Estera Anghelescu, Kaufland Romania: We value every member of our team for their unique potential, drive, and abilities

Estera Anghelescu, Kaufland Romania: We value every member of our team for their unique potential, drive, and abilities

Companies that are looking to weave equality, diversity, and inclusion into their strategy and culture may find it useful to answer these three questions when starting on this journey: What are our current resources to help increase diversity? What are the needs of our candidates and employees? What are other companies doing to help increase diversity? Companies should also be willing to learn about their candidates’ and employees’ needs – only then can they provide an accessible workplace for all, a place to learn and grow, and a culture where understanding is the basis of collaboration, explains Estera Anghelescu, Recruiting & Employer Branding Director, Kaufland Romania. Read our exclusive interview with our RDCC Vice President below.

What does ED&I mean to you as an organization?

Estera Anghelescu: At Kaufland, we believe that diversity and inclusivity are essential for creating a positive and productive work environment. We value every member of our team for their unique potential, drive, and abilities, and we strive to create a workplace where everyone feels welcomed, respected, and valued regardless of their gender, age, socio-economic background, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. We understand that diversity means more than just recognizing our differences. It’s about fostering an environment where everyone feels safe, integrated, and motivated to reach their full potential.

To achieve this, we make sure to expand our team with individuals from all backgrounds and with a wide range of skills. This diversity of perspectives and experiences helps us to think creatively, challenge assumptions and drive innovation, leading to a more efficient and successful way of working.

Being an equal-opportunity employer, we are devoted to our mission to provide an accessible and diverse workplace, and we truly believe that diversity is one of the main drivers of growth. At the same time, we help strengthen the bond between different cultures. Within our team at Kaufland Romania, we have colleagues of multiple nationalities; of course, this is also the case internationally. Kaufland has stores opened in 8 European countries, with employees from many nationalities, so we are always looking to increase ED&I through our transnational projects. 

Romanian businesses are facing several obstacles to increasing diversity. From your perspective, what are they?

Estera Anghelescu: Many local companies may find it challenging to know where to start in creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace. They may need assistance in identifying the steps to take and how to increase diversity. Recruitment methods and strategies that are not inclusive can also be a challenge for these businesses.

Despite these challenges, I am optimistic that Romanian companies are willing to work towards a more inclusive workplace, and many have already begun to make progress. My advice to these companies would be to focus on the benefits of a diverse team and approach the process incrementally. Rather than trying to make drastic changes all at once, small actions such as making the workplace more accessible for people with disabilities can make a big impact. Additionally, it might be useful to answer these three questions when onboarding this journey: What are our current resources to help increase diversity? What are the needs of our candidates and employees? What are other companies doing to help increase diversity?

Can you tell us about the A.C.C.E.S. program at Kaufland and the goals of that initiative?

Estera Anghelescu: The A.C.C.E.S. project, which was launched as a pilot in 2019, aimed to promote the integration of individuals with disabilities in the workforce through various initiatives. That acronym stands in Romanian for Employment of Candidates with Special Requirements and Developments, and that is precisely what we set out to do. As the first program of its kind in Romania, A.C.C.E.S. sought to provide equal job opportunities for candidates with special needs and requirements and to support them in finding employment. The program aimed to align with Kaufland’s goal of being an inclusive employer by addressing the specific physical, emotional and mental needs of people with disabilities. Additionally, one of the project’s key objectives was to develop and promote recruitment channels specifically for individuals with disabilities and to raise awareness of these channels among potential beneficiaries and institutions that support special needs persons. Furthermore, to ensure a smooth integration of new employees that have disabilities, the project also included communication and internal training sessions.  

Today, we are honoured to have welcomed 450 new team members through A.C.C.E.S. over the past years, and we are delighted to have played a role in helping them achieve their professional aspirations. With this in mind, we are motivated to continue our work to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion at Kaufland, as we understand the utmost importance of cultivating an accessible environment for every team member.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to an organization getting started with ED&I?

Estera Anghelescu: Well, claiming something is the best piece of advice remains a subjective assessment, but I definitely consider it extremely important that companies get started with ED&I by understanding the current state of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion within their organization. This could include conducting an audit on these topics, employee surveys, or focus groups to gather data on the current culture and identify improvement areas. Once the organization clearly understands where they stand, it can set goals, develop an action plan, and begin implementing specific initiatives to drive positive change.

Although there are no universal answers to this matter, given the variety of organizations, each with its own structure, leadership styles and values, one first step towards having a more inclusive and diverse workplace is to research what and how other companies are doing to reach their objectives in this field. As I mentioned before, organizations can inspire one another through their processes and successful programs and can apply the methods that work best within their own culture. In this journey, what should really matter is the willingness to work towards the same goal: equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace. Perhaps what is truly universal among all of us is our diversity. By embracing and valuing the differences among team members, we can learn from one another, foster a strong and productive team, and achieve exceptional results.

Moreover, companies should be curious and willing to learn about their candidates’ and employees’ needs, both mental and physical, but also emotional. By actively listening to their needs, leaders are already creating a safe space where people can feel a sense of belonging. Afterwards, organizations can begin to design and implement solutions in order to provide an accessible workplace for all people, a place to learn and grow, and a culture where understanding is the basis of collaboration. 

