Diversity and Inclusion in Stockholm

In March, I conducted two workshops in Stockholm on Diversity and Inclusion at the request of Swedish colleagues. One group, Foreningen Gestalt i Organisation (FGO), consisted of professional organization consultants, education professionals, and persons working inside Swedish companies. The second group, Perlan Dialog och Ledarshkap AB, is the premier Organization Development Consulting Firm in Sweden. Both groups are heavily invested and practiced in Gestalt concepts and models.

First, let me say that Stockholm is a beautiful city. I am sure, more beautiful in the Spring and Summer, but captivating and interesting in March as well. The people I met and interacted with were wonderful, generous, avid learners, multilingual and understood quite well the need for Swedish culture to embrace diversity and inclusion. My time there was personally rewarding due to friends who hosted my visit and showed me a bit of what it is like to live like a Swede! I am most grateful to them.

Prior to my visit, some of my friends and U.S. based colleagues expressed surprise that Swedes would be interested in the topic of Diversity and Inclusion. I was curious about their reaction and believe it may be due to the fact that we have been entrenched in a U.S. centric view that Diveristy and Inclusion is about race and gender. While it is hard to escape how those differences, along with sexual orientation, age and organization tenure, often are determininants of engagment and productivity in society and in organizations, there are many other differences that are blocks to Inclusion. For Swedes, like many Europeans, immigration, country geography (city/rural) and cultural issues are more often determinants of who is an "insider" and who is an "outsider." So the business case for leveraging differences was very clear to this historically monocultural, monochromatic country.

It is clear to me that Sweden MUST understand diversity as a country. It sits at the top of the Northern Hemisphere and has no choice but to do business across borders with the rest of the world, if it is to survive economically. This translates to people understanding and speaking multiple languages (they put the U.S. to shame in this regard!) and a keen interest learning about diversity and inclusion.

If I had to identify a key learning from my visit, it would be that "insider"/"outsider" dynamics operate in Swedish culture and companies, as they do in the U.S. The differences that make one an "insider" or "outsider" may vary, but the perspective or lens one has is identical. As an "insider" I am unaware, unconscious, and don't see my privilege. As an "outsider" I am keenly aware, very conscious of my one-down status and see the privilege of the "insider" group clearly. No dialogue to increase and appreciate each other's differences can be effective without this understanding.

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