Breakthrough in Business Support for Human Rights in Lithuania: Why is it Important for Businesses to Support Equal Opportunities?

The year 2019 saw the breakthrough of business sector support for human rights in Lithuania. For the first time in the history of the LGBT community’s Baltic Pride festival, business representatives in Lithuania have actively contributed to the organization of the festival. On this occasion, we discuss business support for human rights and equal opportunities with Dovilė Grigienė, Chairman of the Board and Head of Administration at Swedbank Lithuania, Birutė Eimontaitė, Telia Communications Manager, Mariano Andrade, Head of Moody’s Lithuania and Diversity Development Group Director Karolis Žibas.

Why is it important for you to support vulnerable groups in society? Could you list the vulnerable groups for which you have sponsored projects relevant to them?

Dovilė Grigienė. © Augustas Didžgalvis picture

Dovilė Grigienė. © Augustas Didžgalvis picture

Dovilė Grigienė: “Diversity and equal opportunities are the foundation of an open, progressive and sustainable society. We should all be interested in making all members of our society feel equally valued, needed and safe. We see a sense in working together with society as a whole to achieve these goals, and we support change that promotes progress and sustainable development.

Swedbank has for many years been committed to addressing gender equality issues. Last fall, we implemented the Green Light project, which aims to reduce unwarranted pay differences between men and women. During the project, pedestrian traffic lights were altered on Konstitucijos Avenue in Vilnius, as the man symbol was replaced by a symbolic female figure, and we invited the business to actively contribute to the promotion of equal opportunities in the workplace for both women and men.

In 2017, we initiated and continue to support Go Forward, a conference on successful women’s careers and leaderships. In addition, Swedbank has become the first bank to sign a Diversity Charter that promotes diversity and equal opportunities in the workplace.”

Mariano Andrade. © Augustas Didžgalvis picture

Mariano Andrade. © Augustas Didžgalvis picture

Mariano Andrade: “Our biggest asset is our people so it’s important to us that our values and ethics as a company resonate with our employees and our potential workforce, and that means demonstrating our commitment to diverse groups across the spectrum, wherever we do business.

A few recent examples of how Moody’s supports the LGBT community specifically include: signing the Lithuanian Diversity Charter, which is an agreement from the business community to contribute to ensuring equality and social inclusion at the workplace and in the broader Lithuanian society. We sponsored Moody’s LGBT employee resource groups in every region in which we do business that advocate for LGBT inclusion inside and outside of the workplace, as well. We also have employee resource groups to represent women and people from different generations and cultures.”

Birutė Eimontaitė: “At Telia, we prioritize all people and their experiences, both our customers and our employees, because they are the ones who create, develop and maintain technology that is user-friendly and accessible to everyone. We always ask ourselves whether what we do will help promote diversity within Telia, whether it will help people get involved and share different experiences. It is different thinking and different ideas that add value and allow you to develop, move forward and maintain leadership. We therefore believe in and support diversity and equal opportunities for all, both in the workplace and beyond.

As part of these beliefs, we joined the Baltic Pride 2019 march on June 8, which was attended by about 100 Telia employees, along with family and friends.

It is also very important for us to take part in initiatives that inspire women and girls to pursue careers in technology, such as the Women in Tech initiative. This year, we joined the DUOday initiative, organized for the first time in Lithuania, which allows a person with a disability not to only get to know the company from the inside, but also to try out the usual tasks of employees, attend meetings and communicate with colleagues. We support the National Equality and Diversity Awards and participated in the first National Human Rights Forum.

Our own staff pparticipates in Telia’s YOUNITE Volunteering Program, which aims to improve the technological skills of various sections of the community, such as seniors or students, raise awareness of safe Internet and reduce the digital divide, contributing to the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development until the year of 2030.”

Karolis Žibas

Karolis Žibas

Karolis Žibas: “Equal opportunities are at the heart of our organization. We were established in 2012 and brought together scientists and activists of non-governmental organizations. The responsibilities of each of our employees are to promote equal opportunities. We believe that a nation is strong as long as it can protect and defend the rights of vulnerable groups. Admittedly, there is room for the state to “stretch” in this area, and our organization aims to contribute to progress in this area. We started working in the field of inequality, exploitation and involved the private sector. This sector has a lot of resources and a wealth of knowledge on how to address the longstanding and structural problems in Lithuania.

