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Diversity – a question of leadership

Autor: Thomas Schmidt |
Foto: IStock
Haniel CEO Thomas Schmidt shares his thoughts on diversity in a business context

This week was Diversity Day in Germany – and it has passed nearly unnoticed. As a member of the Board of Trustees of AllBright Stiftung and from the background of my personal experience I do think: We’ve got an issue here!

Germany is a developing country when it comes to diversity in business. I case you don’t have the figures on top of your mind, here they are again: Only 14.7 percent of the DAX30 companies‘ board members are women and only 5.4 percent in SDAX.

At the time – and this is the odd thing about it – it is common sense that teams with different social backgrounds and different genders are more successful than homogeneous ones (McKinsey just pointed out again that companies with a high proportion of women in top management are 25 percent more likely to be profitable than average.)

In US companies, where I’ve worked for a very long time, an inclusive corporate culture is commonplace.

So what is going wrong in Germany?
To me, this is a question of leadership & mindset – and lack of change management. A high level of diversity is challenging and requires distinct leadership qualities. It’s a lot harder to collect the views and opinions of a single-dad working in home office, a part-time student who’s at the same time finishing its Master thesis and a working mom who has to leave in time – instead of going for a beer after work with the whole team and take the main business decisions at ten o’clock in the bar. You have to be more attentive to your team, communicate more, set clearer goals, and react faster if the goals are not reached.

And when something is hard, people tend to stay in their comfort zone. Without any external pressure – be it from the government, from investors or from other parties – and without a decent approach to changing this, we will all stay in our comfort zone; as managers as well as a society.

After performing below expectations for more than a decade at Haniel we did have some pressure and we took the opportunity for renewal. With Doreen Nowotne, we now have a non-family member and, for the first time, a woman at the top of our Supervisory Board. After we’ve explicitly focused on recruiting women for our leadership team at the Haniel holding, the team now consists of four men and four women. At our Business Units we are not where we want to be yet but will continue to push the topic.

Because for us, diversity is not just about treating women fairly and providing equal opportunities, it is about achieving our goals faster and more reliably – and creating value for generations. And for me, after all, it’s also about being inspired by different views and having fun doing what we’ve started to do – not only on German, American or international diversity day but also during the rest of the year! #futureworthliving #creatingvalue #enkelfaehig


AllBright Foundation
Since May 2020, Thomas Schmidt has been a member of the board of trustees of the German-Swedish AllBright Foundation. The foundation is committed to promoting more women and diversity in business leadership positions. Equal career opportunities for men and women and better corporate results through mixed, modern management teams are the goal of its work. The privately financed foundation was established in 2011 in Stockholm by the Swedish entrepreneur Sven Hagströmer, and since March 2016 there has been a German sister foundation in Berlin.