Diversity in the workforce

Getting integration right

Changing demographics, a shortage of skilled workers, digitalisation – German companies have to do some re-thinking as they are increasingly forced to rely on "outsiders". But how? Some answers from Insa Wrede

Birds of a feather flock together. People tend to seek out friends from a similar social milieu, conversation partners with similar views and life partners with similar interests. This principle also pervades the workplace. When filling vacant positions, candidates are often favoured who resemble the decision-maker in their religion, origins, social status, attitudes and often also gender. The result is an economy dominated by white, heterosexual, middle-aged men.

"If I have only one kind of person in management, then not necessarily the best but the most similar people will make it to the top. And that is a real problem for businesses," says Veronica Hucke, owner of the consulting firm D&I Strategy and Solutions.

The more colourful, the more creative

Companies stand to benefit from having a more heterogeneous workforce. People with a migrant background are often adept at moving between different cultures, speak more than one language and are more flexible. Frequently, they perceive things differently than their male German colleagues and take original approaches to finding a solution. This can bring a higher degree of creativity to a business, giving it decisive competitive advantages. People who do not fit into the general mainstream are more likely to offer an inspiring alternative point of view.

"Countless studies have shown that, although homogeneous teams may be very satisfied with their results, this is because they avoid difficult discussions, meaning they do not live up to their own capabilities and possibilities," says Hucke.

In addition, the external circumstances today are such that companies are no longer able to neglect the topic of diversity. Demographic developments alone, along with immigration, globalisation and a potential shortage of skilled workers, make it an issue that urgently needs to be addressed. In order to have enough workers in Germany, a net number of 400,000 people must immigrate into the country according to calculations made by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB).

The will is there – in some cases

To promote diversity, four companies in Germany joined forces around ten years ago to initiate a Diversity Charter. The signatories pledge to create a working environment that is free of prejudice. All employees are to be treated with equal respect, regardless of sex, nationality, ethnic origin, religion, beliefs, disabilities, age, sexual orientation and identity. In the meantime nearly 2,500 companies employing over nine million people have signed the charter, among them the major German car manufacturers, Bayer, Deutsche Bahn, Deutsche Telekom and Siemens.

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