INTERVIEW WITH AYSUN KALMIK
What were you like when you were younger? How were you educated? How did your parents’ cultural diversity influence your growth?
I was a friendly, social and curious kid. Always asking questions and wanting to learn the reasons for things. Showing an interest in foreign countries, cultures, languages. Trying to learn English even in elementary school to communicate with tourists and make friends. I had lots of pen pals from all over the world.
I was and am lucky to have grown up in a well-educated fam- ily, so my education was the most important topic for my family. I studied in a German high school for 7 years and then studied economics in English at Istanbul University.
The first and for me the most important advice I got from my parents was, “Never discriminate against any person based on their views, financial status, title, family, their stories; everything you see is only the visible part of the iceberg.” And this is the basis of my personality and for my personal values in terms of diversity and inclusion.
I was the one who was always trying to bring people together, to engage and organise. It still continues to be that way with my friends. When I was in second class in elementary school I would visit the first classes during breaks and try to support them with their writing and reading. My passion was helping and supporting people and touching their lives in some way.
What did you study? Did you study in your country or abroad?
I studied at a German high school for 7 years in my country and then studied Economics in English at Istanbul University, Turkey. 80% of my teachers in the high school were from Germany.
What was your first role and what expectations did you have when you started there?
I started to work when I was studying at university as a part time sales-person in an Adidas store in the first shopping mall in Turkey. I played volleyball at the time, so I visited the store quite often and they offered me a job because I knew all the products. My expectation was to learn about the business and to earn pocket money. And see what I really wanted to do for a ca- reer by experiencing and learning.
I got my first training there in sales, communication, being customer-centric, inventory, P&L, loving the product, human behaviours, cultural differences in customer behaviours, and finding solutions.
Then I decided I had to work with people.
How have you seen diversity and inclusion change in the last 5 years?
First of all the world is being transformed into having “no borders,” so that means there are no more strict frameworks based on preferences. Through digitalisation everyone can reach out and find what they are looking for easily. Millennials and members of Gen Z are speaking up about topics that were not spoken about before.
Transparency and integrity are some of the most sought-out values in people.
Respect, acceptance and no unconscious bias or prejudice is what we are all looking for in an environment, both socially and in business contexts.
So to summarise, all these changes affect talent acquisition, talent management and talent retention for companies in this highly competitive world when attracting the best talents on the market.
What does Diversity stand for, for you?
For me it is respect and acceptance. It means “I see you; I respect you; you are valuable, you exist and are accepted as you are in your unique way”.
What are your key commitments?
At Prysmian we are committed to working in partnership with the many local communities in which we operate, primarily through Prysmian’s industrial presence, promoting technical-professional, socio-cultural and human capital growth. Prysmian promises to develop inclusive work environments centred on valuing and respecting people for their diverse genders, cultures, origins, nationalities, ethnicities, religions or abilities, consistent with its presence across five diverse continents. Prysmian aims to accelerate the creation and development of a qualified workforce as part of a strategy for its long-term sustain- ability, developing an organisation that strives to promote gender equality at all levels, with a specific focus on increasing the num- ber of women in technical-scientific fields and innovation.
The group will champion programmes to broaden the inclusion of all its collaborators and partners in digital technologies, overcoming past challenges and working to eliminate any role- or position-related discrimination.
Prysmian will continue to maintain workplace health and safety as a top priority for all its collaborators through programmes aimed at daily prevention, as they are essential prerequisites for business.
Why is Diversity a strategic lever for sustainable growth?
According to several surveys, diverse companies are outperforming others at remarkable rates.
According to McKinsey, gender, ethnic and cultural diversity, within executive teams, continues to be correlated with finan- cial performance across multiple countries worldwide.
In their 2015 report, the hypotheses about what drives this correlation were that more diverse companies are better able to attract top talent; to improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction and decision-making; and to secure their licence to operate-all of which we believe continues to be relevant. using 2014 diversity data from McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. In the 2017 data set this number rose to 21 percent and continued to be statistically significant.
For ethnic and cultural diversity, the 2014 finding was that there was a 35 percent likelihood of outperformance, comparable to the 2017 finding of a 33 percent likelihood of outperformance on EBIT margin; both were also statistically significant
What are the issues that need to be resolved today and what positive changes will the near future bring? How would you like to effect change?
The main issues to be resolved are the percentage of wom- en in leadership positions and women in the total workforce, especially in operations and STEM roles. With our social ambition KPIs and actions such as hiring +500 Women in STEM roles, aiming for 25% women in total in the workforce in 2030, we believe that we will take a big step forward.
How do you define an inclusive workplace?
For me, inclusion is to be heard, to be informed, to be lis- tened to, to be asked for my opinion or feeling free to speak while being respected and accepted.
So an inclusive workplace provides:
- Good leadership competencies
- Development options, guidance
- Effective information flow through communication channels and meetings
- Common values and common understanding in the value chain
- Well communicated goals, targets and KPIs
- Including related team members in the decision-making process
- A feedback culture What does multiculturalism mean to you? Multiculturalism to me means diverse backgrounds in education, social and family life, business experience, different origins, ethnicities, nationalities, several distinct cultural or ethnic groups, minorities. What experiences have you had with multiculturalism? As I have had the chance to work in big global companies and also managed different regions that included different countries, I have had quite a lot of experience.
I was able to see all kinds of multicultural approaches from Europe to Africa, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, India, Sri Lanka, the USA and how this translated into successful results.
I feel very luck to have experienced all these diversified work- ing environments, which are reflected in mutual respect and an approach that focuses on us all being one team.
If you have encountered any difficulties on this path, what were they and how did you overcome them?
There are always challenging situations in life, but how they affect you depends on how much you try to prepare, under- stand and communicate.
I always try to be prepared, to search for the relevant cultural perspective, communication preferences and sensitive subjects when I am entering into a new environment, company culture or country.
I knew that Nordic cultures always prefer to have enough physical distance to secure their personal space before I contacted those colleagues. Turkish culture involves touching as body language when communicating with people. So I prepared for this before beginning social interactions with people from this kind of culture.
Or to give another example, I knew that in India people might like to take pictures of foreigners, and so I did not react when they would take my picture while I was walking down the street.
And then listening, observing and communicating are the most critical steps we all need to take to get along with di- verse groups and cultures.
Another thing I always try to avoid is to start a discussion about politics, religions and subjects that may be sensitive or historical and may cause strong reactions.
These are my ways of solving or even not creating difficulties for anyone.