Looking at the data from Eurostat, the European Central Bank, and Statistics Lithuania, it is very difficult to identify the most vulnerable groups in society. Almost one third of people in Lithuania live below the poverty line or are at risk of poverty. The exclusion index shows that the difference between 20 percent of the richest and 20 percent of the poorest in Lithuania is more than 7 times. Many people fall into this category: Lithuanian citizens, foreign nationals, migrants, refugees, the elderly, people with disabilities. People with disabilities are a particularly vulnerable group with a much higher risk of poverty than the Lithuanian average.

Unfortunately, it must be acknowledged that very often groups representing the diversity of society are at risk of violence. Unlike other organizations, we do not provide services to these target groups, but we do work on processes that affect these groups: monitoring the migration process, analyzing refugee integration processes, labor market exploitation of migrant workers, human trafficking. In its assessment of the Sustainable Development Goals 2019, the Lithuanian Inequality Reduction Index declined. This means that not only are we not making progress in this area, we are also regressing. It is determined by the economic policy of Lithuania, the general situation in which different groups find themselves.”

How can business contribute to the promotion of equal opportunities in Lithuania?

Dovilė Grigienė. © Augustas Didžgalvis picture

Dovilė Grigienė. © Augustas Didžgalvis picture

Dovilė Grigienė: “First of all, by implementing the principles of equal opportunities in the workplace. Employees are increasingly considering the reputation of a company when choosing employers. Recently, the corporate value system, the approach to equality, and the principles of sustainable development have become even more important. In this way, an advanced business that respects the principles of equality and diversity, and which makes business valued by customers and employees, can serve as a model for other companies and society as a whole.”

Mariano Andrade: “At Moody’s we know that diverse viewpoints lead to better decisions. Employing people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, as well as enabling them to contribute to their maximum potential increases the quality of our opinions, products and services. We know that fostering an inclusive and diverse environment helps us to be a better business, but more importantly, it’s just the right thing to do.”

Birutė Eimontaitė: “Last year, we signed a Diversity Charter with nearly thirty Lithuanian companies to reduce discrimination among employees and promote diversity and equal opportunities. It is one of many ways that provide the knowledge, the platform and the support to create a better society in which we live, work and build.”

Karolis Žibas: “Looking at Western and Northern Europe, we can see that business plays a very important role in this area. In Lithuania, we are only trying to start talking about the fact that business needs to change not so much the attitude of the community as a whole, but to talk about diversity in their companies. Businesses can ensure diversity plans, a friendly and inclusive workplace, and communicate all this outward, thus changing the attitudes prevailing in Lithuania’s public discourse.

Business has more flexibility and policy than the country itself. Business has more flexibility and policy than the state itself. The concept of multiple discrimination in business is long established, while at national level it is still lacking. The message about human rights and promotion of diversity in Lithuania is heard not only from non-governmental organizations, one or another ministry, but also from the business sector. Some businesses have signed up to the “Diversity Charter”. These businesses emphasize a non-selective approach to diversity and human rights. When it comes to children’s rights and gender equality, the same people should be concerned with the rights of refugee, LGBT and all other areas of diversity. Therefore, we emphasize a holistic approach to human rights. If we have a selective approach to diversity, it is no longer diversity.”

What kind of equal opportunities do you implement in your work environment? Why is it important that every employee has an equal opportunity to realize himself?

© Augustas Didžgalvis picture

© Augustas Didžgalvis picture

Dovilė Grigienė: “We pay great attention to gender issues. About four years ago, we conducted an in-depth analysis of the entire organization and identified positions where the gender pay gap was not justified. In order to close the gap, we have allocated a special budget and achieved the current gender pay gap at Swedbank not exceeding 1 percent.

With our Gender Equality and Diversity Policy in place, we have set a goal of having at least 40 percent of the leaders at all levels being women. We strive to always have candidates of both genders in leadership positions. Following this principle, we organize the selection process – there must be at least one woman or at least one man among the applicants for the position.

We also included employees on parental leave in our annual salary review. In this way, we ensure that their salaries are kept in line with other colleagues and that there no pay gap is formed while they are caring for their children.

We believe that it not only helps to create a better environment for employees – we all profit from it. When employees feel valued and motivated in their work environment, they share their experiences and ideas with a lot more ease. This makes a significant contribution to the success of the company and the achievement of its goals.”

Mariano Andrade: “Moody’s is committed to making diversity and inclusion part of the fabric of our organization. That starts at the top with our CEO—who is vocal about the importance of D&I to our company—and the rest of our global leadership team. For example, we have a diversity council made up of senior leaders who are responsible for implementing our diversity and inclusion strategies.

