There is no excellence without diversity

It’s no use simply bolting diversity and inclusion initiatives on to your corporate strategy. Diversity must be firmly embedded into your company’s culture – and become part of its DNA.

An essay by Thomas Ogilvie
Board Member for Human Resources and Labor Director, Deutsche Post DHL Group

Thomas Ogilvie has a degree in psychology from the University of Bonn, Germany, and a PhD in Economics from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. He has been with Deutsche Post DHL Group for more than 15 years. During this time, he has held a range of management roles across various functions and divisions. Since September 2017, Ogilvie has been Board Member for Human Resources and Labor Director, Deutsche Post DHL Group.

Is your organization proud to operate a diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy? Admittedly, that’s a naive question because, over the last 10 years, the topic has been climbing up the corporate agenda. In fact, according to the latest Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarking Survey by PwC, 87% of organizations surveyed list diversity as a “stated value or priority area.”

Yet – in my view – there is little value in an organization “having” a diversity and inclusion “strategy.” It should never be bolted on as a boardroom afterthought. Why? Because by doing so, you are demonstrating that you regard D&I as nothing more than a current trend or perhaps a pet project.

If you want to engage the full potential of an organization, then diversity, equity and inclusion must be part of its DNA – otherwise management guru Peter Drucker will be right again: Company culture will eat “strategy” for breakfast.

It should go without saying why diversity deserves proper contemplation, not just symbolic action. Take the example of gender: the disproportionately low number of women in management roles in Fortune 500 companies. When half of the available talent pool is being unconsciously missed – or, worse, consciously discounted – the impact splays out in all different directions. The overlooked female candidates suffer and, perhaps unnoticed, the unbalanced teams suffer, innovation suffers, customers suffer and, ultimately, the company suffers. Age, and educational and social background, can be taken as another example: If a board meeting is like an alumni get-together of people who all graduated from the same business school in the 1980s, then you might have great synergies within the board, but it won’t represent the full variety of your employees, customers and stakeholders. So, while there may be a temptation to regard diversity and inclusion as a “soft topic,” it absolutely isn’t. It’s fundamental to the setup of an organization because, quite apart from the moral issue of ensuring fairness for all, it guarantees variety. And variety stops a company from falling into the dangerous trap of groupthink.

A fermentation ground for greatness

After all, if you only listen to the opinions within your own group – and if everyone within that group looks and sounds the same – then you become oblivious to any external challenges you may face. You also lose the ability to adapt quickly to meet those challenges and, as a result, your competitive edge is blunted.

Working with people who have a variety of attributes, perspectives and opinions is a fermentation ground for excellence. Diverse thinking and a mix of skills encourage better innovation and create more opportunities for growth and development. The bottom line is that, without diversity, your company will fall behind.

Of course, D&I isn’t just an internal issue, because no organization operates in a vacuum. At Deutsche Post DHL Group, our guiding principle is “connecting people, improving lives.” We sincerely believe that connectedness makes humans, societies and companies less vulnerable to disruption. What’s more, the tighter these connections, the more resilient they become, leading to better innovation, quality and the potential of greater prosperity for all.

A convincing diversity narrative

So how does an organization become more diverse and inclusive? First, make it clear that diversity and inclusion are an integral part of your definition of excellence. If you don’t have a convincing narrative about all the benefits diversity brings, then it won’t make it onto the must-do lists of your middle managers.

Know your numbers

You will also need to be very clear about the type of talent you will require in the future, and understand why problems in securing that talent might occur. For example, is the organization’s attrition rate higher for men or women? Africans, Asians, Americans or Europeans? Younger or middle-aged employees? And if yes, why? And why are not enough members of ethnic communities finding their way into management roles? Dig deep for answers. The more knowledge and transparency there is, the easier you can approach it and “manage” it like every other business topic.

Walk the walk

Perhaps most importantly, a company needs to show that it can walk the walk when promoting diverse candidates into positions of responsibility. You can keep stressing how strongly you believe in giving senior roles to female, ethnic, LGBTQ+ or disabled people, or those from disadvantaged backgrounds. But if you consistently and steadfastly refuse to do so, the company’s credibility will be damaged, and all talk of adherence to diversity and inclusion will remain just that: talk.

Nevertheless, a word of caution: When embarking on this journey, don’t expect a quick fix. Embedding diversity and inclusion into your business strategy, then reaping the rewards, will take some three to five years on average. One major stumbling block to success is a lack of patience. D&I requires a high level of attention and awareness until it’s hardwired into your organizational culture.

There is no global “one size fits all.” Be flexible in applying your values, but without compromising on them. Other countries may have a different understanding of diversity, and some are at the very beginning of the diversity curve. The fact is that homosexuality is still forbidden by law in more than 70 nations, and equal rights for women are still evolving in many countries. Ceasing operation in those markets is not the right answer, nor is trying to push for the most liberal approach everywhere. But credibly demonstrating that long-lasting excellence needs diversity is a huge opportunity for companies – especially large ones – to lead the way on this topic.

Companies must lead the way

I believe global multinational companies such as ours can and must make a significant contribution to the future shape of diversity and inclusion. But we can only do that by listening to and working with all viewpoints. Plainly, the views that are closer to our own will be easier to accept; but we must realize that not everyone will think the same way – which, ironically, is one of the reasons to champion diversity.

Published: March 2021

Image: Nina Tiefenach for Delivered.