News and Events

28. February 2022

“Everybody feels more comfortable”

How diversity impacts on a positive company culture

Photo: HZB User Meeting © HZB/M. Setzpfandt

A stronger focus on diversity can be fruitful for an entire company. Two companies, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies GmbH and Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, have also experienced this, albeit in different ways.

Jennifer Schevardo has long been advocating to foster of diversity in the work culture at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) branches in Adlershof und Wannsee. The HZB staff development officer is convinced that diversity helps make the culture of research institutes more open, fairer, and more attractive to researchers. Management is also fully on board.

To do so, she contacted the organisation Stifterverband. They had already developed and used a diversity audit for consulting institutions in higher education many times. In cooperation with HZB, the audit was modified for non-university research institutions and performed for the first time. HZB staff were to have a say in deciding on the main topics included in the diversity audit.

 “The question was how would they react,” Schevardo remembers. People were obviously interested: The first online event attracted 90 participants. Some spoke out for more equal gender representation, while other issues included mental health, gender-sensitive language, and new opportunities for onboarding international employees.

After three such events, it started to become clearer what the focus could be. For nine months, several working groups looked for solutions for the 1,200 employees of HZB in Berlin. The result were fundamental changes, including guidelines for job interviews that incorporated diversity-related aspects. Mental health was also given more attention. Another part of the plan is to offer anonymous points of contact. In November 2021, Stifterverband certified HZB for its promotion of diversity—employees want to go on working on additional measures.

Nadia Novella also realised that diversity fosters a positive company culture. When she started working as head of HR at Freudenberg, a gasket manufacturer in Adlershof, she immediately felt that the staff here was valued with their individual needs and that “the social aspect was fully lived here,” as she puts it. The auto parts supplier made a conscious decision to recruit more women in an industry still dominated by men. The share of female employees is currently at 30 percent.

One aspect of diversity reigns supreme at Freudenberg: Many people with severe disabilities find a place to work here. Of the 170 employees working in Adlershof, 13 have severe disabilities, including impairments of the musculoskeletal system and chronic diseases. An additional 20 people with severe disabilities work for Freudenberg through a cooperation with Weißenseer Integrationsbetriebe.

The company responds to these people’s needs through tailored solutions, for example, so-called Schonarbeitsplätze (“gentle workplaces”) and workplaces suitable for people with disabilities: Employees can perform product testing while sitting in a comfortable chair if, for example, they cannot work in shifts at a machine due to their physical limitation or mental stress.

Novella is convinced that a focus on diversity creates a win-win situation. “Colleagues with severe disabilities are often very happy to have found a place and are therefore very loyal towards the company.” Plus: “Other employees realise that their individual needs are respected—everybody feels more comfortable this way.”

Shea Westhoff for POTENZIAL

Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine. Edition: Diversity / March 2022