At the beginning of the last decade, people still believed that diversity management in business was something only for the Anglo-American countries, while Continental Europe could safely ignore the issue. This attitude has changed in recent years, however, as more and more enterprises have come to realize the opportunities and benefits of diversity in the workplace. Where these benefits lie exactly, how to best take advantage of them, and what this subject has to do with health management was explained by Dr Natalie Lotzmann, Leader Global Health Management and former Leader Diversity Management at SAP SE in Germany.
How valuable is diversity in the workplace? It depends on what you make of it. Natalie Lotzmann explained this vividly with an example. If the participants in the event all spoke different languages, this would indeed represent maximum diversity with respect to language, but it would be a major disadvantage if the goal were to learn together from the lectures presented. But should this same group of people be faced with the task of inventing a completely new language, they would have an edge on a monolingual group, because the likelihood of a creative and innovative solution rises with the diversity of the available perspectives. It works the same way in companies: what’s important is not the differences themselves, but how they can be put to productive use. The benefits of diversity in the workplace first have to be coaxed out through diversity management.
“The commitment displayed by senior management plays a central role here,” explained Lotzmann, adding that it is the same basic attitude of respect for people’s individuality and their varying needs that enables both efficient diversity management and effective health management in a company. Both are decisive factors for sustainable economic success.
Executives must recognize the advantages of diversity as well as the benefits of health and well-being in the workplace and set a good example by promoting and always accounting for them in all structures, processes and decisions. This is the only way a positive approach to diversity can become part of the cultural DNA of a healthy company. Customers ultimately benefit as a result, because they themselves frequently come from diverse cultural backgrounds. Moreover, the acceptance of individuality and the appreciation of special skills help a diverse staff to work together better while also contributing more constructively and with greater motivation to the work at hand, increasing the company’s productivity and capacity for innovation. The figures speak for themselves: in companies that foster diversity, customer satisfaction is 39 per cent higher and productivity gains of 22 per cent can be realized over companies where the message has not yet been internalized.
The global software group SAP, which employs over 66,000 people with over 120 nationalities, recognized the importance of diversity management early on and sets a good example for others, according to Lotzmann. Diversity is second nature there, as is evident from SAP’s focus on appointing women to leadership positions, intergenerational cooperation, the integration of different cultures and identities, as well as the inclusion of people with disabilities. By way of example, Lotzmann highlighted the SAP programme “Autism in the World of Work”. The company has set itself the goal of making the most of the potential of autistic people, in particular with their talents for repetitive work that requires a high level of concentration such as software testing. “How do you go about it?” asked someone from the audience. Lotzmann’s answer: by heeding the special needs of this group and being prepared to learn from them. And by keeping workflows as regular as possible, providing a contact person who is always there to help, and by communicating openly, clearly and directly with autistic people, because irony and non-verbal cues may not be correctly understood.
Finally, Lotzmann reiterated that the leadership culture in a company is a crucial factor for success. Dealing individually with employees in awareness of all their diverse physical and mental needs both promotes a healthy working environment and enables a company to tap the full potential of diversity.
Natalie Lotzmann concluded her lecture with a single, telling sentence: “It’s not about being different. It’s about making a difference.”
Text: Elena Engelhardt