Create Positive Change Internally, with Your Most Critical Audience with Rafael A. Fantauzzi

  • Date: June 28, 2019
  • Hosts: Jon Gaul

Episode Summary

The following conversation is with a true pioneer, Rafael Fantauzzi, Country Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Officer for IKEA US.  This epidose highlights the important work he and his company are doing to create a fully inclusive work environment, contributing to a positive change in all areas of its business and in society. We discuss their limited edition rainbow shopping bag that celebrates LGBT Pride month with all proceeds benefitting the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Rafael is a true change agent, who believes the most important step in creating positive change must start internally, with your most critical audience – the people that represent your brand. We believe IKEA’s continued commitment to human rights and the way they lead the industry with inclusive benefits for their employees and their families is work all brands can learn from and start implementing.

Guest Bio

Rafael has held position’s with iconic brands such as American Airlines, Coors Brewing Company and  the National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC) over the course of his career.  He held a variety of roles in sales, sales support and analytics early in his career before being promoted to management roles such as  Manager for U.S. Hispanic National Organizations/Promotions, Director of the Corporate Relations and President and Chief Executive Officer, where he was responsible for developing and integrating high impact diversity and inclusion strategic initiatives.

In July 2017, Rafael accepted the new position of Country Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Officer at IKEA U.S. In his new role, he is responsible for anchoring the IKEA Global D&I Approach, build organizational competency, develop workplace inclusion alliances, and assist 50 retail units, 10 Distribution Centers, and 2 corporate offices with all People & Culture needs. In addition, he is part of the INGKA Global ED&I Network which includes representatives from all IKEA countries.

Rafael has served as a Founding Member of the News Corporation Diversity Advisory Council, Board Member at the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), and Board Member for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Connect with Rafael on LinkedIn (


Jon:  Welcome to the Brand InnerActions podcast. I’m Jon Gaul and I’m excited to be your guide as we go behind the scenes with some of the brands you know and love. This podcast will explore the moment of truth for these brands, the customer conversation. We journey inside the minds of the brand architects to learn how companies are rethinking human to human interactions and mobilizing their employees to be brand ambassadors. I’ve had my boots on the ground with frontline employees and have seen firsthand how company communication impacts the ability of teams to deliver a strong, consistent message to their customers. I’m thrilled to share my recent conversation with Rafael Fantauzzi that highlights the important work he and his company IKEA are doing around diversity and inclusion. A humanistic and values driven company, IKEA believes that everyone has the right to be treated fairly and to be given equal opportunities regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They actively aim at creating a fully inclusive work environment, contributing to a positive change in all areas of its business and in society. We discuss their limited-edition rainbow shopping bag that celebrates LGBT pride month with all proceeds benefiting the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Raphael’s a true change agent who believes the most important step in creating positive change must start internally with your most critical audience, the people that represent your brand. We believe IKEA’s continued commitment to human rights and the way they lead the industry with inclusive benefits for their employees and their families is work all brands can learn from and start implementing. And now my conversation with Rafael. Thanks so much for being our guest.

Rafael:  Absolutely.

Jon:  What are your key responsibilities at IKEA?

Rafael:  I am what is considered a Chief Diversity Officer at IKEA US with responsibilities to help anchor our equality, diversity and inclusion approach that is developed at the global level.

Jon:  Thanks for explaining more about your responsibilities. It’s inspiring to hear about your company’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, and also your role in creating a truly inclusive work environment. It’s as equally impactful to see your company continue to demonstrate its commitment to human rights initiatives. IKEA is celebrating LGBT Pride month by releasing a limited-edition rainbow-colored bag, which is similar to the blue frakta bag. What inspired IKEA to release this product?

Rafael:  Let me begin by saying that IKEA’s culture and values are really strong on the elements of equality, diversity and inclusion. And one of the things that is very important for us as a mission and as a vision is that we believe that equality is a human right. And as a values driven, humanistic company, when we look at elements like equality, diversity and inclusion, it’s both about the people and about the business. So, when we look at an element that represents IKEA, like our blue frakta bag that everybody’s very familiar with. A low-cost option for people to carry the things out of the store and then to use at home for all kinds of different things. We wanted to send a clear signal, first to the LGBT community because it’s a community that of course has been troubled with a lot of inequality that is systemic. And for us, we believe that through our advocacy and to our societal change, we can actually make an impact for our coworkers and for our customers. That we looked into the possibility of using the iconic symbol of the rainbow flag and incorporate it into the frakta blue bag in order to send a message out there to the community that first, hey, we see you. We value, we honor you. And really, I’m very grateful that folks in Sweden and Canada and of course here in the US all started to talk about this about a year ago. And then our IKEA services range developers actually took this idea and ran with it.