How can retailers support the push for diversity in Romania, not only through their employees but also in their stores?

Estera Anghelescu: Let’s take Kaufland’s example. As an equal opportunity employer, we are fully dedicated to our mission to provide a safe and inclusive environment in our offices, logistic centres, and stores.

Since we started the A.C.C.E.S. program in 2019, we have welcomed 450 people with disabilities in our team and, at the end of 2022, we announced the opening of another 500 dedicated positions for new colleagues with special needs.

Part of this project is to provide training sessions for our team to help employees gain the knowledge and confidence to engage with every customer or colleague. 

At the same time, retailers could identify if there are any challenges in the customer’s experience when they enter the store and develop ways to mitigate those obstacles. For example, in order to create a more accessible place for people with disabilities, the retailer could widen walkways, add ramps, remove unnecessary stock to enlarge the shopping space, or adjust the lighting to be suitable for people with visual impairments. 

Overall, the key for retailers is to make an effort to understand and meet the diverse needs of their customers and employees and to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. In this regard, Kaufland, as a company, continues to take measures and look for new initiatives to help customers and employees have a positive experience. And we are always keen on supporting innovative ideas and one-of-a-kind projects that inspire change. One such initiative was the Accessibility Hackathon, an initiative aimed at identifying and supporting solutions that offer people with disabilities opportunities for work integration. The first hackathon to be organized by a retailer, the Accessibility Hackathon, invited specialists from the tech field to unite their efforts and come up with solutions that could help shape a better future for the inclusion of people with special needs in the workplace.  

Can you describe some of the specific ways you’ve advocated for change and the types of successes and challenges you’ve encountered?

Estera Anghelescu: On a personal level, I have always been a dedicated supporter of equity and diversity, especially as a woman in a leadership position. My dedication to such causes has motivated me to continue promoting ED&I in the workplace and seeing how Kaufland’s values align with mine – performance, dynamism, and fairness – my drive for change coming naturally to me. As such, I have been committed to advocating for equal opportunities at all levels of the organization while also actively working to prevent discrimination of any kind. Additionally, I have been focused on attracting diverse talent from all ages. For instance, our youth programs, such as the Kaufland Internship Experience, Kaufland Trainee Program and Kaufland Talent Program, are specifically designed to attract and engage with young people and give them access to opportunities for professional development.

With my team at Kaufland, we managed to help and inspire people to grow both personally and professionally through our initiatives, such as the Accessibility Hackathon, which I have already touched upon, but also through the rich and diverse partnerships we support. Kaufland has committed to contributing to projects that foster inclusion and development, such as Atipic Beauty – a series of events that promote the beauty, intelligence, resilience, and strength of persons with special needs, or the BRD-Kaufland Wheelchair Tennis Open, an international sports competition centred around the idea that performance knows no physical limits. 

We continuously show our support by amplifying the voices of our team members, and we celebrated Diversity Month when some of our colleagues with disabilities and international coworkers from stores, logistic centres, or headquarters shared their inspiring stories at Kaufland. Our projects have sparked a lot of interest internally, externally and within our retail group, and this is truly an honour that demonstrates the increasing need for employees and employers who encourage equal opportunities. 

Is there a way to incorporate ED&I into a job description? Can you give an example?

Estera Anghelescu: Definitely! Incorporating ED&I into a job description is one way to signal that the company values equity, diversity, and inclusion. You can start by incorporating language around these values in the role’s responsibilities and qualifications section. Make sure that the language used in the job posting is inclusive and not discriminatory while clearly stating that the company is committed to promoting diversity and creating an inclusive environment. Also, recruiters can try to identify specific ED&I competencies required for the position. 

At Kaufland, for example, we use gender-neutral language in our posts about available jobs, encouraging all people to apply for the open vacancies. We address the candidate directly because we want to have a friendly approach and express our willingness to welcome new colleagues, regardless of their gender.

Avoiding the use of words such as “stand”, “talk”, and “walk” when describing daily tasks is another way to incorporate ED&I, as these terms could discourage people with disabilities from applying. For example, “walk throughout the store to arrange products” can be turned into „move throughout the store to arrange products”, as „walking” is not the only means to get from one point to another.

There are multiple ways to write an inclusive job description. All it takes is openness, consideration, and a desire to improve the old ways. 

What can companies do to avoid just checking boxes and make ED&I truly impactful in Romania?

Estera Anghelescu: Organizations should engage in promoting ED&I both in terms of communications initiatives and grassroots projects. Formal non-discrimination policies are extremely necessary to ensure guidelines in the workplace on this matter, but most importantly, designing hands-on projects to increase diversity is key for businesses. And this comes from within the company. Providing training on ED&I to employees on all levels is the first step towards an open, tolerant, and inclusive team. At Kaufland, we are constantly concerned with this issue and are dedicated to implementing projects that make a difference. For instance, half of our senior management positions are held by female executives.

In times of crisis, we are there for the people, and we created 300 jobs for refugees from Ukraine. 

The recruitment process is another fundamental aspect. As a fair employer, Kaufland’s selection criteria are based on work experience, skills, and expertise. The salary levels are also designed according to these criteria. These are just some examples of how organizations can genuinely promote ED&I. And above all, creating a culture where equity is valued is perhaps the main driver to having a diverse and inclusive workplace.