciated our open discussion culture, Kantaluoto said.

Ukrainian Mariia Bieskova had a Russian colleague at her workplace during the war in East Ukraine.

– ­At first we both had suspicions. Our Managing Director sat us down to talk face to face after work, and eventually we were able to understand each other’s views better, although we disagreed on things. Now, five years later, our co-operation works really well, Bieskova said.

Why diversity at the workplace is a good thing

According to number of international studies, diversity in terms of age, sex and cultural background improves the productivity of companies. Cultural diversity in particular has clearly increased the opportunities of companies to achieve better than average results.(1)

– ­In our company, Finnish employees have learned a great deal from people who have come from very different and even dangerous conditions. Those people are grateful for the security and the job. Things that we often take for granted. In addition, new habits make the working culture much richer, Tuija Kantola said.

Mariia Bieskova from Benete emphasised that people coming from outside Finland are highly dedicated to the company. She also told that a variety of experiences is useful as diversity makes it easier to be empathic and look at things from another person’s point of view.

This Talent Turku event was part of the national Talent Boost programme and was organized by Turku Science Park Ltd, World Trade Center Turku, Turku Chamber of Commerce, Humak University of Applied Sciences, Federation of Finnish Enterprises (Finland Proper, Southwest Finland) and Business Finland. The event was part-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF).

Text (Finnish): Jenny Honka and Kai Saarto, HUMAK.
Photos: Emilia Reponen, HUMAK and Makoto Chiba