Jon:  The messages you’re sending to customers and also employees is incredibly powerful. How have IKEA employees embraced not only the bag and what it stands for, but also the core value that serves as a north star for IKEA?

Rafael:  You know, it is important that organizations first take care of their own house in order for them to actually go out there and at least maybe attempt to embrace themselves correctly with the community and with the customers. So, our coworkers know that we are a company that offer an incredible set of benefits for our coworkers and because we have our Swedish roots, equality is something that is anchored on our benefits as well. So, all our coworkers have the same access to the same benefits. But of course, there are some things that are part of people’s uniqueness. For example, we do offer transgender benefits for our coworkers that might be wanting to go through transgender transition. We also offer parental leave for all our coworkers, regardless of if it’s your spouse, your partner. Of course, domestic partner benefits and spouse benefits for those coworkers that go in through the marriage route. So, our coworkers really know that we have taken care of them and that we care about them. So when suddenly we are able to use some of our products to also be able to send that clear signal to our customers that, hey, we know what you’re going through, what you represent, our coworkers feel very proud that we decided to do this in a humanistic way and also donate all the proceeds of the sale of this bag to an advocacy organization that is helping to really tackle those infrastructure issues that are inequalities that are systemic in our society.

Jon:  What you said resonates with me in two ways. The first is taking care of your own house and ensuring that employees know that you practice internally what you preach externally. The second is that customers understand the values behind the business. How was the messaging around the release of the rainbow bag communicated to the frontlines?

Rafael:  Great point. First of all, some of our own coworkers, in our locations were part of creating our internal communications plans. One of the things that we have here in the US as part of our work to anchor equality, diversity and inclusion, we have 50 retail locations and we have around 13 other locations that include our distribution centers, logistics and our service office, which is what normally is known as our headquarters. So, we have 63 locations and in each one of those locations we have what we call equality, diversity, and inclusion ambassadors, which are just regular coworkers that take on the passion that they have around this type of work. And they help us with getting the message across. So, some of them are part of a work group that we create whenever we decide to do big things like this in. And, by the way, we take a similar approach around different dimensions of diversity, for Hispanic Heritage month, for Black History month, for even Movember, we celebrated men’s health. We believe it’s extremely important of course, to include men in the equation of equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as with women. Because IKEA has made a commitment to be at gender equality by 2020. So, our coworkers are part of those work groups and through that network we are able to communicate what’s coming up. And of course, we started with teasers about samples and prototypes of the bags and that’s how we started getting the excitement around what was coming and started the buzz. It’s almost like starting a movement through teasing. And, when we saw of course the energy from the coworkers, we realized that we were onto something that hopefully would be significant, and it has turned out to be extremely significant.

Jon:  So you brought up the process and using the teaser, can you walk me through from when it started as an idea to when the bags were actually launched. What did that process look like?

Rafael:  Of course. From the get go, we had a lot of internal communications through Yammer, our internal coworker to coworker communications outlet, and through the Global Equality Diversity Inclusion Network, which is what people like me, represented in each one of the countries where IKEA has locations as part of the Inc. Group. The first posts had said, wouldn’t it be nice to have a rainbow bag for next year? And so, when I saw that, I’m like, oh my gosh, that would be fantastic! I will definitely order them. And then other countries began to say the same thing. So, with that, one of our executives in Sweden took the idea to our range developers. They develop different products and they decided to create a design, just to see what people thought about it. And the idea just kept going and the next thing you know, the bag is going into production. And with details in us being asked if we wanted the logo or not, we said from the get go, we did not want the logo on the first run, because we did not want it to take away the importance of the symbol of the rainbow flag for this limited bag. And so, once we got some prototypes and some images this past March, the Global Network gathered in Sweden and we finally saw the first product. And of course, I took some pictures with a bag and posted it on the same outlet, coworker to coworker, via Yammer and people saw me with the bag and that created all of that energy. And then of course our commercial folks had ordered the bag for us to have here, hopefully in May, which we were able to get those in May. But, due to the fact that it was a limited-edition bag, production was very limited. So even some of the countries that are part of the Inc. IKEA Group, were not able to order the bags because the US kind of went and ordered the majority of them. So we lucked out and actually we were, you know, Canada and the US, were the first ones to place our orders and we said, hey, let’s go for a big number, let’s see what we can get out of that and we were able to secure 120,000. Well, I can tell you, Canada was only able to secure 50,000 and some countries like Croatia were not even able to get them in time because production was very limited.

Jon:  It would have been easy for IKEA or any company, really, to capitalize on the goodwill and promote the company brand. I think it speaks volumes that there is no logo on the bag and also that proceeds are going to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. It’s very inspiring that the decision was made to put quality first and donate proceeds to a charity.

