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How Nokia's OUT Leaders programme is giving LGBT+ employees space to be safely out and visible
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How Nokia's OUT Leaders programme is giving LGBT+ employees space to be safely out and visible

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Not only do LGBT+ leaders benefit from mentoring, but the programme has been taken a step further through a new module for talent development. Find out more in Aditi Sharma Kalra's exclusive interview with the leaders who are spearheading this.

Finnish communications giant Nokia has enhanced its OUT Leaders programme, which was launched in 2019 to provide LGBT+ leaders and employees to be safely out, by introducing a new module for talent development.  

The programme’s four key pillars aim to build opportunities for all and create a culture of trust, respect and diversity, through the following initiatives:

  • Space – For senior LGBT+ leaders to be safely out & visible, both internally and externally
    • This is done through: OUT Leaders listing on Nokia’s intranet | A forum where LGBT+ leaders can exchange, share experiences and support each other
  • Mentoring/networking – Opportunities for these senior LGBT+ leaders, but also for emerging talent (reverse-mentoring)
    • This is done through: Mentoring to LGBT+ leaders | Cross mentoring amongst LGBT+ senior leaders | Reverse mentoring from emerging LGBT+ talent
  • Role models – For all employees, to highlight that their careers aspirations can be met
    • This is done through: Increased visibility | Support all LGBT+ leaders to become visible role models 
  • Talent development – To support LGBT+ members’ career paths
    • This is done through: Building a strong network of LGBT+ peers | Internal and external networking opportunities | Platform for the participants to work on specific projects with an executive sponsor

Jérôme Meyer, Co-President of EQUAL! (the Nokia LGBT+ Employee Resource Group), Deepfield Business Development Lead in Asia-Pacific, and co-founder of the OUT Leaders programme: “Expanding the programme to now include LGBT+ talent development is an important step for furthering inclusion at Nokia. It highlights the importance of authentic leadership and will help ensure all employees can contribute their very best.”

Nassib Abou-Khalil, Chief Legal Officer at Nokia and inaugural member of the Nokia OUT Leaders programme: “The OUT Leaders’ programme is important because LGBT+ leaders are role models – not only for other LGBT+ colleagues, but for all colleagues, by showing that it’s possible to be your authentic self and have a great career.

"I’m happy to be sponsoring a new module in the programme, focused on talent development. This will build on what we’ve learnt from our existing gender equality programmes to advance their careers. In doing so, we will further advance inclusion and diversity at Nokia."

To find out more about Nokia's push for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), we spoke exclusively to Jérôme Meyer and Nassib Abou-Khalil. Interview excerpts below:

Q Why is DEI such a strong business imperative at Nokia?

For Nokia, inclusion and diversity are a business imperative. As a global company, we have an incredibly diverse workforce. We want to turn it into a strength and use it as the platform for excellent customer service, stronger partnerships, greater innovation, and superior performance.

If a person does not feel included and sees signs of exclusion, they cannot concentrate of their work.

Their work and focus are constantly interrupted by them trying to figure out why others behave that way and how to become accepted. Their performance starts to suffer, they might even leave – and not because of lack of competence or talent, but because of the non-inclusive environment. Therefore, we want to make sure that the company environment is inclusive and invites all kinds of talent to work at Nokia.

The OUT Leaders programme sits at the core of inclusion. We want to give our LGBT+ people and leaders a louder voice in the organisation, and it has been great to see leaders from across the organisation come together to lead the initiative.

We can see a positive relationship between diversity and team performance and want to leverage that even more. As a high-tech company we need to avoid groupthink. Teams who challenge each other’s thinking are more likely to avoid on agreeing on same mistakes. Homogeneity stifles innovation.

Q What does the OUT programme entail?

Nokia’s OUT Leaders programme is an employee-led initiative designed and lead by Nassib Abou-Khalil (Chief Legal Officer) and Jérôme Meyer (Co-President of EQUAL!, the Nokia LGBT+ Employee Resource Group), and supported by Nokia’s inclusion and diversity team.

We launched the OUT Leaders programme in June 2019 with the main goal to provide the space for LGBT+ leaders to be safely out, empower employees to feel they can be fully themselves at work, and—perhaps most importantly—showcase role models for LGBT+ employees to highlight their career potential in Nokia.

In this initial release, the programme had three main pillars:

  1. Visibility for senior LGBT+ leaders at Nokia;
  2. Reverse-mentoring from emerging talent to these LGBT+ leaders;
  3. And finally, leveraging the OUT Leaders visibility as role models throughout the company.

The last point was really what motivated us to act; we realised that if LGBT+ colleagues did not see any openly LGBT+ leaders in the more senior ranks of the company, many would simply continue hiding a key part of their identities with the assumption that you have to choose between being your authentic self at work, and progressing your career.

In October 2020, we decided to expand the programme by adding a fourth pillar: LGBT+ talent development. This was the logical next step, to provide further visibility to emerging LGBT+ talent; supporting them in their career aspirations and expanding the bench of OUT Leaders at Nokia.

In our inaugural ‘2021 cohort’, we are thrilled to have a diverse group of 14 participants from across the world.

From November 2020 to June 2021 they will all actively participate in three main activities:

  1. A monthly ‘OUT Forum’ virtual event where we invite a senior leader (from the Nokia ecosystem of customers, partners and suppliers) to discuss on topics ranging from authentic leadership to career development.
  2. We connect every participant with a senior leader in Nokia who will mentor them on specific aspects of their career development.
  3. Participants work in small groups on projects related to driving LGBT+ inclusion at Nokia, which they will present to a jury that includes members from the Nokia Group Leadership Team in June 2021.

While the programme is still ongoing as we speak, we are thrilled by the engagement all our aspiring OUT Leaders have demonstrated, and that is already making a visible difference for us.

Q In addition to the programme, how do you build a culture that supports LGBT+ staff, even with operations where local regulations may prove to be a challenge?

Nokia launched its new purpose in March: “At Nokia, we create technology that helps the world act together”. Not just some, but all. It talks to the fact that the access to opportunity remains stubbornly unequal. We take this seriously and have placed inclusion and respect at the heart of our new culture: with open, fearless and empowered as our guiding principles. We encourage speaking up, standing up for the team, open feedback, non-defensive behaviours, and transparently tackling difficult things.

One of the key things that is paramount for us is for all employees to feel safe within the walls of our offices no matter where they happen to be in the globe (and even if the walls have been more virtual for most people this past year).

We communicate regularly on the importance of everyone being actively included and the culture of respect, which is one of the Nokia values.

Regarding data and information about our employees, Nokia applies the local legislations and GDPR rules across the world. We do not store any data about the employee’s sexual orientation anywhere, in order not to risk it being exposed to third parties.

Photo / L-R: Jérôme Meyer (Co-President of EQUAL!) & Nassib Abou-Khalil (Chief Legal Officer) - Provided by Nokia

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