Africa Business Communities
[Interview] Mare Heinluht, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Bolt

[Interview] Mare Heinluht, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Bolt

The world just celebrated Diversity Month which has been set aside to recognize and honour the diversity surrounding us all. 

In this interview, we speak to Mare Heinluht the Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Bolt,  a leading on-demand mobility company in Africa on what this month entails and how the company is embracing diversity. Based in Estonia Mare’s previous experience in the field comes from finance, as she has led the Diversity and inclusion work in the biggest bank in Sweden and the Baltic region. 

You had a very interesting position at Bolt. Talk to us about this position. What does being a Diversity Manager at the company entail? 

Diversity and Inclusion managers in most companies are responsible for ensuring the company treats employees and applicants fairly and equitably. We do that by first assessing the situation and the company’s particular areas of improvement. Based on that, we agree on a strategy and company goals with the management. This, as in any area in a business, needs to be run in a goal-based and strategic way. Day-to-day, we fulfil this strategy by reviewing all our people's processes and policies to ensure that they promote equality and are not inherently discriminatory or biassed against any group. We also have special initiatives and activities to support underrepresented groups, and there is a lot of awareness work that needs to be done with the employees and managers so that everyone would treat each other with 100% respect every day. That’s just a broad description. In reality, it’s everything from ensuring the accessibility of our offices to trying to boost female representation in our hiring pool. 

Diversity has become a buzzword in many workplaces today, but it is much more than that. Why is it so important for us to start having conversations about it? 

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we lived in a world where everybody has equal opportunity? Sadly, we don’t. That’s because of the unconscious bias inherent to the human thought process - I believe that most people don’t intentionally exclude or treat others poorly, but we live in a world that’s standardised for the needs and wants of the majority groups, and everyone is expected to follow certain social norms. Real conversations about diversity and inclusion are pivotal to changing that status quo. 

How does one actually become a diversity and inclusion professional? 

I believe there are different avenues to it. Since it’s a relatively new profession, there are very few people formally trained for this job. Most seasoned practitioners today somehow stumbled into it - either thanks to a background and related work in organisational psychology, law, or sociology - or having an innate passion for equality and simply being at the right place at the right time when their organisations were looking for someone to take a lead in an area where most people feel insecure. That’s how it happened to me. I was working as the Executive Assistant to the Head of HR, who thought that I had a natural talent for this work when the opportunity presented itself. Building one’s competence in this area is mostly self-led - you need

to familiarise yourself with the global best practices, read and self-educate on the relevant social matters, and network with your peers. We are often alone or in small teams in an organisation, so it’s important to have a network of people with whom to sense-check things. 

Coming from just celebrating Diversity Month, talk to us about how Bolt is embracing diversity. 

Diversity and inclusion at Bolt means 100% respect. No matter who you are and where you come from, if you have the competence and drive, you can have a successful career at Bolt. We employ people from over 115 nationalities in over 45 countries. We value fairness and objectivity and take care to ensure that all our people processes are designed to be as unbiased as possible. 

We're committed to integrating the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion into all of our HR processes. We've been continuously enhancing our recruitment process to ensure it's as objective, structured, and competency-based as possible to eliminate unconscious bias. During our Annual Compensation Reviews, we closely monitor proposed changes by gender to ensure gender pay equality. In our Annual Performance Reviews, we've incorporated questions to check for unconscious bias in the assessment process, requiring managers to acknowledge potential gender or background bias when submitting their ratings. 

Awareness raising is a major part of our D&I work. With a global workforce representing many different cultures, it’s important to ensure that everybody is on the same page. We hold regular events where we address D&I topics and train all employees, particularly managers, on the topic. 

We have a lively social calendar, in part to engage the many people who have relocated to the Tallinn HQ - in fact we have more foreign people than Estonians working in the Tallin HQ-, but also to increase the sense of belonging and community within the company. The natural curiosity of people’s different backgrounds is often a part of this, and we celebrate cultural and religious holidays of many cultures. 

This Month was initiated in 2024 in honour of the diversity surrounding us all. Why do you think this month is so important? 

Actually, that’s not entirely correct. The celebration of Diversity Month as we follow it was initiated by the European Commission a few years ago, to consolidate the celebration of diversity in Europe into one period, as all countries were celebrating it at different times. May was chosen as that’s the month of the founding of the European Union, the motto of which is ‘United in Diversity’. We as a Europe-headquartered company naturally take part in those celebrations, while these values are of course global and universal to the human experience. And we should take time every now and then to remember that - that’s what’s the importance of Diversity Month in my view. 

How did you celebrate it?

For us, it was mostly about building awareness about the different facets of Diversity & Inclusion in the company. We had events on ADHD, different types of disabilities and how to accommodate them in the workplace, breaking unconscious biases when rebuilding your life in a new country (we have a lot of people who have relocated for work) and a discussion on Diversity in Africa. We always have a book of the month in the company - this time it was ‘Africa is not a Country’ by Dipo Faloyin. And we launched an all-employee D&I training. 

Diversity Month aims to encourage a deeper understanding of others, regardless of who they are or how they live. What kind of initiatives is Bolt putting in place to encourage this? 

We have regular events where we open up on different aspects of diversity and inclusion - like the previous examples - either through employees sharing their experiences or external experts coming in to give presentations. Since we are distributed across the world in 45+ countries, those events are always hybrid or digital. 

What I’ve also been glad to see at Bolt irrespective of the conscious Diversity & Inclusion angle is that team building and team spirit are very important. Research confirms that is especially important for culturally diverse teams, which we absolutely are. 

Do you think organisations are actively promoting diversity and inclusion in their hiring and recruitment processes? 

Some yes, others no. I see the global standard for D&I in and de-biasing the hiring process being raised constantly. Those companies who are not conscious of this yet, or putting it to practise, risk stagnation. I’d advise every company to start with the question: Is my hiring process fair and unbiased, and what could I do to improve it? 

What do you see as a major event, trend, or change that will change diversity and inclusion in the next five years? 

In general, I think we are in an interesting place with D&I globally. Equality, diversity and inclusion have become politicised, and many seem to genuinely think that equality of all human beings is a question of political views. Where it’s going, I cannot predict, but I hope we’ll somehow be able to get back to a space where it’s a human, not a political issue. 

In Europe, we will see the effects of major regulations coming into effect, intended to increase salary transparency, reduce the gender pay gap, and disclose way more than before. That will be a seismic shift that will spill over to other regions that have economic ties with Europe. If we as a company have to implement more measures in Europe to ensure pay equality for men and women, we will obviously implement the same standards across the globe - women and men in Africa deserve the same level of protection and equality. 

I’m very excited to see the developments in this area in Africa. With your growing population and number of young people, old norms will surely be tested and broken, with more women claiming their space in business and public life and marginalised groups daring to speak up and ask for justice.






Share this article