Rafael:  Thank you very much for that. Actually, you know, IKEA does a lot of that kind of work around our sustainability efforts and through the IKEA Foundation, which is a separate company, but we just normally don’t talk about it. It’s part of the humbleness values that we have as an organization. But in this case, because we are right now in a social situation in which we seem to be backtracking a little bit on peoples human rights, specifically with the LGBT community, the transgender community, we decided to be, you know, leaders in the space and begin to talk a little bit more about the impact that this has on society and all of the initiatives that seem to be going in the wrong direction. And we said, we know we as leaders, in retail kind of need to step up. Our customers and our coworker’s kind of expect that. So, it was just a no brainer to us to a certain extent.

Jon:  I want to go back to something that you mentioned earlier. You brought up leveraging equality, diversity and inclusion ambassadors for internal communication plans. Where did this idea come from?

Rafael:  This actually came a couple of years ago and how we decided to take our approach on being able to develop and execute training at the locations. You see, retail is a very interesting industry. 80% of our coworkers are hourly coworkers in our locations. So, it’s not like we have, you know, we’re mostly management, that you know people can control their time. Here we have hourly coworkers that we owe them the opportunity to first of all be engaged, but also for them to receive the right competency for them to feel what we do as a company and what they can do also for the ultimate goal, which is inclusion. You know, we believe that inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. So, as a company, we decided to kind of build that kind of infrastructure, in which everybody would have an opportunity to participate at different levels. So, we created, kind of a governance structure, at every one of our retail locations in order for the work to actually be first of all activated, implemented, and executed. And it has been very successful for us.

Jon:  I’ve seen a divide in some organizations between hourly and salary workers. It’s impressive that IKEA is aware of what a divide can do to morale and also knows how to create a stronger culture by including everyone.

Rafael:  Absolutely. You know, any company that does not take advantage, first of all of the energy, the passion and the diversity that their coworkers have, are actually leaving money at the table. I can tell you this, we’re very proud that at IKEA we are 54.6% multicultural, multiracial and our footprint is actually 48.5, so we’re skewing higher in our multicultural, multiracial coworker composition. So why not take advantage, empower those coworkers to be part of this movement and that way they actually help us as an organization actually implement and become a more inclusive organization faster than if we were doing a top down approach. Actually, this is an approach from almost every corner that we can actually take.

Jon:  What impact do you hope your values on equality, diversity and inclusion has on other companies?

Rafael:  Well, one of the things that we’re trying to do is to impact retail, more than anything. We believe at IKEA that our retail industry, we kind of need to bring a little bit more leadership around diversity and inclusion. So, another project that we’re working behind the scenes, is we have partnered with a Retail Industry Leadership Association and with other companies that are part of retail and we are trying to develop a maturity model for all retail industry companies to be able to use in order to elevate really the volume on doing right by your coworkers, but also by your customers. So, we want to revolutionize. We want to revolutionize the industry and there’s a lot of other great companies that are also doing similar activations around cause related marketing. So we just wanted to make our part, walk our walk correct, talk our talk, leading in the space and then hopefully using some of these things as best practices for other companies that are not there yet for them to see that these things actually do pay off and they’re a win-win for everybody.

Jon:  Absolutely. That’s very well said. I like your stance on creating a revolution and finding a way to impact the business, but also impacting people as well. Rafael, what’s been your experience working with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation?

Rafael:  You know, it’s really interesting because when we began to have conversations with the Human Rights Campaign, first of all, they were amazing. You know, especially the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, there’s the 501c3 and the 501c4, but we actually did tell them, we really don’t want you to be talking about IKEA. We want to create this product and we just want to donate the proceeds to you. We don’t want any VIP treatment. We’re not interested. We’re actually going to be participating at their national dinner and I said, I want just two cheap seats, tables. My CEO can be there and be with everybody else. We don’t need any VIP treatment, that’s not what IKEA’s all about. We want to make sure that everybody that goes to the national dinner leaves with one of our bags because that’s really what we are all about and how we feel it’s best sometimes to make some change happen.

Jon:  That’s fantastic. Thank you for your time and insight about how IKEA is attempting to revolutionize the retail space through a constant focus of your core values. It’s one thing to say that inclusion is important to an organization, but it’s another to demonstrate it both internally and externally. In our brief conversation, I feel like IKEA is doing a great job with embodying those core values.

Rafael:  Thank you, Jon. I really appreciate it.

Jon:  I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Rafael. It was an absolute pleasure speaking with a true innovator in the area of diversity and inclusion and learn more about a company that values and celebrates their people’s uniqueness. It is truly inspiring to see how the team at IKEA is making their brand stand for something. You can connect with Rafael on LinkedIn. To learn more about IKEA, visit The Brand InnerActions podcast is brought to you by InnerView Group and hosted by myself, Jon Gaul. To learn more about InnerView or to obtain a transcript, please go to Make sure you subscribe to get the latest episodes.