People of Color: new ERGO network wishes to advance dialogue

Magazine, 11.08.2021

The new ERGO network ‘People of Color’ is committed to the interests of employees with diverse roots. How did the group become established? And what does it actually want to achieve? The three founders Dr. Maximiliane Lester-von Reith, Laxciya Varathanathan and Solyman Sahar explain this in an interview.

People of color Launch

The three of you founded the new ERGO network. First and foremost, we would like to know more about you as people. Would you like to briefly introduce yourselves? And why is founding this network to important to you?

Maximiliane Lester-von Reith: I am 30 years old and have been with ERGO for just under three years in the Traditional Life Actuarial department. I was born in southern Germany as the daughter of a white German and a black German. My father came to Europe as a young person from the Democratic Republic of Congo. My first experience with marginalisation was when the children at nursery school considered me as being “different”. I was often asked where I actually came from. And these questions arose time and time again. The fact that I am German and was born here did not appear to be a satisfactory answer for some. These experiences have shaped me in my life and I would like to discuss and share them.

Laxciya Varathanathan: I am 26 years old and was born in Hamburg. I studied here at the University of Hamburg and have been working for ERGO in the Traditional Life Actuarial department for almost two years. I was born here, but my roots lie in Sri Lanka. That is the origin of my unusual name – unusual in Germany that is – which people often ask about. For me personally, the People of Color network is the right platform to draw attention to the diversity of people and the associated benefits. It also lets me feel represented in terms of my roots.

Solyman Sahar: I have also been concerned about diversity for some time. I was born in Afghanistan 32 years ago. At the age of five, I moved to Russia with my parents because my father studied and worked there. I have been living in Hamburg since I was 15 years old. I went to school here and then studied Mathematics at the University of Hamburg. I have been working as an actuary at ERGO for two years. I am often confronted with the question about whether I feel like an Afghan, a Russian or a German. If I had to decide, I would say German, but actually I feel connected to all three nationalities. That is why I would like to discuss the issue of diversity in general. Here at ERGO we hope to make our contribution to the diversity debate through the People of Color network.

How do you feel at ERGO?

Sahar: I feel really good at ERGO. My work, the working environment and, above all, my colleagues are just great.

Varathanathan: I am also very satisfied at ERGO. More than anything, I am pleased that ERGO's employee networks are so popular and supported.

Lester-von Reith: I can only concur with Laxciya and Solyman.

What is actually behind the term ‘People of Color’ and why did you set up the network?

Lester-von Reith: People of Color is a term used by people who experience racism in different ways to describe themselves. This might be related, for example, to superficial characteristics, such as skin colour, but also to other actual or perceived characteristics, such as origin or religion. People are divided into categories on the basis of these characteristics. Characteristics are often attributed to the groups of people constructed in this way to portray them as different and marginalise them. And that is exactly why we set up this network. We want to represent the interests of people of color at ERGO to support each other and exchange ideas.

Bianca Boudein, Diversity-Managerin At ERGO:

“I think it is wonderful that colleagues have set up the PoC@ergo network on their own initiative to contribute to diversity at ERGO. It is great that another network is highlighting the breadth of diversity alongside Väter@ergo, women@ergo, pride@ergo and Inklusion@ergo. The activities of the networks make it clear that diversity is an issue experienced by each and every individual. I wish PoC@ergo great fun in expanding their network and I look forward to working with them.”

How did the network come about?

Varathanathan: We have been wanting to make a commitment to diversity at ERGO for some time. The interview by Bianca Boudein in the ERGO magazine then inspired us to set up an employee network ourselves. In February, we took our request to Bianca Boudein who fully supported us from the very start. We are very pleased that we had the opportunity to introduce the new network directly during Diversity Week itself. And we are even more pleased about the positive response.

Straight away you gained two prominent patrons in the company: Sandra Babylon, member of the ITERGO Board of Management, and Dr. Nekeema Stefflbauer, Head of Digital Customer Care at ERGO …

Lester-von Reith: Precisely – and that is, of course, a powerful signal. Both are very committed to different forms of diversity and have been very supportive to us in setting up the network. We are very grateful to them for that.

Sahar: We don’t just have one, but two great sponsors, who have already given us a lot of support. We look forward to future projects with them.

What are your objectives with the network?

Lester-von Reith: Dialogue between people of colour is a very important aspect. But equally important is dialogue with people who are not people of colour but are interested in the issue. Naturally the network needs to be visible and represent us at ERGO. We want to clear up prejudices and achieve greater commonality. When the coronavirus situation permits it, we hope to meet up together and discuss issues in discussion forums. External lectures or workshops are also feasible. We would also like to collaborate with the other ERGO networks and discuss topics that affect us all.

Will the network only be active in Germany or in other countries as well?

Sahar: Initially it will only be active throughout Germany. Of course, we are not averse to setting it up throughout the Group. We would undoubtedly benefit from the experiences of colleagues from other countries or other companies and exchange ideas with them. But first we would like to expand here in Germany.

To what extent have you experienced discrimination yourself and how did deal with it?

Varathanathan: We all have had different, very formative experiences with discrimination in our lives. In some cases, they are not so bad, such as, for instance, the question about where we come from. People often ask simply out of curiosity. But, of course, some people have had more profound experiences. We think that it is so important to draw attention to this issue and raise people's awareness of it to ensure that these situations no longer happen. We want this network to provide a safe platform to let people share personal experiences, such as these.

By Benjamin Esche.

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