Debra Maxwell: 'This Is about Hard Facts' - Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA

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Arvato | Slough, 09/20/2016

Debra Maxwell: 'This Is about Hard Facts'

Debra Maxwell at Bertelsmann Diversity Conference 2016

Subject: Employees
Country: Great Britain
Category: Project

We have passed the stage of workforce diversity being only relevant for HR. Diversity nowadays is a critical factor within almost all sectors of business. It impacts commercial revenues, helps us to stay competitive and is thus an important link to Bertelsmann´s success. Managers increasingly recognize the importance of diversity as a crucial strategic advantage. At the Bertelsmann Diversity Conference 2016, five managers from different Bertelsmann companies highlighted that diversity has become an important driver for their business. Debra Maxwell, CEO CRM Solutions, Arvato UK & Ireland, argues that diversity is more than only advancing the position of women and explains why it has become increasingly relevant for Arvato’s UK businesses.

Why is diversity relevant for your business?

When talking about diversity, discussions too often solely focus on discrimination and quotas. But the real question is: Do we really understand the overall benefits of a diverse workforce?

In times where competition is no longer exclusively based on costs, process and reliability, social factors are becoming more and more crucial. They can determine market share and help maintain business relations. Maintaining high quality standards are the foundation of successful companies. Companies are also increasingly starting to select their suppliers according to specific diversity requirements. Well-known businesses like Coca-Cola have started to "outsource a portion of their contracts to companies led by minority or women executives." Verizon exclusively contracts "diverse suppliers", whose workforce consists of at least 51% minorities, women, veterans, or people with disabilities. Can we afford to overlook such diversity requests of companies we deliver to?

No, we cannot. In today´s business context, diversity is not just a tick box exercise that can be filled with empty promises. Hard facts and strategic measures are needed to improve diversity in our businesses. Diversity is relevant for our business. If we want to stay competitive in the market, we need to take the initiative or we will be left behind. Most importantly, this is not something we should do because it makes business sense only – diversity adds significant value to an organization in many ways.

What is your business case?

Our biggest client in the UK is the government. Government contracts often have a minimum requirement for suppliers and additional requirements if you are working on behalf of government where diversity standards are prominent features in the service specification. The fulfillment of certain diversity standards, measured by means of KPIs (key performance indicators), is a necessity for working with our client. Some of these KPIs are stringent and require us to prove that diversity and equality measures are at the top of our company agenda. It is no longer acceptable to argue that diversity has been included into your company´s policy – our clients ask for numbers and hard facts: How many women hold leadership positions? What is the proportion of minorities?

Basically, solely having a non-binding diversity strategy is no longer sufficient. In order to capitalize on our markets we need to have positive and appropriate measures and approaches to diversity. Integrating such diversity measures into our company´s framework is relevant for the success of our business.

What has been achieved in recent years- and what needs to change in your view yet?

When I first joined Arvato in 2008, I attended a Bertelsmann conference in Istanbul with a colorful mix of men and women. But when we split up into our various divisions, I found myself the only woman in a room with 50 mostly German, middle-aged male Arvato managers. I really do appreciate that this is the makeup of our company but as a new starter it was a massive surprise to me and made me wonder about what opportunities there were for me as a white, South African British, then much younger woman! There are now more women in senior management at Arvato, but generally we still have lower numbers than most comparable companies. Many studies have been conducted in this area and generally we are, as are other companies – still struggling not only with the well-known glass ceiling, which stops women from achieving top positions, but also with losing talented women right before they get into senior positions. Many companies are able to recruit talented women from universities but, in many cases, these women decide to leave that company before moving into more senior positions. Paying lip service to diversity is not enough to attract and retain top talent. We need to develop specific strategies to increase employer attractiveness in order to convince qualified women to stay in business.

However I think it is important to note that diversity is not just about women – it’s about a more diverse workforce overall. In any working environment, we lose market share by ignoring the dynamics of diversity in our thinking and ability to innovate. Recent studies show that a lack of diversity has negative repercussions at many levels, such as lower productivity, higher absenteeism, greater physical or psychological problems, and lower job satisfaction and motivation. Our customers expect us to deliver innovative solutions and anticipate trends and without a diverse workforce we cannot expect to get the broad outcomes diverse thinking would bring. We must address diversity at all levels and that means not only with regard to women or minorities but also to age, educational background or other factors. Innovations in our business will come from other generations - young people who don’t use pen or paper in their daily routine, hardly ever use their cell phones for making calls, and who find writing a letter unusual. Without a diverse workforce that has a voice and can trigger change, we will not be able to maintain and inspire our customers. And neither will we survive in the market.

Four tips for more diversity

  • Create an atmosphere where diversity is embraced and celebrated
  • Develop a strategy for increasing diversity and set out ambitions
  • Learn from other organizations
  • Identify role models