Successful through difference: That's what diversity means

Magazine, 18.05.2021

With the first virtual Diversity Week (17 May to 21 May), the topic of diversity is being taken to a new level at ERGO.  The five ERGO networks are bringing the week to life with personal stories and important information about diversity. In this interview, Lena Lindemann (Head of HR Business Management at ERGO) and Bianca Boudein (ERGO Diversity Manager) explain the significance of diversity and what the Diversity Week can do.

Miss Lindemann, what is the importance of diversity in general?

Lena Lindemann: Diversity is a central topic - for society in general, but also for companies. Our working lives are determined by permanent change. If you want to react quickly to change and adapt to evolving circumstances, you have to be open to new things, able to learn, innovative and creative. A diverse work environment in which different people with different perspectives, experiences and strengths work together and are valued contributes to the openness and learning ability of an organisation and promotes its innovative power and creativity.

Diversity is also of great importance for ERGO as an employer. We are seeing that young people in particular are paying increasing attention to the values lived out in the company and how different ways of life and work are dealt with when choosing their employer. We have to give clear answers here in order to be the employer of choice for talented people today and in the future.

What does it actually take for diversity to work in a company?

Lindemann: Diversity must be lived and be tangible. This requires respect, tolerance and an open attitude. Managers play a central role here. A heterogeneous team from different generations and cultural backgrounds needs good leadership. It needs openness, team spirit, intercultural understanding and emotional intelligence. Diversity is therefore clearly a leadership task that must be supported and promoted from the top.

It is also important not to limit diversity to mere representation. It is not enough that all groups of people are represented. Rather, it is crucial that the diversity of people is also included and that people feel they belong, i.e. diversity always needs inclusion and belonging. I am convinced that only those who feel they belong with their individuality are able to realise their full potential and make their contribution.

Miss Boudein, from your point of view as a Diversity Manager: What does it take to establish diversity in society and in companies?

Bianca Boudein: It needs an understanding of diversity in the first place.  People usually reject something at first if it is different. It is unfamiliar and can be frightening. That is human. But if you talk to each other more and create encounters, then people learn that it can be an absolute enrichment. It doesn't always work without friction. But if we engage in it, we become stronger as a society as a whole and innovative forces can be released.

This week is Diversity Week at ERGO. What exactly is happening?

Boudein: The topic of diversity has grown so much that we really want to show this entire colourful bouquet of diversity. We can't do that on one day. It has become an entire week. Because five employee networks have now been formed at ERGO, the number of days fits very well.

And it is impressive what the employee networks at ERGO have achieved. 50 employees are responsible for shaping Diversity Week. In total, there are 42 programme points over five days, quite a remarkable number. The special thing about it is that diversity is talked about in a very concrete way. Employees tell their own stories. For example, a staff member will describe how she lives with multiple sclerosis and copes with her work. This is a very concrete way of showing what diversity actually means. It becomes visible and tangible for everyone. So we don't talk about each other, but with each other.

Is it challenging that the Diversity Week is completely digital?

Boudein: It is a challenge, but also a special opportunity. We are not represented individually at the locations, but can meet digitally across all of our offices. Anyone can join us virtually. We meet on a joint platform. Some employees would not be able to travel due to their family or health situation and thus get the chance to be there.

Miss Lindemann, the networks at ERGO continue to grow and another one has been added with the "People of Color" network.  How do you rate the importance of the networks?

Lindemann: Networks primarily create a platform for mutual exchange and greater visibility. This also strengthens the sense of belonging. I think it's great that the networks are based on the commitment and initiatives of the staff. That is an important foundation of our culture. Building on this, however, diversity must be thought about and lived beyond the networks. Our goal is for everyone to make diversity their topic. The networks make a very important contribution to this.

Miss Boudein, what is behind the launch of the new "People of Color" network?

Boudein: The founders of this new network approached me completely independently and said that it was precisely the area of "People of Color" that was still missing among the networks and that they wanted to promote diversity within ERGO. They want to draw attention to different origins. Nothing better can actually happen when the impulse comes from the employees themselves. I then supported them in taking the first steps.

The founders want to use the Diversity Week to introduce themselves and the network. Among other things, they will be discussing the issue of racism in everyday working life and looking for new comrades-in-arms for the network. And of course they also want to break down the old stereotyping and make people aware of prejudices. For example, a different skin colour does not automatically mean that you have to speak to someone in English. In order to point out a prejudice.

In the meantime, ERGO has already received several awards in Germany, for example as one of the best companies for women or for its approach to diversity. How important is that?

Lindemann: First of all, I am pleased with the awards for the company and for the many colleagues who contribute to it every day.  They are important because they make our employees proud and promote identification and a sense of belonging. They are also important because they convey to the outside world what we stand for at ERGO. This makes us attractive as an employer and helps us compete for future talent. At the same time, it should not lead us to sit back and be satisfied. Diversity is a process, not a project. There are many points that we also want to improve. So we can be proud of what we have achieved and take it as an incentive to continue to promote diversity in our company and make it a tangible experience.

What is the significance of a Diversity Week to draw further attention to it?

Lindemann: The Diversity Week shows on the one hand how many different dimensions diversity has, but on the other hand also the high priority we give to the topic.  At ERGO, we rely on the diversity of our employees and make use of their varied experience, perspectives and skills. For us, diversity is an essential part of our productivity, creativity and innovative strength. But it is also clear that a Diversity Week alone is not enough. It can only be a beacon that sets impulses and motivates people to celebrate diversity at ERGO throughout the year. I am looking forward to this week and many inspiring stories.

The interview was conducted by Benjamin Esche

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