DiversifyNow - An Initiative for More Diversity in Organizations
How it all began, or "Why are there still so few women in leadership positions?"
At the end of March 2020, I scrolled through my LinkedIn profile and came across a contribution from the Allbright Foundation that said: "103 of the 160 listed companies in Germany still have no women on their boards". The post caught my attention and I found out that the Allbright Foundation publishes a report every year analyzing the current proportion of women on the management and supervisory boards of German companies listed on the DAX30, MDAX and SDAX.
Graphic: Share of women on the boards of 160 German listed companies: 641 men and 66 women, Source: Albright report /September 2019
The report confirmed what I already expected: men are firmly in the saddle in the top management of German companies. In 2019, not a single DAX company had a female share of 30% on its board - Birds of a feather flock together. A graph from the report can illustrate this reality better than all of the figures (see on the left).
I was frustrated. Of course, it's not a new insight that women remain disadvantaged compared with men at work. However, on this day it concerned me more than usually. I didn't just take note. I was angry, I was disappointed, and I thought, "Surely something must be done about this?"
That evening, I told my partner Kai about the Allbright report and my feeling that something must be done about this inequality. We discussed the issue of equal rights and diversity in the workplace and we soon realized that it was not only women who were affected. While they feel the most attention, there are also other groups of people who are disadvantaged in the workplace every day and who are overlooked or have to fear being discriminated against, including Elderly people, people with physical or psychological impairments, people with a certain sexual orientation, people with a different skin color, migrants and even fathers who want to take paternity leave.
What exactly is diversity?
We both wanted to find out more and started to deal with the topic quite independently of each other. We came across the "Charta der Vielfalt", an association founded by companies in Germany that are committed to promoting diversity in their organizations. This association also regularly publishes figures on the topic of diversity in Germany and emphasizes why all companies should be concerned with it. Here is a brief excerpt from their factbook and one of their studies:
Women earn on average 21% less than men with the same qualifications.
Unemployment among 60-64 year-olds rose from 28% in 2006 to 58% in 2017, marking an increase of 82%.
Only 12% of all gays, lesbians and bisexuals make their sexual orientation public at work.
Every ninth person in Germany has a physical or psychological impairment. Although people with severe impairments are better qualified than unemployed people without impairments on average, the latter are given preference.
Only 35.4% of those surveyed are satisfied with their work-life balance.
Only 6% of fathers but 71% of mothers of underage children work part-time.
73% of corporate members of the Diversity Charter see a need to take greater account of religion as a diversity dimension in companies.
These facts have emphasized a need for action, not only on the issue of equal treatment for women, but rather equal treatment for all. Moreover, they also highlight that diversity encompasses much more than simply gender or origin. Gardenswartz and Rowe – two well-known diversity consultants – adapted a concept from two professors (Marilyn Loden and Judy Rosener) years ago to illustrate this, named as the four layers of diversity, see on the right.
Graphic: Gardenswartz & Rowe, Various Teams at Work (2nd Edition, SHRM, 2003). Four Layers of Diversity
The diagram shows that diversity comprises four main levels – one's own personality, internal dimensions, external dimensions and organizational dimensions – each of which is divided into further sub-criteria. The presentation showed us that people can be discriminated against based on many different criteria. However, it also showed us something positive, namely how much room for maneuver there is for companies to promote equal treatment and diversity. It also illustrated how incredibly unique each of us is and the fact that we all share this uniqueness.
Promoting diversity is about promoting commonalities, taking into account all of these different perspectives, and making them equal. We all differ in characteristics such as gender, origin, worldview, religion, life concepts, family models, sexual orientation, education, age, physical and mental characteristics, etc. However, this individuality also connects us because it shows that no one is better or worse than others, but rather that we are all simply unique and human.
Qualitative interviews with companies
Our greed for knowledge was awakened and since coronavirus had ruined our actual plans for the future for the time being, tying us to the home office, we started our own diversity project. We wanted to learn more about the topic and the problems, and above all to understand why – according to the Diversity Charter – one-third of all German companies still do not address this issue. Our society is diverse, likewise our everyday life, so why not our companies?
We wanted to understand what challenges companies face when they decide to promote diversity. Indeed, what better way to find out than to ask these companies?! Therefore, we started to gather as many contacts as possible from the field of human resources and diversity management for qualitative interviews. We joined diversity groups on Xing and LinkedIn to expand our network, talked to diversity professors* in Germany and wrote directly to companies that already actively promote diversity in their organization. In this way, we were able to conduct 30 qualitative interviews over a period of approximately eight weeks with HR experts and diversity officers from different industries and of different sizes.
The interviews were scheduled for about 30 minutes each but mostly lasted longer, and they were coordinated and conducted using Calendly and Zoom. We were very pleased with the willingness and openness that we encountered regarding this topic, even though we had previously been unfamiliar with the subject. We talked through each interview afterwards and first recorded the most important findings for us on a mind map, and then transferred them into Notion, a tool that we used for project coordination.
Graphic: Diversity Mind Map, DiversifyNow
Some important findings from the interviews:
Without the support of top management, the prospects of sustainable success for the company in terms of diversity are low.
The issue is very complex, there is no blueprint and each company faces different challenges depending on its industry and type.
The awareness of the necessity is simply not yet present in many companies, according to the motto "nobody has complained yet, so everything is fine with us".
