Constant change is undoubtedly essential for success. But what does that imply for diversity and inclusion? And how can an inclusive working environment be created? Since 2015, the student-initiated network Diversity at WHU has been organizing an annual Diversity Day to discuss these kinds of questions. On the occasion of its fifth anniversary, this year's event was extended to a period of one week to put diversity and inclusion at the center of attention and to cover an even broader range of topics. As a result, more than 120 students, alumni, university employees, and external guests took part in the 14 sessions of the virtual Diversity Week from November 30 until December 4.
“Diversity is an attitude, not a management approach”
Lina Maria Kotschedoff kicked off the Diversity Week with her keynote speech on the topic of “Diversity is an attitude, not a management approach”. Before the 37-year-old, who has had a visual acuity of only four percent since the age of nine and recently won the German Diversity Award in the category Disability, completed her MBA at WHU in 2016, she was often insecure about herself: "I thought being a woman, being handicapped, being half Brazilian half German, limits me." Also at the beginning of her studies, she worried about not being accepted and being a burden for her classmates. During the first two weeks of her MBA program, she thought about quitting every day until she finally realized that she was by no means a liability to her team, but rather an asset. "We need to stop assuming what others can bring to the table," said Kotschedoff. Otherwise, we risk falling into a "reality trap" and seeing our point of view as the only correct one.
Diversity and the question of willpower
Dr. Jörg Ehmer, CEO of the German optics company Apollo Optik, also argued that diversity is a question of will: "You can make a difference, the only thing you need to do is to choose to do so," he elaborated in his presentation titled “The Diversity Discourse.” "As soon as you understand the power of diversity, there is a way to make it happen." Yet all too often, diversity is beyond our comfort zone of what we are accustomed to, which is why creating a diverse working environment is not a core competence of many companies. Consequently, change must be actively sought to create an open and colorful company, he said.
The interplay of diversity and inclusion
What should a company do to become open and colorful? According to Dominik Weh, who is Executive Sponsor of Oliver Wyman's LGBT network and has already shared his thoughts on the topic at the Diversity Day 2019, one thing is needed above all: Inclusion. "Diversity must follow inclusion," he emphasized. Pure diversity, on the other hand, is a mere feature that has almost no effect on its own. During the workshop of Professor Dr. Fabiola Gerpott, Chairholder of Leadership at WHU, it became clear what such an inclusive working environment should not look like. While her sister Felicia, who herself works in a management consultancy, shared her personal experiences concerning discrimination against women, Gerpott backed up her arguments with scientific studies. Often, Felicia reported, she has to raise her points several times in order to be heard by her male colleagues and clients. Not only are her points overheard all too often, but she is also interrupted before finishing her point. Therefore, she began to question her own competence, which inspired the workshop’s name: “You only got the job because you are a woman.”
Diversity and inclusion must become the new normal
Throughout the course of Diversity Week, it became clear that there is still a great amount of work to be done and that diversity needs to be seen from a multidimensional perspective. Just because a company employs different age groups and has women in leadership roles, it is not necessarily diverse. And just because a firm has established an LGBT network, it is far from being inclusive. Diversity and inclusion start with the design of a non-discriminatory and unbiased application process and require the will and commitment of the whole management team to initiate a sustainable change. According to Professor Dr. Jane Lê, Chairholder of Strategic Management at WHU, who joined the panel discussion “Challenge COVID-19,” it is a question of how quickly organizations can change and recognize the benefits of diversity. Dr. Rolf Hellermann, recently appointed CFO of Bertelsmann and part of the panel discussion, put it in a nutshell: "Diversity must become the new normal." But how do we achieve this? Lina Maria Kotschedoff already provided the answer at the beginning of the week: Perhaps we need to reduce political correctness to start the real discussion.
Further resources and an overview of the speakers of this year's WHU Diversity Week can be found here.