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A day in the life of… Nick Singh, People & Culture at IKEA

In this exclusive interview, TRB sits down with Nick, Deputy Market Manager and Diversity Champion for IKEA Nottingham, and a dynamic leader who, at the age… View Article


A day in the life of… Nick Singh, People & Culture at IKEA

In this exclusive interview, TRB sits down with Nick, Deputy Market Manager and Diversity Champion for IKEA Nottingham, and a dynamic leader who, at the age of 23 emerged as one of the youngest leaders in the company.

As the People and Culture Manager at the Nottingham store, Nick spearheaded an initiative that, within two years, significantly increased Global Majority staffing from 2% to an impressive 7.5%. This innovative framework, now acknowledged across IKEA, emphasises positive hiring practices that diversify the talent pool while upholding the quality of candidates, avoiding any semblance of positive discrimination.

Belonging and development

Can you share some key milestones or moments that defined your remarkable journey at IKEA?

Rooted in my Indian heritage, my upbringing was shaped by cultural norms that often idealised professions like becoming a doctor or dentist. There was perhaps an unspoken expectation for me to pursue these more conventional paths. But, as someone that’s more practical and hands-on than theoretical, traditional career ideals did not appeal to me.

At 19, I went to university on a journey with the initial goal of becoming a PE teacher, drawn to the sense of connection that sports had always provided me. It seemed like a lovely career move for me, but the stark reality soon unfolded. It just wasn’t the right fit and I was at a crossroad. Simultaneously, I was working part-time at IKEA on a 16-hour contract as a co-worker. I really enjoyed the work although I hadn’t yet considered it as a potential long-term career.

Fast forward 15 years, and I’m still here. The journey has been unexpected, and I didn’t have a grand plan in mind when I started. However, the sense of family and togetherness at IKEA, which I craved coming from a large family, kept me anchored. The opportunities came, and despite moments of self-doubt, I embraced the challenges.

IKEA provided me with a chance to explore a different path, and that opportunity was crucial for me. From a part-time sales assistant to my role today 15+ years later, I’ve had a supportive leadership team that recognised my potential and provided the necessary training and opportunities, allowing me to develop my own path within the company.

Reflecting on your journey, how has your cultural background influenced your decisions and perspectives over the years?

Growing up, I conformed a lot to societal expectations. There was a point where even my name, Narinder, was changed to Nick by my football manager simply because it was easier for him to pronounce. There was no malice in it, and I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it reflected his lack of understanding and my need to fit in, to conform.

At IKEA, I found a place where I could just be myself. The company’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion allowed me to embrace my identity without conforming to preconceived notions. This sense of belonging has been liberating and empowering. IKEA became a place where I could be my true self, and that authenticity naturally translated into my work and contributions.

I think there’s immense power in creating environments where individuals feel accepted for who they are, irrespective of cultural backgrounds. My experiences have shaped my perspective on the importance of fostering diversity and inclusion not only in the workplace but in society as a whole. It’s about embracing and celebrating differences rather than conforming to preconceived norms.

Can you share any specific challenges or moments of personal growth you experienced while deviating from the expected career path?

Deviating from the expected career path came with its share of challenges. There was a point where my family, following traditional expectations, encouraged me to “get a proper job” and choose a more conventional career.

However, thanks to a supportive leader who saw my potential. It was a pivotal moment for me and helped me recognise how much I loved working at IKEA and the sense of belonging and community it provided. The challenges I faced, whether doubts about my capabilities or uncertainties were met with opportunities for training and development including being enrolled on a Diversity in Retail leadership development programme. Each role, from being a co-worker to a supervisor and eventually a manager, became a stepping stone in my personal and professional growth.

Overcoming these challenges has been instrumental in shaping my confidence and resilience. The journey at IKEA has been a testament to the importance of breaking away from societal expectations and finding fulfilment in unexpected places.

How have IKEA contributed to your development and what lessons have you learnt along the way?

