Osikoya : Diversity and Inclusion Drive Innovation at Maersk Group


Rachel Osikoya is the Head, Diversity and Inclusion at A.P. Moller-Maersk Group. Osikoya, who was in Lagos last week for a women’s leadership development programme, spoke with Chika Amanze-Nwachuku on the concept and importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Excerpts:

Diversity and inclusion is a relatively new concept especially in Africa. What does diversity and inclusion really mean?

Diversity is really about differences. At Maersk we are focussing specifically on diversity in terms of gender, nationality and age. Generational diversity is something a lot of companies are looking at now. It is also about how you think, how you solve problems, what difference you bring to the organisation. If we have the same particular set of people in an organisation, we are never going to innovate or come up with new ideas.

We are going to be doing things in the same way every time and in our industry, things are changing rapidly, so we need to have that diversity in our organisation to compete successfully. The inclusion phase is how you make the diversity work. So there is need to have leaders or managers who would bring in those different ideas and enable people to be able to use that diversity for the benefit of the organisation. So we see it as a competitive advantage for Maersk.

Why is diversity and inclusion important to the Maersk Group?
It brings innovation to the organisation. We know that more women are now graduating from the university and in some of the countries we operate in, women are nearly twice as many than men graduating from the university. We also know that in the future – by about 2020 – some research has shown that four out of 10 graduates are going to be from China and India. We know that in countries like Nigeria, the population and the economy is growing. We want to open our talent pool; we don’t just want to hire one nationality but every nationality across the globe and be attractive to both genders too. The innovation part is quite interesting because research has shown that if you have diversity of thoughts in an organisation, you are more likely to increase your growth in market share and your potential in capturing new markets. Being able to get different perspectives is the key to remaining competitive for Maersk.

Maersk Group operates in male dominated industries. Do you see the idea of getting more women into the Group working considering the inherent nature of your industry?

I believe it is already working. In the Maersk energy division for example, we already have a female Chief Executive Officer. So, we can see it is already working and the difference it brings to the table is the different perspectives to business issues, which is what we want. We just finished the “Strategy for Success” programme to help women develop their leadership potential. We know we have fewer women at our senior levels so by investing in leadership programmes for women we believe we can start to unlock the female talent pipeline we have within our organisation.

Strategies for Success, is just one of the four leadership programmes we have for women at Maersk. So we are focussing on leadership and we also look at attraction as well. Mckinsey research conducted shows that if every country narrowed the gender gap at the same historical rate as the fastest-improving country in its regional peer group, it will add about $12 trillion to the world’s GDP. We know it is not just good for business but for the economy as well. So for Maersk, we believe it is the way forward so that we can really get that competitive advantage.

Is the maternity policy recently introduced by the Maersk Group having the desired impact?

We are still measuring the impact because it has just been a year. In some of the countries we operate in, women are fortunate enough to have a year maternity so we are still measuring how many women are coming back but what we are seeing is an increase in the retention of women in other countries, which is what we want. We saw that we will be retaining roughly about 70per cent of females after maternity leave. Also, 80per cent of the women that left, did so in the first 12 months which is the most critical period in retaining new mothers.

The policy gives the mother the time to bond with the child and be ready to come back to work. Integration back into work after a maternity leave is the key and it is important to provide a little flexibility for the employee coming back. Interestingly India has just launched a new maternity policy that does just that, giving pregnant women 26 weeks maternity leave and providing them with flexibility when they return to work. Part of the Maersk maternity policy for our onshore employees a reintegration into work plan where employees work for 80percent of their hours but we pay them full time.

Although we are still monitoring it but we can see that the number is going up from the retention perspective. One thing we also did, which I think is vital to any business is a cost analysis and we saw was that the extra cost of those weeks of maternity leave is actually eliminated if you can retain women because if you lose women due to maternity, the cost of hiring, the time the managers have to interview and the time when there is decrease in productivity, that would cost the business money, so if we could get the policy right, we can help make some savings for the business.

Is the policy extended to the male staff?
Being a Danish company; in Denmark, the fathers have the right to take a longer paternity leave but we have also extended the policy to the male staff across the company globally to have a one-week basic paternity leave, which of course was a good start. Research has also shown that if you have more men involved in bonding with the child, it actually helps more women to go back to work as well. So involving men in the maternity policy is the key to its success.

How was the maternity policy received by the staff?

We have heard positive response from the female staff and even the male staff commenting on how good the maternity leave was for women. So we had a really positive response from employees and a good response from our Human Resource team as well who implemented the policy across the 130 countries.

It is interesting to see a Nigerian head the diversity and inclusion team of Maersk Group, please tell us your story.

I was actually born in the United Kingdom but my father was a Nigerian and my mother is British. So I grew up having a Nigerian and British heritage and I think that has really helped me from the diversity angle. The first time I came to Nigeria, I was 13 years old and for me it is a whole new culture and different way of life, working and relating to each other to what I am used to and it spurred the interest in diversity for me.

I have always wanted to work for a global company; I never wanted to work for a company that was only based in one country but a company that would avail me the opportunity to explore the world. Having parents with two heritages has not only helped me understand diversity but also allowed me to learn that there are different ways of doing things and different perspectives and I have learnt to take the best of both.

What is the purpose of your visit to Nigeria?

We network a lot across the Human Resource department and we often discuss what we can do more to support diversity. The Strategies for Success Programme has been running for five years and we have never had a programme in Nigeria, after discussing this with Bunmi Pratt (Head of HR, APMT Apapa), we decided to bring the programme to Nigeria for the first time.

The programme is run in partnership with a UK based leadership company, Edit Development and I had the pleasure of co-facilitating the programme with Sonia Bates the Managing Director and with Bunmi from APMT. We had 29 women at various levels across the organisation and across six countries attend the programme. The women left with a new form of motivation and aspiration as to what they want to do.

What the programme, Strategy for Success, does is to give you the tools to understand how you personally can be successful and also give back to others, which is important for all of our leaders at Maersk. A lot of women are talking about how they can help and mentor others. It is a fantastic programme that we want to run more of and I hope I will be able to come back to run another edition here in the future.