Company Storytelling

Interview with Livio Zingarelli and Astrid Balsink

24 Mar 2021

By the Editorial staff

In this “three-way conversation” today, the Editor in chief meets Livio Zingarelli, Head of HR Philips Italy, Israel and Greece, and Astrid Balsink, Philips Global Lead lnclusion & Diversity. We’ve known Livio for some time and have been exchanging views on these topics for a while; this is the first time that we have had the pleasure of meeting with Astrid and hearing her views, and her global perspective is very useful for understanding what direction the group is going in.

Dear Livio, here we are, catching up again. What does it mean, today, to activate Inclusion & Diversity policies and practices?

Opening up to diversity means being open to change, accepting the idea that, to respond best to different needs, it’s necessary to evolve. You must listen and understand, take risks and create new expectations, knowing how they will be managed. I&D has at this point become a founding element that makes us more competitive and embodies two fundamental values: trust and responsibility. Companies like ours must not only adapt to the changes our society (especially younger generations) confronts us with as it evolves, but we must also have the ambition to help this evolution, playing a key role by influencing and guiding towards inclusion by providing a positive example.

Livio Zingarelli

What impact does I&D have on leadership?

It is necessary to discover how much value is created by controlling less, coordinating better, promoting diverse managerial styles and new leadership. The commitment of the top management in a company is indispensable in bringing about change; for this reason, for example, we have created new positions within our business activities that carry responsibility for supporting inclusion. We all want to work in ethical environments, in which you can be transparent about who we are, and that’s what we are aiming for with our #youareyou programme. We want to feel that we are part of an organisation that operates in spaces and times where prejudice or discrimination have no place. This attitude and these choices are what will stand the test of time – and this is coming from a company that will be 130 years old soon!

A very respectable age, I would say! Inclusion & Diversity have walked arm in arm right from the beginning. How do you explain that?

Because to make the most of the diversity that is available to you, you must include it. Allowing its value, including its financial value, to emerge. Inclusion reduces the limits of diversity and maximises its opportunities.  In our organisation, for example, 78% of employees aged 50 are men and 22% are women; on the other hand, 55% of employees under 35 are female. This gives you an idea of the diversity and of how giving it the attention it deserves can bring about change. The programmes we have implemented in the last three years concerning well-being and smart-working are characterised by flexibility and are very effective and appreciated. As we have said before, a society that is more open brings challenges and opportunities in every aspect of diversity: cultural, generational, as well as diversity regarding gender and sexual orientation.

What aspects of diversity is Philips focusing on now?

We have been dealing with the subject of disability and how to correctly manage inclusion in the workplace carefully and with great results for years. In recent years we have made great progress with regard to gender diversity, both in terms of overall number and specifically regarding the number of women in leadership positions – in fact, this has increased from 15% to 27% in the last four years, with the benefit that this leads to there being diverse leadership styles within the company. Our main focuses now are age diversity and the subject of LGBT+. I have good reason to connect the two subjects, because younger generations are leading us to deal with the subject of sexual orientation with renewed enthusiasm, openness and more calmly. To give a concrete example, in the last few months we had two young people – a man and a woman – who were candidates for jobs in our company, express an interest during their job interviews in our policies regarding employees with partners of the same gender. It’s wonderful that it’s possible to talk about this now and that this is a factor in choosing where to work. These two young candidates have since joined our organisation and will certainly join us as allies to manage important changes. 

Astrid Balsink

Dear Astrid, where were you born, what did you study and how did you come to work for Philips?

I was born in the Netherlands. I love to write, explore and challenge the status quo so I ended up studying Journalism. The first 10 years of my career, I was a journalist with various, national media. But interviewing CEOs, analyzing and criticizing companies made me wonder what it would be like to be part of the corporate world. And here I am, 15 years later. I&D is not just a job, it’s a mission.

How long have you been Global Director Inclusion & Diversity at Philips and why were you given this position?

I joined Philips in 2018. Philips was implementing different best practices to increase the number of women at the top, but  wanted to make more progress and opted for adding external expertise and a different perspective. I didn't develop anything new, but connected everything that was already there in a different way. Together with the team, we introduced a new perspective and brought it all together in a holistic framework that people understood. We just got the movement started, and from there it has continued to grow.

Could you please give us an overview of the global situation at Philips regarding I&D (objectives, areas for improvement, important achievements)?

At Philips, we want to foster an inclusive working environment where people are valued and accepted for their uniqueness, and where everyone can be themselves. A more diverse and inclusive workplace makes good business sense – it makes us more competitive and more innovative, and is a key driver for making Philips a great place to work for people who share our passion. We are all looking for a sense of belonging. When we feel valued and appreciated and can be who we truly are, we can also give the best of ourselves, which is also our motto: life is better when #youareyou. Since May 2018, we have increased the number of women at the top from 19% to 27% today. Even more important, we increased their sense of belonging, which helps us to also retain diverse talent. We are only at the start, acknowledging that we are all learning and each one of us has to play their part to together be and do better. I am learning something new every day and I love it.

Could you give us a global overview of LGBT+ issues, in particular (objectives, areas for improvement, important achievements)? 

It is important that we actively support our employees creating a workplace where it is safe and appreciated when #youareyou. Over the last five years we have made further steps in LGBT+ workplace inclusion. The Pride movement was built up bottom-up by passionate employees which grew immensely and every year Philips participates in more Pride Parades around the globe with huge engagement from our people. Next to that, we worked on policies and practices around the globe, which resulted this year in a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaigns’ Corporate Equality Index in North America. We were recognized as one of the top scorers in the 2020 LGBTI Global Benchmark Survey of Workplace Pride, increasing our score with 28.8% compared to last year, reaching 74.4%. Though we are happy being recognized for our work in this area, still a lot of work has to be done around the world. Most important is that we continue to build and foster an inclusive working environment where everyone is respected, can feel safe to speak up and is supported to be their unique self. We will continue to grow the movement globally in more and more markets, by support of leaders, our passionate Philips Rainbow Network and all allies. 

What is the greatest challenge today that must be dealt within your opinion?

In this world we have many opportunities that are also related to this work. Polarisation, a pandemic, the burden of women often still doing the majority of unpaid work, racism... And we haven’t even touched upon the (limitations of) human brain as we all have biases. Increased awareness, training, lectures on topics like privilege and ally ship, equality and equity, the growth and involvement of employee networks, help us to become more aware. To be open to learn. To stimulate ongoing dialogues even – or especially – when it feels uncomfortable. Although we might not have all the answers, we have to put in the effort to intentionally include because if we are not intentionally including, chances are, we are unintentionally excluding.

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