With the long-awaited Upfront Initiative being just around the corner, Panorea Karanikolopoulou Macdonald, Chief People Officer at Qualco Group, set the tone in view of an era of diversity and inclusion in a rather insightful interview at LiFO.

Q: Do you think that we already find ourselves or at least walking toward a society that respects and empowers women?

PKM: Although women have reached remarkable milestones in recent years, I would dare to say that we are not yet in a place, where society truly empowers them, as especially highlighted recently, by the #metoo movement. I think that we have all witnessed an inconceivable lack of respect toward women, who are still treated by society as the weaker sex that is not worthy of respect. However, it’s undeniably relieving that, through the #metoo movement and the recent tragic incidents, the recognition of the issue emerged to be followed by acceptance and, above all, change; the transition to a society of equality and solidarity between the two sexes, where women will share the exact same rights as men in every aspect of their lives, shifting from theory, where we stand today, to practice.

Q: How do you comment on the fact that even nowadays, origins, nationality, gender, and religion may get in the way of professional development? Can you define both the allies and barriers to these challenges?

PKM: Unfortunately, diversity still acts as a block, in both the professional development and personal life of the individual. I have now come to conclude that it has been a phenomenon deeply rooted in society.

When it comes to the professional aspect of things, we have recently witnessed that significant steps have been taken toward the establishment of a workplace infused with inclusion and equality. The pandemic acted as a catalyst in this gradual transformation, with the professional and social isolation effectuated, having highlighted a plethora of ills. Covid-19 made clear that at the end of the day, we are all being judged based on our work, values​​, and attitude; these define us and definitely not our gender or nationality. Remote work has pointed out this condition while forcing each one of us without any exceptions, to confront reality, where diversity constitutes a real asset for every business. Whether in gender and ethnicity issues, or culture and beliefs ones, there is a common denominator; a different perspective that acts productively across all levels, ranging from understanding market needs and effective customer service to team cohesion and corporate identity.

At the same time, we witness numerous companies referring to inclusion and diversity policies, at least on a theoretical level. I’m confident that the willingness indeed exists. However, from personal experience, I believe that establishing a solid corporate inclusion policy takes years to achieve. It requires a long-term commitment of each company and department while involving the formation of a clear connection between inclusion and development, but also the foundation of a respective corporate culture.

Q: What does Qualco Group stand for women’s empowerment, diversity, and equal opportunities?

PKM: Here at Qualco Group, diversity constitutes the cornerstone of both our operations and culture. We firmly believe that diversity is inextricably linked to employee productivity, with pluralism being considered a competitive edge that not only strengthens but also lays the groundwork for innovation that definitely does not originate from uniformity.

Specifically, we have come to conclude that efficient solutions and fresh ideas spring from pluralism that is highly encouraged through the secure inclusion framework we offer to our employees, ultimately optimising the decision-making process and expanding our activities.

In this context, women’s empowerment constitutes a pivotal pillar of our people-centric culture. We continuously support women, offering equal opportunities for both their personal and professional development, alongside evaluation, and reward schemes. However, these are not even the tip of the iceberg. With technology being part of our DNA, we are truly proud of women amounting to 50% of our people, occupying 67% of managerial positions. However, the Group’s respectful approach is what makes the real difference. Work-life balance is at the top of our agenda, with Qualco Group applying a purposeful strategy, aiming to support motherhood. For us, it’s not about the employee; it’s all about the individual.

Q: What would be the ideal message to women and companies in terms of equality?

PKM: As it has become evident, we are at a critical juncture, witnessing one of the most important social turbulences in recent years; A transformation that will embrace diversity and equality. A society of principles and values is about to unfold, where pluralism will no longer be an undesirable condition, but an ideal one in social terms while constituting a competitive advantage at a professional level. In the business context, organisations have already been enjoying multiple benefits from an environment of diversity and inclusion, such as promoting meritocracy, attracting, and retaining talented people while enhancing employee engagement. My message to businesses would definitely be: “Feel free to embrace diversity. It’s the key success factor toward a competitive organisation. ” As for women? “Now is the time to raise you voice, claim and succeed. “Now is the time to move closer than ever to a society ready to listen, support, and respect you across all aspects of your life.”