Pride at Hult EF: interview with Bjorn Bengtsson

Interview by Clémentine Maunier and Louisa Kouzapas

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Pride month is an important reminder to advocate for the rights and equity of the LGBTQIA+ community and to celebrate the progress made over the years.

Here at Hult EF, we are committed to ensuring an inclusive and safe environment for all employees around the world so that they can bring their whole selves to work.

To celebrate Pride Month, Bjorn Bengtsson, President at Hult EF Corporate Education shares what pride means to him as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, how he has celebrated over the years and how his personal values and perspectives inform the way he leads a global organization, committed to building a diverse and inclusive workplace environment.

Can you share your EF career journey with us?

I started at EF in London in 2009 joining as VP Finance. This role quickly widened to finance & operations for EF’s B2B business. I moved to Switzerland as CFO for several years, working between the UK & Sweden, and eventually ended up back in London.

In 2016 I became President of Ashridge, which at the time was mostly focused on Degree Programs and Executive Education. More recently, we put the two organizations together (Hult Ashridge & EF Corporate Solutions) and I continued as President, managing both the Language Learning and Executive Education for companies.

I am proud to be a part of an EF culture where employee mobility is encouraged, across locations, functions, businesses and hierarchy.

Do you celebrate pride, and if so, how? And what does it mean to you?

I used to go to the pride parades, it was big like the carnival, both in London and Sweden and of course, we would party!! Things have changed now as I have my own family and am in a slightly different phase of life but still, Pride is still just as important.

It is a chance to not only celebrate diversity but also to acknowledge and put the spotlight on things that still need to be solved in terms of equality for the LGBTQIA+ community.

I am acutely aware that my life today has been tangibly better than if I had been born a few decades earlier - I am married to a man, and we have two kids, a life that would not have been as accepted (or even possible when it comes to marriage) in the 1970’s when I was born.

Pride is an expression of all that progress over the years - the result of the conscious fight and hard work of a lot of people to increase acceptance and openness. It’s significant for me personally and I feel grateful to the people that came before me. It’s not just down to Pride of course, a lot of things are happening in terms of society progressing. For my kids having two dads and a mom is a given and we are open about it, it’s very natural although sometimes they have to explain it to others. People would often assume that one of us left their mom and got married to the other one. I still remember how my little boy once in a park told a stranger proudly that he had two dads.

I have had to move to different locations with EF but I have always felt very supported as a father. I have felt like I truly belong. People have their own set up, whether it is the support of a grandmother, grandfather, a nanny or otherwise. It has been a good journey and I am a proud ambassador of our own personal setup with three parents sharing the parenting. It is working well for them and for us.

How can organizations create inclusive environments where all employees feel like they belong?

I believe it’s about seeing the people behind the colleagues, and of course, balance too, some people might want to be colleagues only and some might want to be friends. To a degree the EF group has been able to create that level of camaraderie, which I think is partly built on the fact that people move across the EF group and to/from various locations, sometimes when quite young and most of their initial friends or groups might be tied to the company for a long time.

I think, as a company, we are embracing the comradery, encouraging the sense of individuality, and belonging rather than being afraid of it. If well handled, it is a real strength!

We are not very hierarchical, or at least we try not to be too prestigious, everyone chips in, we can go from strategic to being all hands on, regardless of which level of management you’re in. All this helps to build that kind of inclusiveness. I felt that when I was a more junior person and I feel that now.

I have always appreciated the sheer diversity of our global community, while recognizing there is always more we can do, it is inherent in our DNA to recruit diverse talent.

With that, we continuously strive to ensure collective and individual accountability for creating the inclusion culture - that really makes a difference!

That said, I am also not blind to the fact that I'm a Swedish man in an organization that has several Swedes in senior positions and was founded in Sweden. That is a kind of privilege to be mindful of even if I am also a minority being gay.

From my personal perspective, at EF we think about the person before the process which sometimes comes with its share of challenges, but also, I think helps to build an inclusive culture.

How do your perspectives and values inform how you lead at Hult EF?

I really think it is important to underscore that people have agency.

It sounds positive but it also means responsibility. I am adamant that we are building a culture where people are accountable and allowed to have ownership, this means that people feel that they can be themselves and bring their perspectives to our business.

As we grow as a company, to me the most important thing is that we continue to keep our non-hierarchical, innovation culture, that we do not get bureaucratic and that we continue to trust people to do good work. People will have different roles and levels of seniority, but that does not mean that you cannot have views and have suggestions that are the best in the room. I really want us to continue to foster that culture as it is important for the continuation of our success - even as we grow, that we still recruit authentic people who want to take responsibility for their own thriving career and personal progression.

We need smart people with passion, drive and who just love to run with it.

Then more tangibly, at Hult EF, there is a possibility for anyone to join what we call an EFfinity Group such as Accessibility @EF, Asian & Pacific Islander (API) @EF, Black @EF, Faith @EF, LGBTQIA+ @EF, Middle East North Africa (MENA) @EF, Women @EF to name a few.

We encourage employees to display or say their pronouns in their email signature and in meetings to create a more inclusive environment for trans and non-binary staff. We have launched an Ambassador Program for people to learn to act or lead on DEIB specific initiatives that are impacting marketing, HR, product, the lives of our employees and the experience of our clients. It is also important to mention that it starts with anyone at all levels and we are making sure at Hult EF that the leadership is part of those conversations so they can in turn create that psychological safety.

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