Quotas are not seen so critically, because they can pave the way for sustainable change.
Measuring progress towards greater diversity is difficult.
In addition, we conducted a PESTEL analysis, a method used to analyse markets that takes into account the political, economic, social, technological and legal aspects. Findings from this analysis included the following:
50% of the shortage of skilled workers in Germany could be compensated by more diversity measures in companies.
"Millennials" name diversity as the most important characteristic of their companies.
Germany is lagging behind, as only 40% of all German companies have diversity management, whereas across Europe as a whole the figure is almost 80%.
Progressive digitalization is an enabler for more diversity.
Since 2016, a gender quota of 30% has applied to new supervisory board positions to be filled in about 100 large companies (FüPoG).
Companies with a high degree of cultural diversity are 33% more successful than companies with less diversity.
We also flanked our research with other sources, such as the book Harvard Business Reviews's 10 Must Reads on Diversity, various Ted Talks like this playlist and the two inspiring talks by Paula Stone "I've lived as a man and a woman. Here's what I learned" and Toni Charter on "Inclusive Diversity: The Game Changer". What did we learn from this? None of us are really aware of our biases and fixed patterns of thinking about other people. Moreover, it is not an attack on ourselves if someone questions our neutrality, as no one can be truly neutral.
However, each individual has the responsibility to become aware of his/her own stereotypes and prejudices about others and question how these affect their own actions. In addition, everyone should acknowledge and question their own privileges. We also became aware of the social implications and impact of increased diversity in companies. Unfortunately, Germany has an urgent need for action here. Not only for competition policy and economic reasons, but also from a social and societal perspective, companies must be made more responsible when it comes to promoting diversity.
What to do with all these new findings?
It is not yet clear to us where our research and new findings will take us in the long term, whether we want to develop products or services that support companies in implementing diversity measures, or whether this was initially simply a personal development project. However, we were certain that we did not want to let the project simply end with the end of the interviews and the research. Accordingly, so we decided to make our findings available to other interested parties and create a place where as much condensed information as possible on the topic of diversity could be found. During our research, we noticed that there are many different sources, contents, studies and players in the field of diversity, which do not make a clear introduction to the topic easy for newcomers like us. This is where we want to start with our website .
The site is divided into two sections: "Understanding Diversity" and "Promoting Diversity". We want to address two target groups in this way, namely those who are just starting to get to grips with the topic and those who feel sufficiently confident to start their first own initiative. There are many different sources of information on diversity studies in companies, best practice examples or diversity readiness checks, tests that allow you to assess the state of diversity in your own company. In addition, the "Promoting Diversity" section offers 10 tips and a brief guide on how to start your own diversity initiative. It is supplemented with various tools that can help you to plan, implement and evaluate your diversity initiative.
Developing our own content - our diversity tools
In addition to the established sources and tools, we have also developed our own content. During the interviews and research, we noticed that the change towards increased diversity for companies is always very closely linked to the individual change of the individual person: the supervisory board member, the board member, the manager, the colleague. Each individual must become aware of his/her own role, perception and behavior. This requires a will, a skill and a permission. Do I want to question my patterns of thought and behavior, my habits, from which I perhaps profit more than others? Can and am I allowed to do so in the environment and system in which I work? Or do I then perhaps even threaten to face sanctions?
We noticed that the process towards a more diverse company is essentially a classic change management task for any organization. It is about changing old patterns of thinking and behavior to ensure the equal treatment of all current and future employees. This requires a careful and strategic approach. Management and broad supporters must be won over, measures must be well thought out and communication must be transparent. Above all, a diversity vision is needed: Why do we want to become more diverse and what does diversity mean for us and our company?
These questions should be answered together with the employees, because diversity can only work in the long term if everyone is involved, majorities as well as minorities, the advantaged as well as the disadvantaged. In addition, the concept of diversity extends to all areas of the company, as our overview of the diversity fields of action shows. Diversity concerns everyone in the company.
Based on this insight, we have developed four additional tools to help companies understand this change process:
The diversity journey provides an overview of the phases leading up to a diverse organization that acts as a role model. The individual phases are provided with background information on possible thoughts, attitudes and perspectives of the employees and they offer approaches to thinking and solutions to support progress into the next phase.
With the diversity canvas, companies can create initial brainstorming workshops. The canvas offers space to reflect on various issues, such as: what does diversity mean for our company? Where do we already promote it? Where do we see potential for development? The canvas can be printed out in large format for the workshop or you can take the questions and cast them in your own format.
The diversity process illustrates the change process that each of us goes through when it comes to changing patterns of thought and behavior. The process should help to build an understanding for those who refuse to change, to understand their motivation and provide approaches to support their change.
The diversity personas provide an overview of the common types that occur when changes take place in the company, such as the flammable or the incorrigible. The template takes up findings and approaches from the diversity journey and diversity process tools and summarizes them on one page per persona.
Start a conversation with us
We hope that with our DiversifyNow project we can make a small contribution to raising awareness of the sense, necessity and benefits of more diversity in companies and help interested parties to start their own diversity initiative, thus laying the foundation for more diversity in their organization. We also welcome any feedback on the site or the tools and any further exchange on the topic. Please feel free to contact us directly via our contact form on the website.
Your DiversifyNow Team,
Julia Steger & Kai König