”Two factors are relevant to us: Hiring people of diverse backgrounds, and providing a work environment in which they can live their talent” – Elke Heitmüller
It is now more common to see companies promote an “international work environment” or demand “intercultural awareness” from applicants in their job adverts. This shows that today’s HR professionals and managers are increasingly dealing with this topic and sometimes even regard it as a basic requirement for potential future colleagues. But what exactly does diversity within a company mean, and how can it be used as a tool to promote employee engagement?
“Creating and managing a diverse workforce is a process, not a destination.” – R. Roosevelt Thomas
Diversity basically means nothing other than “difference” or “distinctiveness”. This diversity can be related, among other things, to economic, cultural and social diversity in human societies. There are several criteria that constitute what diversity is. These include ethnic and cultural origin, gender, health/disability and sexual orientation. Pertaining to the business world, the term “diversity management” refers to HR policies that aim to increase a company’s success by deliberately making teams as diverse as possible or by using already present diversity and maximizing productivity through it.
You may be wondering, however, how this would particularly benefit your company and employees?
As an example: A company that signalizes receptiveness and the ability to learn new things and grow through them, provides an incentive for employees to further their personal development as well. In addition, studies have shown that employees from companies with successful diversity management are generally more satisfied. This can usually be attributed to a heightened sense of belonging and increased identification with the company.
How does the implementation process work within a company?
What must be clearly stated from the outset; there are many ways in which one can implement diversity management. Conversely, there is no precise application guide or checklist that promises positive performance results pursuant to strict adherence. The idea that there could be a single, perfect way to deal with diversity in the workplace would even be a terminological contradiction in itself.
“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle“ – George R.R. Martin
As every person is an individual, every company also has a different mentality and culture. Naturally, diversity management takes on many forms, being individually tailored to the specific characteristics of the respective firms. However, when regarding successful implementation by several prominent companies, one notices certain repeating patterns regarding the measures that have been implemented. These can serve as orientation for companies that are new to this area:
The onboarding process should encompass a fair and unbiased procedure, which is also recognizable as such from the outside. This can already be implemented in the specifications of the genders (m/f/d or m/f/x) when posting job ads. Further options include asking applicants to remove their photos and/or first name from their CV and motivation letters, as not to create any unwanted bias. Many companies also expressly state that applications from people with disabilities are preferred if they are equally suitable for the position. Furthermore, diversity management in the recruitment process can often be streamlined to the character of the company. For example, one third of all Adidas employees in Germany are not German. Adidas board member and HR manager Karen Parkin explains that through this, the Adidas corporate culture remainsauthentic and international and that, also from a local point of view, Adidas intends to promote the value of the different cultures.
2. Awareness Raising
Events or workshops are an efficient tool to draw attention to the topic of diversity or to inform about its advantages within the workplace. A further option would be to appoint a diversity officer to take care of arising issues and events hands on. Volkswagen, for example, has been organizing diversity conferences since 2017, where experts of the field exchange ideas and work together to improve and further diversity. In addition, the company promotes diversity and equal opportunities on all levels with an internal mechanism named “Together-Strategy 2025”. Audi, another good example of successful diversity management, has, since 2011, already held more than 1200 workshops on the subject of communication, trust and respect, and at the beginning of 2017 created its own team for diversity management within the HR framework.
In the case of companies or professions which are dominated by one gender, it also helps to clarify in the job advertisement that applications from women or men, if they are equally suited, are preferred for the specific position. Internally, an effective measure would be to set up a talent-promoting network. Deloitte has implemented this measure successfully through its internal networking platform „WIN“, which gives female high potentials the opportunity to exchange, engage and participate across departments and hierarchical levels.
4. Show your colors
Discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation remains a major issue. Apart from the moral reprehensibility, discrimination leads to high levels of stress for the affected employees and thus to worse performance in general. Suitable measures to prevent this include, in addition to a clear prohibition in the company guidelines, mechanisms that make it abundantly clear that discrimination will not be tolerated. One can even go one step further and create workshops that inform employees on what exactly constitutes discrimination and establish clear rules of conduct that will help ensure it is prevented. Companies can also show openness by supporting or joining organisations that address and educate about the issue. In 2018, Audi was the first car manufacturer to join the “Prout at Work” foundation, which promotes equal opportunities for LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace. Audi has created the queer@audi employee network as a concrete measure within their diversity management framework to support this value.
While these developments can be evaluated as procedures of success optimization, they are actually nothing more than a necessity for modern companies, a method of adaptation to today’s age. In the context of a digitalized and globalized world, diversity management is becoming increasingly relevant due to heightened diversity in societies, which, in turn, leads to today’s workplaces consisting of more and more people from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds. The general trend is also continuing into this direction, which makes diversity management an important and strategic strength for building a company and leading it to success. On the other hand, ignoring this trend can also lead to negative outcomes. Many recent corporate failures can be traced back to insensitive marketing.
It is therefore also a matter of adapting as a company to the rapid changes currently taking place in the markets. Elke Heitmüller, Head of the Diversity Department at Volkswagen, explains it in a nutshell: “Those who cannot serve diverse markets and target groups, those who do not bring new talent on board and those who do not promote talent in the company are going to have a bad time in the upcoming years and decades”.