The female factor: Why gender diversity delivers big benefits for business
A diverse workforce is vital for any company with ambitions to be a leader in its field – something that DPDHL takes extremely seriously. But are companies doing enough to attract and promote women? And do female role models really make a difference? We've brought together two DHL colleagues from very different backgrounds to discuss what diversity – and gender diversity in particular – means to them: Charlie Dobbie, who climbed the corporate ladder over three decades to become an Executive Vice President; and Mélani Ramirez, a DHL intern who is just starting out on her career.
How important are female role models to you?
Charlie: I think I'm seen as someone in the company who passionately champions diversity – which includes gender diversity, of course – although, I must say, it's always been a natural position for me because of my upbringing. I grew up in a single parent home with my mother and two sisters, so I didn't think about women and men in “traditional” roles. My sisters would mow the lawn, I'd do the washing, we all did baking and mum chopped the firewood and changed the tires on the car. Later, she bought a fishing vessel and became the first woman in the country to go to sea and run a commercial fishing business. She was over 50 at that point, and did it for 10 years; so as far as I was concerned, women could do anything they wanted, at any age.
Mélani: For me it starts with family. My mum is one of my role models and the strongest person I know. As a young woman she faced many challenges raising me and my sister, and she was so resilient. She taught me how to be strong, without me realizing it.
When I think back, I have to say that most of my team leaders have been men. But when I was at university I was part of AIESEC, a youth-run organization which provides young people with leadership development through practical international experiences. One of my first team leaders there was a woman who completely changed my perspective on personal life and work. She was someone who empowered me to work with purpose – to take a painful or difficult experience and turn it into something that drives you every day. Role models like her are so important, because girls and young women need to see themselves in a person who has overcome the challenges they are facing or are yet to face.
What does “diversity and inclusion” mean to you?
Charlie: To me it means everything has to be based on merit. That way, all other factors disappear. Suddenly you're not interested in people's educational background, economic circumstances, color, religion, sex... You wipe out every pre-conception and prejudice. To me, it also means diversity of personality, intellect and thought.
Ultimately, though, a person who gets a job has to have the credibility to be able to do it. We have to be careful not to actively favor one section of society and, therefore, discriminate against another. Clearly women can get there because Mélani, my partner in this interview, is there. There aren't enough, though – so let's understand why not and make sure there aren't fundamental, institutional barriers in their way.
Mélani: To me it means having people of different backgrounds, cultures, religions, ages, sexual orientation, etc., working together while making sure that everyone is treated equally and that their differences are embraced, not undermined. Promoting a space where everyone can express their opinion freely, and not letting unconscious bias make you think that someone may know less about a subject, simply because of who they are or where they come from.
When I've worked with people who are different from me, I really appreciate the distinctive perspective and approach they bring. Yes, sometimes it challenges me and takes me out of my comfort zone – but that's a good thing. It's only when you come out of your comfort zone that you can find the space to grow, and become more open-minded and flexible.
Can diversity make the workplace more interesting?
Charlie: Absolutely. It would be a real shame and a shambles if everyone looked the same as Charlie Dobbie. All of us who have traveled and worked internationally love and appreciate different cultures. Society is diverse. Reflecting that in the workplace environment is the right aim for sure.
Mélani: Definitely. As an example, AIESEC gave me a first-hand experience of what it's like to be in a room with young people from different nationalities and backgrounds. That's when I realized the potential of diversity. There's an old saying: “If you want different results, do different things.” Well, I think it's the same with people. If you want to innovate differently or approach a problem in a different way, you need different people and their perspectives in the room.
What can a company do to ensure its workplace is gender-balanced?
Charlie: There is a responsibility on us as a company to ensure that the physical conditions in our workplaces don't prejudice employment. We want to make sure that we have – as much as possible – conditions and facilities that are conducive to, say, bringing more female couriers on board. It's no good if warehouses and depots only have male washrooms, for instance. Similarly we must have facilities with wheelchair access. Also I think giving people the ability to work from home could open up more opportunities for women and enable diversity. And a company's HR department obviously needs to ask how they can attract more women applicants.
That said, we also have to recognize that physicality plays a part in certain roles. As a courier, you may have to be able to lift heavy packages all day and be comfortable with it. It doesn't matter whether you're a man or a woman. Also, some jobs attract more men than women, such as overnight sorting. And it could be difficult for someone in a wheelchair to be at the end of a belt sorting freight. So we do have to be careful to face reality because otherwise we could be in danger of weakening our overall diversity agenda.
Mélani: When companies in male-dominated industries, such as engineering and technology, go into schools and universities to talk to women about STEM careers, that's a good start. Communication is important, if you're a young woman at a degree fair and you see pictures of people working in an industry and they're all male, you might think: “I don't think this career is for me.” So they need to see another perspective – and have another reason to try it. Then, in the workplace, it's about making sure that everyone has the same opportunities and that no one is pre-judged because of their gender, nationality or other characteristics and circumstances.
Does the world better understand the importance of diversity these days?
Charlie: Things are evolving. Just look at what's happened in the U.S. with the election of the first female vice president of color. It's going the right way. I go back to my own case, however. My mother achieved all she was able to achieve in the 1970s and 1980s when diversity wasn't seen as such a hot social or public topic. So it's also up to the individual to forge their own path.
Mélani: I think so. For instance, I would say that most young people expect to work in a diverse environment. Technology and social media have played a big part in that because all of us immediately have access to so many different points of view on our phones and we get to have conversations and interact with each other, regardless of where we are. I can't speak for everyone, of course, but I think that social media can help you be more tolerant and open minded in a diverse real-life environment, when you're sitting in a room with people who have a range of different mindsets. Hopefully, it also equips you with the emotional intelligence to make the most of such a diverse situation.
New Zealand-born, Bonn-based Charlie Dobbie – EVP of Global Network Operations & IT at DHL eCommerce solutions – has been with the company for 34 years. He started his career in logistics as a Sales Rep, then moved up through the ranks. “My first manager was female,” he remembers. “In fact, when I joined the DHL Sales team all those years ago there were three men and five women in the department. So I would argue that a focus on diversity and inclusion isn't a new thing for DHL. It's always been there. Now it's more about how the journey evolves, and what can be done to speed it up.”
Mélani Ramírez was born in Mexico City and is currently based in Bonn. She studied Financial Management at university and, since August 2020, has been working as Electric Vehicle Logistics Program Intern at DHL, supporting a team involved in the development of electric vehicle products and solutions. “It's a division which includes people from different industries, experiences, cultures, backgrounds, and ages,” says Mélani. “I find that type of environment very enriching.”
Published: March 2021
Images: Johann Diwiwi