Anne Meyer-Minnemann: 'Diversity Is a Catalyst for Creative Processes' - Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA

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Gruner + Jahr | Hamburg, 10/28/2016

Anne Meyer-Minnemann: 'Diversity Is a Catalyst for Creative Processes'

Anne Meyer-Minnemann

Subject: Employees, Media & Services
Country: Germany
Category: Project

Workforce diversity isn't just a matter for HR departments, but is a competitive factor that is relevant for most business functions – which is why managers are increasingly coming to see diversity as a strategic advantage. At the Bertelsmann Diversity Conference 2016, five executives from various Bertelsmann divisions presented examples showing the extent to which diversity represents a concrete business case for their company. In Part 2 of the series  , Núria Cabutí, CEO of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, talked about the relevance of Diversity in the merger with the Santillana publishing group. In Part 3 Anne Meyer-Minnemann, Editor-in-Chief of the people and lifestyle magazine "Gala," explains how diversity on the editorial team contributes to the magazine's commercial success.

How is diversity relevant for your specific business?

Gala is a weekly people and lifestyle magazine with a circulation of about 280,000 copies, reaching 3.19 million readers per week. Our topics include people, fashion, beauty and lifestyle. And although the majority of our readers are women – about 86 percent – the gender of our target group has only recently been reflected in GALA's top management, and my role in particular – editor-in-chief – since 2014. All my predecessors were men – as most editors-in-chief of G+J magazines used to be. The diversity of approach my team brings is a key part in the creative decision-making that takes place on a daily basis and against high-pressure deadlines.

What is your business case?

Among the aspects of diversity, let's first focus on gender stereotyping – the generalizations we sometimes attribute to one gender or another. They are implicit – indirectly expressed – not only in our language and actions, but also in our visual imagery. And as a visual media, we pass that imagery on to our customers. Let me give you an example: There are very different ways to portray a woman's body. And as women, we generally view our bodies differently than men do. While my male colleague might find a certain image of female nudity or partial nudity the most appealing, a female editor might consider the same image as sexualized and objectifying – in short: one that may make us women feel uncomfortable. I showed an example at the Diversity Conference.

That's why we carefully select the imagery we present. And the positive feedback from our readers indicates that evaluating images and content through a gender lens, and from diverse perspectives pays off. If I can manage to reflect the self-image of my customers, I can make their interaction with my product a more positive one. This of course doesn't just apply to the gender aspect, but to all other aspects of diversity as well – since they too affect the perception of GALA and therefore our sales figures. Recent findings from market research confirmed our new approach: "GALA has improved substantially since 2014. The magazine is no longer as sensation-seeking, and has become more human and empathetic."

Market research also showed us that, in the past, our readers felt excluded when they read features about very young celebrities they'd never heard of. They felt as if they no longer belonged to Gala's target group. So we're also paying more attention to the average age of our customers. And in making this change, we've increased our audience satisfaction.

What have been other recent achievements and how can we re-engineer other cultures to be more "diversity-embracing" ones?

I think we've changed a lot of things. We improved our discussion culture and rearranged our workflow by creating interdisciplinary teams. I am convinced that creative processes are most successful if we look at a topic from as many perspectives as possible. The more diverse your team is, the greater the variety of thoughts and perspectives available to you. But creative teams can only develop their full potential if diversity is fostered and otherness is appreciated. What do I mean by this in a professional context? First of all, it's important that we stop thinking in binary categories of diversity, such as "the male perspective" or "the female perspective." We have to remind ourselves that diversity categories, by their very definition, are always going to be intrinsically heterogeneous. Not all women think the same. Neither do all men. Nor do people over 50, or people from a particular ethnic background. This might sound obvious, but I experience stereotypes on a daily basis – I think most people do. It's crucial that we alter our discussion culture by appreciating – if not actually promoting – difference and otherness. That's why I try to embrace the otherness of every single team member in our creative process. They view the world from so many different perspectives, it creates an incredibly exciting way to present a story! We therefore encourage our colleagues to be active participants in discussions. We seek their opinions directly, and ask them to share their thoughts. It's really the only way we can neutralise groupthink and allow the best ideas to surface and succeed. Personally, I can only recommend the benefits of creating a working environment that is collaborative and inclusive and which, in the end, has the best chance of leading to new ideas and strong solutions.

Where do you continue to need to make changes?

I strongly believe in diversity as a catalyst for creative processes. I think we should be generally more attentive to diversity aspects when it comes to recruiting. At Gala for example, we have a – as I call it – reversed gender gap: The majority of our team members are female due to our topics. My next goal would be to encourage male copywriters to try out the field of weekly people and lifestyle journalism. It's worth it – and we could very much use their perspectives!

The Bertelsmann Diversity Conference 2016 was organized by the Corporate Responsibility & Diversity Management department, which is part of Corporate HR. In case you have questions or comments regarding the conference or Bertelsmann's diversity strategy, please let us know: .