Meet IKEA India’s first female CEO: Susanne Pulverer
IKEA India’s first female CEO, Susanne Pulverer, has been with the Swedish home furnishing giant for 25 years now. In an interview, she discusses the retailer’s stance on diversity and inclusion, the focus on sustainability, and why women are so vital to the brand’s success.
Swedish home furnishings retailerlast week announced the appointment of Susanne Pulverer as its new and first woman CEO and CSO for its India business.
Susanne, who takes over from outgoing India CEO Peter Betzel, joined IKEA in 1997 and has worked across different roles. Her IKEA journey started as an environmental manager, after which she moved to product development. Susanne moved to India in 2007 to head the purchasing function for IKEA South Asia when she developed a strong connection and passion for India and its people.
Her second stint in India started in 2017 when Susanne came back as the Managing Director at IKEA Communications during which she led the organisation through a major transformation to drive better business and people results. In her last role in India, Susanne led market development for Delhi, where she also drove the sustainability agenda and local community initiatives.
In an interview with HerStory, Susanne Pulverer discusses her time at IKEA, the Swedish retailer’s stance on diversity and inclusion, the focus on sustainability, and why women are so vital to the brand’s success.
Edited excerpts of the interview:
HerStory (HS): IKEA has always been extremely progressive about gender equality at the workplace with women employees at all levels. Why did it take the company so long to appoint a female CEO?
Susanne Pulverer (SP): IKEA has many female CEOs in our various markets. India is still a young retail market for IKEA and I am only the third CEO, so maybe it was not so long? I would like to underline that IKEA is a humanistic, value-driven company and we are committed to driving our long-term goal of diversity, equality, and inclusion for all our co-workers.
Equality is a commitment; a movement and we would like to encourage everyone to join us in creating an equal and inclusive world.
It is critical that senior leadership lead by example when it comes to diversity and inclusion. When senior leaders own Diversity & Inclusion and it is a part of everyday work, it sets the tone for the rest of the organisation. My aim is to create equal and fair opportunities for people to grow professionally and personally at IKEA.
HS: Women face a lot of gender-based discrimination and social issues to reach leadership levels, which results in fewer women at the top. How have you overcome such challenges?
SP: I never aimed at reaching this position. I have always enjoyed the work I have had, whatever it has been. I try to do my very best - balancing people and business perspectives. I continuously develop my leadership skills and base them on IKEA values. It has helped that at IKEA we believe that equality, diversity, and inclusion should be reflected across all levels.
Gender equality is positive for our coworkers, our business, and, our world. It is one of the core philosophies that drive our worldwide agenda to create a better everyday life for people, and it starts with our own organisation. IKEA focuses on providing equal opportunities for men and women to take up bigger challenges and roles in the company.
HS: You've spent some time in India and have had an insider view of how business is done here. What are some of the key insights you've had about women in leadership in India and Sweden?
SP: We are a global company, and we believe in the same principles for women as well as men. One reflection from my previous time in India is that there are so many talented women who excel when they take up leadership roles and manage to find a good balance at home.
HS: You've talked about sustainability at IKEA. How do you ensure sustainability in retaining women employees who quit mid-career to focus on their family?
SP: IKEA takes several measures and initiatives to retain employees. Our diverse policies focus on the well-being of our employees, which has helped us sustain a positive momentum of retaining employees. Our policies are also aimed at creating accessibility and inclusivity at our workplace. Along with providing a unique six-month parental leaves policy in IKEA India for both men and women, we also encourage more women to join work again after childbirth.
HS: What does your becoming IKEA's first female CEO mean for employees in the company across the world?
SP: To be a female CEO in IKEA is nothing unique. There are many female leaders. As IKEA India’s first woman CEO and CSO, I want my journey to inspire more and more women across India to take up bigger roles and opportunities at work. I hope that I continue to build a positive and gender-equal work environment for all my coworkers and empower women at all roles and levels to achieve bigger milestones in life. As a leader, I believe in equality and want to have a positive impact in all areas of our business and in society.
HS: What do you think having a gender-neutral board means for a company and how does it help its growth?
SP: Research shows that companies with gender diversity at leadership positions have better financial performance and heightened customer satisfaction. Gender equality is good for business and has a positive impact on talent recruitment and retention, as well as brand trust and customer loyalty.
If you have leaders or promoters recognising the need for gender diversity and committing to it, you will realise that there is a growing community collaborating in a fantastic way — as it is not just good for their business but for society at large.
HS: What are your plans to expand gender sensitivity at your workplace?
SP: At IKEA, we see gender equality as equal to basic human rights. In India and globally, this has been one of the key commitments we have been working with - to build and grow a gender-balanced organisation. There is no function where we have not found amazing, inspiring women to be part of our journey, from forklift operators to real estate and logistics.
We are very humbled at what we have achieved and sit with a huge sense of responsibility to continue towards our ambition of 50-50 gender balance on all levels. It is well integrated in our organisation as we need to continue to focus on it with every recruitment.
Edited by Teja Lele