Marie-Luise Kühn von Burgsdorff
Senior Vice President Corporate Responsibility & Diversity Management
Subject: Society, Media & Services, Employees
The topic of staff diversity is becoming increasingly important in society and business. Although it is often mentioned solely in connection with "quotas," the issue is more complex than that. The Bertelsmann Diversity Conference 2016 showed why diversity brings not only social, but also economic benefits, and how it is already being put into action in the divisions. Under the heading "Open Minds for a New Bertelsmann," CHRO Immanuel Hermreck had invited some 110 people to Bertelsmann Unter den Linden 1, Berlin for two days: executives, Corporate Works Council representatives and HR colleagues from 13 countries. Participants included the Executive Board members Anke Schäferkordt and Fernando Carro and Group Management Committee members Julia Jäkel, Karin Schlautmann, Bertram Stausberg, Michael Weinreich and Ian Hudson, Chairman of the International Bertelsmann Management Representative Committee (BMRC). Michael Kimmel, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, New York, moderated the conference and delivered a well-received keynote on the important role of men in the debate about more diversity in society and business. In his presentation, Kimmel specifically highlighted the phenomenon of "invisible privilege": "Privilege is invisible to those who have it," said Kimmel.
For Immanuel Hermreck, diversity is a "key to success" at Bertelsmann. This is precisely why the diversity of people, their backgrounds, knowledge, experience and perspectives are so important: "In a faster growing, more international and more digital company, more diversity leads to more creativity in teams, to more innovation, and thus also to greater productive capacity," said the CHRO. Bertelsmann must send a signal of appreciation externally as well as internally, become more attractive for potential employees, and remain attractive for those already employed. "We want and need more diversity at Bertelsmann. Actively putting it into practice in the businesses and modeling an attitude that actively promotes diversity as part of our corporate culture are crucial next steps," said Hermreck.
A co-initiator of diversity management at Bertelsmann is the international Bertelsmann Management Representative Committee (BMRC) headed by Ian Hudson. The cross-divisional and transnational committee and sounding board for the Executive Board has been committed to the development and opening of the corporate a culture since 2009, said the BMRC Chairman. Local projects, and especially the kind of fundamental change in corporate culture that was initiated at Bertelsmann, are important in this process, he said. Diversity management is not merely an option for executives, but a prerequisite for business success in increasingly complex customer markets.
The event at Bertelsmann Unter den Linden 1 focused on numerous examples of how diversity is already at work in the day-to-day business.
The breadth of the concept of diversity, and how directly the businesses reflect diversity in its various forms in the daily routine, was demonstrated in presentations by five Bertelsmann executives and the subsequent plenary discussion moderated by Ian Hudson.
Kim Koppenol, Manager Corporate Communications & Brand Strategy RTL Nederland, reported on a broad, controversial debate on traditions and racism in the Netherlands. To send a clear signal against racism, RTL Nederland will in December 2016 renounce the use of dark-skinned actors playing "Zwarte Piet" ("Black Peter"), the companion of "Sinterklaas" ("Saint Nicholas"), who has been depicted as black since the 19th century. In doing so, RTL Nederland has fueled the discussion towards a new and improved Piet. The chimney Piet, smeared in soot because he came through the chimney and not black like the caricature derived from images of slaves.
Using the example of the successful takeover of Santillana, Nuria Cabuti, CEO of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, explained the importance of including and appreciating of all employees in the merger process. The organizational structures created since the acquisition in 2014 deliberately include representatives of both publishing groups. The resulting strength is reflected not only in a fruitful culture of cooperation, she said, but also in impressive EBIT figures.
Anne Meyer-Minnemann, Editor-In-Chief of the G+J magazine "Gala," emphasized that a diversity-friendly culture of discourse and corporate culture initiated by management can support creative processes. The magazine’s readership was increased to 2.7 million thanks to a customer-focused repositioning, she said. Meyer-Minnemann largely attributed this to the fact that diversity is not only approved on her team, but expressly encouraged. This required breaking many routines and thought patterns, which requires great openness on all sides, she said.
Debra Maxwell, CEO Arvato CRM UK & Ireland, explained how diversity in the company affects customer relations. The diversity-related expectations large customers place in their business partners have risen steadily – including those of the British government, she said. Those who don’t fulfil these requirements are out of the running, said Maxwell. Among other things, B2B customers demand evidence that companies employ women and minorities and treat them equally. However, she pointed out that bringing women into management positions or keeping them there in a very male-dominated environment is a very big challenge at Arvato, one that needs to be actively tackled.
With the increasing digitization of the businesses, the requirement and opportunity for employees to keep learning and training is increasing. As Steven Moran, Executive Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at Bertelsmann, explained, the idea is to give all employees equal access to participation. Technical access, consideration for different learning styles, appropriate formats, and suitable training times: To ensure that no one is put at a disadvantage, new and innovative training opportunities are gradually being created, which will be available via Peoplenet very soon.
