A woman in her work clothes and safety gear poses for the camera inside a pulp and paper mill
Linda Stinessen, mill director at Stora Enso’s Fors site, says diverse teams deliver on a better level © Daniel Ekbladh

The warehouse at Stora Enso’s paper mill in Fors, central Sweden, looks like a cross between fairground dodgems and a scene from Star Wars.

Forklifts fitted with enormous grabbers wield colossal rolls of card, spin around and race down narrow corridors between the stacks.

Every day, the factory transforms 40 trucks of lumber into high-quality cardboard for food packaging and children’s books. That amounts to more than 1,000 tonnes of finished product daily that the company must get out of the door.

But, despite this frenetic pace of work, the warehouse has been accident free for more than six years — a fact the company attributes in part to its diverse workforce.

The on-site team of 24 has a mix of men and women, ages and backgrounds, which Stora Enso says has raised risk awareness and helped create a stronger safety culture.

“It used to be a much tougher environment, but we have had more and more women in the warehouse team,” says section manager Jan Eidseflot. “And, now, it is normal to talk about safety over a cup of coffee,” he adds.

Women bring discipline to the team, says forklift operator Louise Kuul. “We are a calming influence — when you have a bunch of lads, the language is bad.

“An inclusive culture means people are happy to speak up and safety is naturally on the agenda.”

This small corner of the Swedish-Finnish pulp and paper business reflects systematic investment in strengthening diversity and inclusion (D&I) by the company — which tops this year’s FT-Statista ranking of Europe’s Diversity Leaders.

Since 2016, Stora Enso has set targets for its percentage of women managers and, last year, the company introduced incentives for senior management linked to improved performance on D&I.

In 2021, diversity workshops and follow-ups at local team level were rolled out across the business. Perceptions of diversity are a key indicator in employee engagement surveys. “It starts from the top, we have been very systematic, and we pay a lot of attention to tailoring initiatives to local conditions to make them relevant,” says Katariina Kravi, who is head of people and culture for Stora Enso group and based in the Finnish capital, Helsinki.

“Diversity is not profiled as an issue for human resources only — it is a management topic and is naturally part of the management agenda.”

Targets for women in management roles have to be carefully explained, Kravi adds. “Women do not get managerial jobs more easily — we always choose the best person for the role,” she stresses. “But we put more effort into finding women for these roles.

“This is still a male dominated industry, so you don’t get the same number of female applicants.”

This approach makes Stora Enso stand out in the region. A recent survey of companies in the Nordics by Boston Consulting Group found that most approach diversity as something that simply needs to be “fixed” by the HR department with the goal of improving some indicators.

Only a few companies seek to leverage diversity as a source of business value and competitive advantage, the report found.

The Nordics are slowly improving on D&I but the rest of the world is going faster, says Thomas Jensen, senior partner at Boston Consulting Group in Sweden. In a society that claims to be very liberal, there are almost no senior corporate leaders who are openly LGBTQ+, he points out, while too few companies address the matter of ethnicity — a hot-button issue in the country.

“There is not as much progressive thinking as you would expect,” Jensen says. For example, Sweden is generally opposed to quotas, which are regarded as giving minorities an unfair advantage. “But minorities face an unfair disadvantage,” Jensen comments.

The business case for diversity is clear — whether it is better recruitment and retention, employee wellbeing, or having a greater understanding of customer segments or suppliers. However, diversity is still only embedded in a minority of companies, Jensen says.

He adds: “The companies that are making real progress see diversity as an imperative for generating business value, not just an HR thing.

“If it remains an HR and recruiting topic, and doesn’t become a business line topic, then we will be stuck in the old paradigm.”

At Stora Enso’s Fors mill, meeting the factory’s gender diversity targets is a challenge. The area is sparsely populated and turnover among the workforce is low. But the mill now has an outreach programme for schools and parents, to increase the number of female applicants.

At senior management level, the mill is 50:50 men and women, while the total proportion of women among the 520 employees is 28 per cent. That’s not good enough, according to the site’s mill director Linda Stinessen — the target is 34 per cent female employees by 2026. “That is a tough challenge, but I really believe in this,” Stinessen says. “It’s about values, about treating people equally, but it’s also about doing great business. We know that with a diverse organisation we will be more efficient.”

A diverse team makes it easier to drive change, to bring in new technologies and ways of working, Stinessen adds.

“We are trying to create a culture of trust where people take initiative and make the right decisions. Diverse teams have better safety records, better wellbeing, they deliver on a better level. It is all about building a great team.”

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