Moody’s also has a Code of Business Conduct that all employees around the world must sign and follow that outlines the role we all have to play in providing a work environment that respects the dignity and worth of each individual and is free from all forms of employment discrimination, including on the basis of an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

These are just some of the initiatives that help us to ensure that our employees can bring their full selves to work and focus on making our company the best it can be. When people feel valued for who they are and what they can contribute, we all benefit. I encourage people to visit our careers website to find out more about our diversity and inclusion programs.”

Telia team during the Baltic Pride. © Augustas Didžgalvis picture

Telia team during the Baltic Pride. © Augustas Didžgalvis picture

Birutė Eimontaitė: “The Telia Group integrates diversity and inclusivity into all key personnel management processes. Our aim is to take diversity and inclusion for granted. In this way, we will be able to select, grow and reward our employees in the most impartial and inclusive manner possible.

We educate our employees on equal opportunities issues and provide internal training on diversity and inclusion, equality and non-discrimination. Our in-house recruitment team has been involved in Biasless Recruitment training, and in fall we will be launching e-training for employees and executives on Unconscious Prejudice.

We also measure and reduce discrimination rates as part of our internal engagement measurement for Purple Voice. Together with educator and human rights education specialist Vilma Gabrieliūtė, we have launched an internal diversity management study to gather insights that will serve as a starting point for promoting the future diversity of Telia employees.

Through the People of Telia internal project, we are raising awareness of the power of diversity and inclusion, learning how to overcome subconscious bias, and supporting collaborative teams.”

Karolis Žibas: “We help integrate strategic thinking, organize training for business representatives, help develop strategies, identify the atmosphere within the company. We are a kind of platform and supportive institute. It is not the non-governmental sector but the private sector that has to implement diversity in the workplace.

We cannot confine ourselves to the private sector alone, as jobs are created by both the non-governmental and the public sector. For example, the pay gap between men and women is noticeable in all sectors. So, we are trying to implement a diversity management strategy in a structural rather than fragmentary way.”

What inspired you to sponsor the Baltic Pride 2019 Festival? What feedback did you get? What have you learned from this experience?

Dovilė Grigienė: “Swedbank is committed to promoting progress and sustainable development, thus support for the LGBT community has become another important step in this direction. We are convinced that equality cannot be selective, each individual must feel like a fully-fledged member of society, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Most of the feedback was extremely favourable. Many encouraged more businesses to join such initiatives. We see an increasing number of supporters of equality who understand why this value is important, and their voice is getting louder.”

Mariano Andrade: “Moody’s has long been a supporter of the global LGBT community so participating in an event like Baltic Pride was a great opportunity to show our commitment locally, especially given the fact that we only established an office in Vilnius last December. Our employees regularly participate in LGBT Pride marches on behalf of Moody’s around the world–including in London, New York, San Francisco and Toronto–and we were pleased to be able to extend that support to Vilnius.

It was impressive to see such a large and colourful turnout, especially knowing that the first Baltic Pride happened in Lithuania less than a decade ago. This year’s event really illustrates that things can change in a positive direction if members of the community—including businesses—support causes that create more inclusiveness for everyone.”

Birutė Eimontaitė: “As one of the largest employers and technology leaders in Lithuania, we have a responsibility to be a role model in other areas of life as well. We stand for an open society, so on June 8th we marched at the Baltic Pride parade for equality! We believe that people have the right to feel happy about themselves, and the march was a great opportunity to remember that. Telia stands for an open, diverse society and respect, regardless of gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation or disability. Diversity, equal opportunities and respect are at the core of our values, and diversity and inclusion projects are an integral part of our organization.

This year, with the support and participation in Baltic Pride, we have received an extremely large numbers of opinions, which we equally respect for their diversity. But to both supporters and critics, we have said openly, clearly and boldly: we stand for diversity and freedom, not against something. The fact that our posts on social networks on the Baltic Pride topic have reached a record level of engagement is also seen as a positive factor that encourages public debate and dissemination.”

Karolis Žibas: “A holistic approach to human rights is at the heart of our organization. Non-selective approach to diversity as well. We consider all areas and forms of diversity to be equally important.”

ESFIVP-I-2The article was prepared in the framework of the project “Change in Business, Public Sector and Society – New Standards for Reduction of Discrimination”. The project is implemented by the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson, partners are the public institution Human Rights Monitoring Institute and LGL Association.