Research tells us that promoting diversity in the workforce is not just good common sense, it actually has a documented positive effect on business. Yet the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) industry is still very much a man’s world. But does it need to be? As we look for inspiration on how to drive change in the industry, we find great examples, sometimes where we would not expect them.
Gender equality and the HVAC industry
In recent years, research has shown that diversity in general, and gender diversity in particular, has a number of positive and measurable effects on businesses, for example, productivity, efficiency, decision-making and collaboration. Including differences in an organization makes for stronger groups and better solutions for customers.
According to research, the diversity “critical mass” – the point at which positive business effects really start to take off – is when the least common gender reaches at least 25 percent of the workforce. At that level companies can start to reap benefits in productivity and decision-making.
However, the HVAC business is, plain and simple, dominated by men. And Swegon is unfortunately no exception, sharing the same challenges. We are in other words part of the problem, but we are working hard to change this. Achieving a better balance – in the workforce as a whole, as well as in management positions – is a company-wide strategic priority.
An inspirational example in an unexpected place
But with this being said, there are already today inspiring examples, paving the way for the future. In our sales company in Poland, Swegon Sp. z. o. o., the situation different compared to Swegon as a whole: 40 percent women in total, and 28 percent at the management level.
If judging by statistics on a national level, this might at first seem a bit surprising. In the EU Gender Equality Index results for 2021, Poland lands at place 23 of 27. The index is constructed with a score of 1 representing total inequality between genders, and the score of 100 representing total equality. For 2021, Poland lands on a score of 56.6, which is well below the index average of 68. So this might not be the obvious place to start looking for a good gender diversity in the HVAC sector. But we shouldn’t underestimate the power of individual initiatives and good examples.
So what is Swegon Poland doing right?
“There are many advantages of mixing genders in teams. Mixed teams are more effective as groups, with a wider point of view. Analyzing a problem from different points of view generates discussions and makes for stronger solutions,” says Grażyna Goławska, Managing Director at Swegon in Poland.
She started at the company in 1998 and was appointed MD in 2019.
“Our former managing director wasn’t afraid of gender equality and had laid the ground for it already when I started here. The office was more or less equal even then. I’ve continued his work, and I’m of the opinion that gender shouldn’t be a factor when recruiting. I only look at the competence and how well they fit the position,” says Grażyna Goławska.
Experiences from other businesses indicate that it is important to show off interesting products, business models and career opportunities to catch the interest of women. Grażyna Goławska finds that her company is quite attractive to women applicants.
The force of good examples
“Since the company is already pretty equal, it’s easier to attract women. If we would have a bad ratio to begin with it would be harder, which tells me that the first step is hardest to take. But it’s still important to meet the applicant minimum requirements. Salaries should for example be equal and depend on position and experience, not gender. There should also be equal opportunities for parental leave. People seem to be quite satisfied with the situation here, and most of our employees stay for long.”
“It’s a challenge to start to see gender diversity and equality as the natural state of things. But I think the trend is going in the right direction. I saw the prime ministers of Finland and Sweden on TV the other day, and they are both women. A few years ago this would have been unthinkable. The fact that things are changing means that equality is the natural state,” says Grażyna Goławska.
McKinsey, Diversity wins: How inclusion matters, 2019
Gallup, The Business Benefits of Gender Diversity, 2014
Western Governors University, Barriers and benefits of diversity in the workplace, 2019
European Management Journal, Critical mass and voice: Board gender diversity and financial reporting quality, 2022
Diversity Inc, Reaching Critical Mass Is Key, 2010