In Ivana Vagaska´s opinion, the companies from Estonia and Slovakia are quite similar

In the middle of August, we had the honour to host Ivana Vagaska from Slovakia in our center. Ivana is working in the CSR field in Slovakia and was introduced to our center through the Erasmus program to learn and share her experiences in the diversity and inclusion field with us.

Please tell us a few things about yourself. 

For past ten years, I have been part of Pontis Foundation, which is the biggest foundation in Slovakia and its focus is on 3 main arears – Social Innovations, Corporate Responsibility and Philanthropy. In Pontis, I lead Corporate Responsibility Team – our target group are companies – we strive to educate them, inspire them and provide them with consulting when it comes to CSR/ESG/Sustainability. I am executive director of an educational and best-practice sharing platform focused on ESG topics which is called Business Leaders Forum. Diversity Charter, which was established in 2017 in Slovakia, is an important part of our activities.

Please describe the purpose of your internship?

From all the ESG topics I work with, Diversity is my favourite one. After two pandemic years, which have been tough both on professional as well as personal level, I was looking for a possibility to get some fresh air, new perspective and inspiration. I came across the Erasmus+ program which enables people who educate others to travel abroad and deepen their knowledge. Since I have already personally known people from the Estonian and Finnish Diversity Charters, I contacted them and they agreed to have me there on job-shadowing stay in August. The purpose of this stay is to exchange best practices when it comes to administration of the Charter and work with signatories. At the same time, we talk about the D&I topics – which are the most important ones at the moment and how to address them effectively. I am also grateful for an opportunity to meet several signatories of the Charter. This has given me a very good overview of the current situation in D&I in Estonia.

Please tell us your opinion, what are the aspects of human rights that need more attention?

Living in the times of highly individualized society where over-achievers are praised, we somehow forget about all those whose starting point as well as living conditions are far below the average. It is so easy to tell that you can be whatever you want, you just have to work hard. It is just partly true. In Slovakia, for example, we have marginalized Roma communities living in a vicious circle of poverty. Their life is a consequence of something systemic. I think this is something what has to be stressed nowadays – that people are not born with equal opportunities, so one should be aware of his/her privileges. I think we as a society need more empathy.

According to your opinion, what is the situation of diversity and inclusion in Estonia, compared to the situation in  your country?

In Slovakia, it is very common that a company or organisation asks to become a signatory to the Diversity Charter, but thanks to the obligatory initial questionnaire it quickly becomes apparent that it does not do anything more than just to obey the Anti-Discrimination Law. From what I have learned, it is quite common also in Estonia. Furthermore, just a few companies in Estonia do have an independent position of Diversity Manager within an organizational structure. Also in this regard, Slovakia is very similar to Estonia, as D&I agenda are in the most cases in the hands of passionate HR managers and on top of their regular workload.

Gender Diversity seems to be the priority D&I topic among companies in Estonia what, again, makes country´s situation very similar to one in Slovakia. Companies try to get more women on management positions tackling unconscious biases and responding to their needs. Getting more women to work in IT is one of the pressing issues as well.

What is surprisingly different between our countries is an attitude towards flexible work and home office. In Slovakia, there is a growing number of companies trying to get people to offices and setting up rules on how many days a week the people should be in office. The argument is company culture that suffers due to absent interpersonal relations. However, the representatives of Estonian companies I have had a chance to talk to (from the field of telecommunications, IT services and banking) perceive full flexibility as something what cannot be taken back and what is essential in promoting D&I.

Last but not least – we have the tradition to ask for some suggestions from our interviewee. What would you recommend others to watch, read, listen, etc?

 I am a fan of a TV series The Office (the U. S. version, all the series are available on Netflix). And I am not mentioning it just because of the absurd humour it is based on, but also because a D&I professional can learn a lot from it! The central character, CEO named Michael Scott, is exactly the opposite of how an empathetic and respectful leader should be. He stresses differences between people, he makes jokes that offend women, gays and many others, he does not listen to the people. At the same time, he is not a bad person, he is just so ego-centric that he is not capable to emphatize with the others…

I think companies can learn a lot from Michael Scott – how not to embrace D&I agenda, how not to conduct trainings, how not to leave middle managers open ground for their free-style manners…

And while learning, you will laugh, too :)

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