Marie-Luise Kühn von Burgsdorff has been Head of Diversity Management at Bertelsmann since 2011. "As the transformation of our businesses progresses, the transformation of the way we do business must also progress," she said. Organizations and managers who keep reproducing others in their own image and systematically exclude other perspectives for whatever reasons, lack the openness and agility necessary for the successful management of disruptive change, said Kühn von Burgsdorff. Therefore, diversity is not an issue to be regarded as a distraction from daily business, but an increasing necessity in giving the businesses a successful and above all sustainable setup. "The diversity of our employees is a driver of creativity and innovation. And it is contingent on a basic attitude of appreciation, in the spirit of one of our Bertelsmann Essentials: partnership," she said.
When diversity expert Hans Jablonski said: "On average, blonde women earn nine percent less than their non-blonde colleagues" a murmur went through the large conference hall at Unter den Linden 1. Jablonski then confronted the audience with systematic scientific studies on "unconscious bias," according to which decisions are strongly influenced by unconscious prejudices – with significant implications for organizational processes and staff structures. "We all tend to repeatedly hire people who are like us, whether academically, culturally or in age. This is not always in the best interests of the company." Jablonski said that unconscious biases work against the desired diversity, but if you are aware of them, you can counter this effect.
The participants then formed cross-divisional groups, to candidly discuss such unconscious prejudices and decision-making mechanisms at Bertelsmann companies. The topics addressed included unequal opportunities and salaries, female executives, different age groups at work, and an international workforce.
At the panel discussion on Day Two of the conference, Arvato CEO Fernando Carro, Bertelsmann CHRO Immanuel Hermreck, G+J CEO Julia Jäkel, and Wolf Bauer, Co-CEO of UFA, answered the participants’ questions. "We need to work on the framework conditions to attract more creative and innovative employees in the next few years, but we also have enormous potential among our existing employees, which we want to promote," said Hermreck. Fernando Carro pledged to promote internationality at Arvato: "Our customers expect global partnerships and solutions. That’s why we need international talent and international programs." He said that developing existing employees is a greater priority than hiring new ones.
"Diversity is essential for Gruner + Jahr for business reasons – our teams need to be diverse in order to address and engage our readers," said Julia Jäkel, adding that G+J had made a lot of progress on gender issues in recent years. "50 percent of our editors and 40 percent of our managers are female – which is necessary because more than half of our readers are women." Wolf Bauer put the topic of diversity at Bertelsmann into a historical context, and reminded listeners that the topic had only been spotlighted in recent years. "Now we have to turn words into action, and that is what we are doing right now." He cited the UFA Next Generation Board – a body that is half the age of the "real" Executive Board, which it advises and challenges – as an example.
The second day of the Diversity Conference focused mainly on the future implementation of the subject in the divisions and at Corporate. Divisional working groups were chaired by Oliver Fahlbusch (EVP Corporate Communications & Marketing, RTL Group), Marta Grau (HR and Editorial Services Director, PRH Grupo Editorial), Mirja Lena Brosche (Director Corporate HR, G+J), Melanie Vongswang (Chief HR Officer, Arvato CRM Solutions), Vicci Tatton (HR Director, Prinovis UK) and Kathinka Best (Diversity Manager, Bertelsmann, project manager for the Diversity Conference). As members of the cross-divisional Diversity Working Group and contacts in their divisions, they were involved in the preparation of the conference. Under their leadership, participants discussed the current situation in their divisions, identified action areas, and drew up concrete and departmental action plans to increase diversity in the workforce. The activities included on these range from the promotion of international talent, to Executive Board meeting agendas and the "tone from the top," to diversity KPIs and bonus incentives, through to mentoring and communication activities. The results of the working groups were presented to the Executive Board and GMC members present, who then commented on their employees’ proposals. The work of the Diversity Working Group and the efforts in the divisions are to continue after the conference.
At the end of the conference, Immanuel Hermreck thanked participants for their many motivating contributions, which he said show that the link between diversity, creativity and innovation is already being turned into specific business success in many places in the Group. The issue of diversity will remain at the top of the Group’s agenda, he said. "We need to raise much more awareness among all colleagues about the fact that privilege is invisible to those who have it, and that we all are controlled by unconscious biases – with consequences that are not always for the good of the company. We all need to pay more attention to this," concluded Hermreck. "Diversity has to become much more visible at Bertelsmann." It’s no longer about "whether," but only about "how," he said, adding that the impressive examples from the Bertelsmann businesses had clearly demonstrated this.
After one and a half days, the participants headed back home – by train, car or plane or even by car sharing. This information was important for gathering data on the CO2 emissions caused by the Bertelsmann Diversity Conference 2016, which will be offset by support to environmental projects in Brazil, India and China, Bertelsmann’s growth regions.
If you have questions or suggestions regarding diversity at Bertelsmann, please contact Marie-Luise Kühn von Burgsdorff ( Send email ).