Diversity makes companies better

August 2020 – Good diversity management demonstrably increases corporate success and can be a strong advantage in times of crisis. Here, Hamburg Commercial Bank recently signed the “Diversity Charter.” With this obligation HCOB commits itself to an unprejudiced working environment and to equal opportunities.

Diversity Charter

Equal opportunities for all should be standard in the 21st century. And yet the understandable outrage of the black population in the United States in the face of discrimination and lethal police violence demonstrates the gap between equal rights on paper and equal treatment of all people in practice. And in Germany, too, the “Black Lives Matter” movement is attracting much public attention. But discrimination doesn’t only manifest itself in such obviously appalling ways as the racially motivated police operations that can be observed in the USA; discrimination also takes the form of much smaller everyday acts – and this also includes the working realities of businesses.

People of non-white skin color, women, the disabled, the elderly, single parents and part-time workers still, according to many studies, for example McKinsey for the Berlin recruiting start-up Truffls, face certain disadvantages in terms of their careers, promotion opportunities, and pay when compared to single or married middle-aged white men. But at the same time there is good news: the number of companies focusing on diversity has been growing rapidly for several years now.

Persons staying together

Companies with diverse staff are more successful

Diversity management is now part of the corporate philosophy of many major international corporations. Company groups in particular have long had their own diversity management departments and promoted themselves as being particularly diverse, recognizing that diversity is not a burden but an added value. Studies prove this, including a McKinsey study from mid 2020 that shows that companies with a high proportion of women in management or on the board are a quarter of a percent more profitable than others, while a 2019 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that those companies that maximize diversity and inclusion are 13.8 times more likely to be innovative than their competitors. The US investment bank Goldman Sachs also announced at the most recent World Economic Forum in Davos that since July 2020, it only supports IPOs in the US and Europe with at least one board member from a diverse background. This decision was partly influenced by the fact that IPOs of companies with diverse management boards have been significantly more successful in the past.

But things often look different in practice, with women making up just 28 of the total 193 Dax board members, or 15 percent. The situation is similar when it comes to the management teams of the largest German family-owned companies: according to a recently published study by the Allbright Foundation, just 6.9 percent of the managers of the 100 top-selling German family-owned companies are women.

The issue of diversity isn’t only about equal opportunities, it is also clever economics, since establishing diverse structures leads to greater success: those who exclude marginalized groups also deprive themselves of economic opportunities. “The advantages of diversity are obvious, whether increasing profitability and sales figures, or boosting innovation and creativity,” says Victoria Wagner. As a top advertising executive and strategy consultant for various companies, Wagner launched the “BeyondGenderAgenda” initiative, which aims to sensitize companies to the issue of equal opportunities for managers of the other sex, cultural backgrounds, ages, sexual orientations, and gender identities, and to change the way these differences are thought about in politics and business. The initiative has attracted many prominent advocates, including the Federal Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, who is himself openly gay: “It’s only if we exploit our full potential that Germany will remain economically strong in the 2020s. No-one who wants to help us achieve this can be disadvantaged on the basis of their gender, age, background, or sexual orientation.”

Diversity flag

Hamburg Commercial Bank in good company

Hamburg Commercial Bank has also committed itself to the issue of diversity. The Bank recently signed the “Diversity Charter”; with this voluntary commitment, HCOB commits itself to ensuring an unprejudiced working environment and equal opportunities for all. And is in big and prominent company: More than 3,000 companies, institutions, and academic and social bodies with a total of more than 13.5 million employees have now signed the “Diversity Charter,” including many major German corporations, such as Allianz, BASF, and Telekom. “HCOB wants to have the most qualified colleagues possible on board, and so it’s important we live an open culture,” says Sabine Kittner-Schürmann, the bank’s Equal Opportunities Officer.

“Diversity in all its aspects is an important topic for us as a bank,” says CEO Stefan Ermisch. “Diversity and equal opportunities for all should be a matter of course – both for companies and for society as a whole.” By signing the Diversity Charter, companies commit themselves to creating an appropriate culture in their respective organizations, and to reviewing and, if necessary, adapting their human resources work in line with the charter.

Hands are still on top of each other

The aim of the “Diversity Charter,” whose patron is Chancellor Angela Merkel herself, is to create a working environment in which all employees experience the same appreciation and support, regardless of their nationality, ethnic origins, religion or belief, disability, age, sexual orientation, or identity – it’s all about respecting the uniqueness of the other person. The “Diversity Charter” therefore represents a commitment to living together without prejudice, promoting equality, and supporting an open society. At the same time, successful diversity management offers a number of advantages and opportunities, since a diverse environment makes organizations more able to adapt to external circumstances and with this increases their chances of economic success.

The “Diversity Charter” is also intended to help make people question their own thinking and actions. “A diversity of resources means a wide range of potential,” says Christiane Gathmann, the bank’s part-time Equal Opportunities Officer. “In an increasingly complex world, we should exploit this potential,” she argues, adding that we all sometimes have “unconscious pigeonholes” that can stand in the way of this. The two equal opportunity officers now want to help the Hamburg Commercial Bank clear out these final pigeonholes and refill them with more diverse content.

Chart: How diverse is Germany’s economy? (Source: Handelsblatt Media Group, Stepstone; online survey of 11,000 specialists and executives in May 2020)

How diverse is Germany’s economy? (Source: Handelsblatt Media Group, Stepstone; online survey of 11,000 specialists and executives in May 2020)

Even with the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences, the issue of diversity remains as urgent as ever, as confirmed by a recent survey by Handelsblatt Media Group and StepStone, from May 2020. Around 11,000 specialists and managers were questioned in an online survey, 5,100 of whom provided complete answers to the extensive list of questions. For 56.7 percent of those surveyed, equal opportunities in their company remain an important topic even during the coronavirus crisis, while 20.7 percent of the study’s participants consider it to have increased in importance during the pandemic. And this isn’t surprising when one considers the growing number of articles claiming that women are the biggest losers of the coronavirus crisis.

Hamburg Commercial Bank, one of the signatories of the Charter of Diversity