IKEA has been instrumental in my personal and professional development in more ways than I could have imagined. It provided me with opportunities and a sense of belonging that allowed me to embrace my true self. The company’s values align with diversity and inclusion, fostering an environment where authenticity is not just encouraged but celebrated.

I’ve learnt the power of authenticity, the importance of embracing diversity, and the value of creating a workplace where individuals feel accepted for who they are. IKEA has not only supported my career growth but also guided me through personal challenges, such as the loss of my father. The extended family atmosphere at IKEA has been a source of strength and support.

Success is not only about achieving professional goals but also about creating a better everyday life for oneself and others. That vision resonates with me on a personal level, and the lessons learned here extend far beyond the workplace.

Your approach to increasing diversity in the Nottingham store is commendable. Can you share more about the framework in place and its impact?

When I joined the Nottingham store, there was a significant gap in representation of Black, Asian, or Mixed heritage individuals. Through a positive hiring approach, we not only increased diversity but also maintained the quality of candidates, avoiding positive discrimination. This framework, focused on reflecting the cultural backgrounds of the communities we serve, is now recognised across IKEA.

Can you share more about the inclusion workshops you’re working on?

I am collaborating with members of the country leadership team to design inclusion workshops framed around a global IKEA diversity and inclusion initiative. These workshops will be delivered to all UK&IE line managers by the end of FY24 as a crucial part of our commitment to building diversity within teams and cultivating a culture of diverse thought. The primary objective is to establish an inclusive environment where every individual feels valued and included, regardless of their background, identity, or perspectives. We understand that diversity encompasses various dimensions, including protected characteristics, learning styles, and family backgrounds and true leadership involves creating an environment where every voice is heard.

We’ve adopted a multifaceted methodology and seamlessly integrated our leadership development programs into the fabric of inclusivity approach.

Recognising that one size does not fit all, the content of these workshops are thoughtfully tailored to meet the unique needs and cultural nuances of different regions. we’re working to make the material resonate across different audiences

We know that equality only happens when we can translate our intentions into actions and each leader will leave with individual actions supporting personal development and accelerate towards reaching our business goals.

What does inclusivity mean to you, and how does IKEA implement it in its business practices?

Inclusivity, for me, is about recognising and embracing everyone’s unique identity, whether related to protected characteristics or other aspects like learning styles and family background. IKEA’s values naturally lead to diversity, and the company ensures inclusivity through values-based recruitment, continuous training, and positive actions to address any gaps in representation.

How does IKEA approach hiring to promote diversity, and what role does your personal experience play in making this process successful?

IKEA follows a values-based recruitment approach, focusing on the individual’s values rather than core skills. My personal experience has played a role in initiating positive actions to address representation gaps. It’s about asking for diversity in the talent pool and encouraging local community engagement to build confidence in potential candidates.

Considering the societal division today, how does IKEA contribute to creating a more inclusive environment?

IKEA allows individuals to be themselves and acknowledges that everyone has different perspectives. By building an environment where people can share their stories, the company contributes to breaking down societal divisions. Communication plays a crucial role in this, allowing for diversity of thought and creating a workplace where everyone feels valued.

Our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people, Including the communities around us. Since 2021 our refugee employment programme UPPNÅ  (which means ‘to achieve’ in Swedish), has provided training, and an 8-week paid work placement to over 180 refugees, to help them develop employability skills such as CV writing and interview techniques.

We also have a  long-term partnership with Shelter which is another way we are impacting societal division focusing on the housing emergency.

You mentioned your background in sports and how it influenced your approach to teamwork. How do you see the correlation between sports and business?

Sports taught me the value of teamwork, shared goals, and competitiveness. These qualities naturally translated into my professional life at IKEA. The camaraderie and togetherness fostered in a team environment correlate well with business, especially when striving to achieve targets and deliver results.

Finally, how do you typically unwind and relax after work?

I believe in keeping a strong work-life balance. When I’m not working, I focus on creating memories with my family, enjoying music and if I get anytime left over it will be to watch anything sport related. IKEA has taught me the importance of having both personal and professional ambitions, and I try to live by that philosophy.

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