The attractiveness and innovative strength of an organization is largely dependent on how well it recognizes the individuality of its employees. That is why the TRATON GROUP has embedded the core principles of pluralism and inclusion in its corporate culture. So what exactly does that mean? And how do these principles translate into practice? We chat to Sofia Vahlne, Head of Labor Affairs at Scania, who is responsible for the “Pluralism & Inclusion” program within the TRATON GROUP.

Text: Laurin Paschek

Play Invitation to dance

There is currently a lot of talk about diversity, pluralism, and inclusion. What do these terms mean and how do they differ from each other?

Sofia Vahlne: Diversity, first and foremost, means recognizing the personal characteristics within a group or a team. A lot can be quickly observed just by looking at the team. But what I find even more important is what you don’t see at first glance. We’re not talking about just age or gender here, but also about experience, personal influences, cultural background, and many other aspects that make us the humans we are. We define diversity much more broadly than it has been defined before.

So that is why you don’t use this term at all.

SV: That’s it. To illustrate that our approach is much broader, we instead use the term “pluralism.” The term is novel, which catches people’s attention. And that’s exactly what we want to achieve. In line with our broad approach, we also established our “Pluralism & Inclusion” team across all brands within the TRATON GROUP.
The TRATON GROUP has 81,000 unique perspectives—one for each of its employees.

And how does inclusion fit into the picture?

SV: In a well-balanced team you will have, for example, extroverts and introverts. That’s actually the way it’s meant to be because both types of people complement each other on the team. And this is exactly where inclusion comes in. In order to really be able to realize the potential of these teams, you need an environment where people can be who they really are. We have to create a psychologically safe environment where introverted team members, or people who have a completely different background to the majority of others in their team, can be heard in the same way as the extroverts, who might be more listened to anyway.

So do you mean to say that inclusion is actually the key to a successful team?

SV: If we aren’t successful at embodying inclusion, then we don’t even have to start the conversation about diversity and pluralism. I’ll use the following analogy: if diversity means inviting people to a party, then inclusion means inviting them to dance. There is a big difference. For example, I can make every effort to set up a team with the same number of male and female team members. But that won’t make a difference if then the female perspective is not heard. Inclusion creates a corporate culture where each individual can apply themselves just as they are.

Within the TRATON GROUP, there is a great diversity of people working together under the MAN, Scania, and Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus brands. How has the Company already evolved because of this?

SV: At the beginning, it was perhaps quite challenging to overcome longstanding ways of thinking. But we quickly recognized that we are all different. We have different corporate cultures and different influences. During our interactions, we quickly realized that this is not a disadvantage, but rather a great advantage. And that is because we can learn from one another. In a homogeneous group where all march to the same beat, collaboration is at first easier, of course. Acknowledging differences means accepting greater complexity, which perhaps leads to needing more time to find a solution. But more often than not, the outcome is better.

“If diversity means inviting people to a party, then inclusion means inviting them to dance. There is a big difference.”
Sofia Vahlne
Head of Labor Affairs, Scania
Sofia Vahlne im Gespräch.

Sofia Vahlne is responsible for the “Pluralism & Inclusion” program within the TRATON GROUP.

What are the advantages as a result?

SV: The simple answer would be that there is scope for more ideas. And purely statistically speaking, this increases the chance of finding an optimal solution for a task. But it is more than just that. Team members can also personally learn a lot when others on the team with different backgrounds approach the same task in a completely different way. Germans, for example, are said to have a very structured way of working. That’s certainly not true of everyone, but when there are people on the team with that approach, the whole team could benefit. Some Swedes might take a somewhat more spontaneous approach, which may also be good for the team. And the Latin American way of looking at something can be different yet again, leading to completely new solutions. Our real strength lies in the combination of all approaches. And ultimately, we are a global company, and our customers span the globe.

What role do pluralism and inclusion play when attracting new talent for the TRATON GROUP?

SV: If we don’t embody the principles we are talking about here, everyone will realize very quickly. We live in a transparent world. And today’s young people are not just looking for a job to make money. They are looking for an employer whose aims align with their own. They want to contribute to something they believe in. They want to be free to apply themselves just as they are. And this is exactly where inclusion and psychological safety play an important role. If we don’t offer that, it will become increasingly difficult to find new talent and retain them in the Company.
Sofia Vahlne im Interview.

An interview with Sofia Vahlne: what is important is what you don’t see at first glance.

Das Drachenboot-Team der TRATON GROUP in einem Dracheboot auf dem Wasser.

The dragon boat team of the TRATON GROUP: each individual can use their own talents to make a difference.

Sofia Vahlne bei der Arbeit auf einer Sitzgruppe.

Favorite spot: Sofia Vahlne enjoys working in open spaces.

Die Werte der TRATON GROUP aus Holz dargestellt.

Strong values that make teams successful

Das Motto des Drachenboot-Teams auf dem Rücken eines T-Shirts gedruckt.

The TRATON dragon boat team picks up speed.

How important is it for the innovative strength of a company to embody these values authentically?

SV: It is imperative. There’s a theory related to this that addresses the cost of reflection. When a person spends all their time thinking about what they don’t want to reveal about themselves, this robs them of a lot of energy; that energy is then no longer available for the actual purpose of the meeting. We need to create a work environment where we develop the competencies of each and every person, regardless of their individual disposition. That means making each individual feel that they don’t have to blend in or pretend to be someone they are not. But in saying that, it doesn’t mean that the corporate core values or rules of courtesy can be ignored.

What specific measures are you currently implementing?

SV: Firstly, it is important for me to say that fostering pluralism and inclusion is a long, holistic process that can’t be directly linked to specific measures. But to give you an example, we are currently discussing with our managers how they imagine their areas of responsibility will look in 20 or 30 years’ time, and how diverse their team is at the moment. Based on this, they assess what needs to be done. In the workshops, we are also looking at subconscious prejudices each of us has. We ask ourselves: in what ways can these subconscious prejudices influence the decisions we make every day? We try, in a way, to bring these prejudices out of the subconscious.

How do you deal with skeptics who refuse to accept pluralism—perhaps only behind closed doors?

SV: In principle, everyone has the right to express their opinion. To disallow criticism from the outset would immediately defeat the purpose of pluralism and inclusion. We are open to discussion. Nevertheless, at work, everyone must respect their coworkers and clients. The TRATON GROUP has corporate values that we all must live by. Pluralism and inclusion are an essential part of those.

Head of Labor Affairs at Scania and coordinator of the TRATON GROUP’s “Pluralism & Inclusion” program

Sofia Vahlne joined Scania in 2005 as a labor laywer and was appointed Head of Labor Affairs in 2012. In addition to the “Pluralism and Inclusion” program, her area of responsibility also includes labor relations, people sustainability, HR compliance, organizational development, and innovation. Vahlne was previously employed as a labor lawyer in a company and an association.

Vahlne has a master’s degree in law from Uppsala University. In addition to spending time with her two daughters and friends, Vahlne devotes her free time to holistic health, consisting of things like yoga, jogging, meditation, and healthy food.