UNLEASH’s senior journalist gets some time with long time UNLEASH collaborator and Spotify CHRO Katarina Berg to discuss how an HR policy a few years in the making really took off because of the unavoidable global events of the last three years. Read on for the insights of a groundbreaking HR thought leader.
Allie Nawrat: Do you feel that there’s been significant gender parity gains in the 2020s so far? How does this situation compare to the 2000s and the 2010s?
Katarina Berg: In one way, it feels like we are not necessarily making the progress, we should; it’s 2023, we should be somewhere else with all these issues, challenges or focus areas. But at the same time, I have to say I think we have seen a couple of things that are positive strands, so let’s keep it hopeful and positive.
AN: Yeah, I did want to ask you, what are the main areas of success that you’ve seen, what are the main areas of progress?
KB: One thing that we all know is that the pandemic was a curse, in many ways, but it was also a blessing. And I think being forced to work from home, we could see that a lot of people, especially the women – I’m not going to be 100% bias here – but we see that the product managers in most homes where you have a family, the women are actually doing the heavy lifting. But taking away the commute, a couple of things happened where most women could actually do things without stressing out the same way that they used to do when they were forced getting into the office all the time.
And then I think we found new ways of doing that, especially companies like Spotify, where we introduced a ‘work from anywhere’ program, so we could tweak and we could iterate on that, and maybe make the workforce even more diverse and, where the place to work is much more inclusive, and where a lot of people with different backgrounds and also different kinds of challenges, feel that they belong.
AN: Could you talk a little bit more about that working from anywhere policy? How does it build that inclusion? What was the motivation behind it?
KB: We started to talk [about it] before the pandemic. We knew that work is something you do not have to have a place you come into, right. So if you have that as the foundation; during COVID-19, we asked all our employees a couple of questions – and we got almost as many answers as employees – but one thing every employee said over and over again was; please don’t take away the freedom and flexibility. So we wanted to build on that.
And then I tasked Alex Westerdahl (HR business partner at Spotify) and Anna Lundström (VP,HR of Freemium BU at Spotify) in my team to see if that could end up as a program. So they had a couple of jam sessions together with our founder and CEO, Daniel Ek, around what was his vision, and it panned out quite quickly that we wanted to be, or we saw ourselves, as a distributed-first company – and the next era would be that.
So the things that we were hoping for was that we would be more attractive to people, because we didn’t think that we were unique in that sense that only Spotify wants freedom and flexibility. The second thing that was important to us was that we think we can retain people a bit longer if they have that freedom and flexibility. So they can decide where to work that is relevant for them. And the third thing that was also very clear to us that we had a hope – and data was also pointing in that direction – that we could recruit much more diversely, where we didn’t have an office, so when we opened up the program, for people in some of the more underrepresented groups, it would be easier for them to stay in their hometown, in their community, but still work for us.
Two years into the program, this is what the data says too: Spotify is even more attractive than before, people have longer tenure than before, and we have been successful in recruiting much more diversely than before. But I think the foundation is that you have to be trust based. And you have to also make sure that you dare to be value driven to introduce a program like that.
AN: Yeah, definitely. And so obviously, attraction and retention was a huge part of that. Can you talk a little bit more about what else Spotify is doing around bringing diversity into your hiring, but also your career mobility and promotion, because we all know it’s not good enough to just bring women and other minorities in through the door, you have to grow and develop them up to leadership level.
KB: Yeah, very true. So back in the days, when we just bluntly said to ourselves, we can do much better than this, we need to become much more diverse, we need to really look into how equity plays out both on the platform, but also as a workplace, and then crack the code of inclusiveness and also belonging, back then we were 17% women, and today we are 44. And we put targets on every business unit and every team. And as we all know – and we all say because it’s also true – whatever you measure will be done.
But we also want to show up and really turn up the volume on diverse voices, and show different perspectives, so they are all shared and heard. And that goes both on the platform, but it also goes internally; talking a lot about perspective and who’s not sitting at the table, and making sure if you’re going to stay innovative then of course you need to have people with different backgrounds, with different upbringings with different cultures, ethnicities and races.
And these are the things that we started in 2013 to focus on, and then 2015 was the year of awareness, and 2016 was the year of really changing and doubling down. And then a couple of things happened during the pandemic that pivoted this work. And where I think we understood that it’s, as you say, not about just bringing more diverse talent into the doors.
It was also for us to make sure that we were promoting within and by having the philosophy of recruiting from within and homegrown talent we have seen a lot of positive changes, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, of course.
AN: That leads me on to my final question for you, which is, we all know that diversity is an ongoing effort, the job is never been done, what is next for Spotify? What’s on your radar to continue to drive this progress in D,E&I and particularly around gender?
KB: I think it is a couple of things. But I think what we have figured out is; there’s so many things you want to do, and when you spread yourself thin, you don’t get the impact. And it’s not just within diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging but I think almost more so. So we will try to do fewer things, but more impactful things. And I think we’re focusing more on equity than diversity, inclusion and belonging, which which we have done in the years up to now.
It’s very much about staying put and doing more where we know that we can see the impact, which is very hard; It means sometimes that you have to sunset some darlings to really drive sustainable change and then remind yourself that this is not a campaign, this is not something you do because it’s politically correct. This is something that you do because it’s part of your business. It actually helps your bottom line, and it’s something that is part of your culture…
Don’t miss our exclusive LIVE webinar taking place on International Woman’s Day on March 8. Our speakers will be sharing their experience of gaining the right digital skills, at the right time in order to succeed in their own careers in the male-dominated arena of tech.
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