Using diversity constructively
Esther Loidl joined the Freudenberg Board of Management as Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) on July 1 – the first woman on the Board in the company’s history. Freudenberg’s editorial team talked to her about “Diversity & Inclusion” in the company.
Interview with Esther Loidl
Ms Loidl, Freudenberg’s corporate values include rejecting all forms of discrimination, demanding respect in our dealings with one another and ensuring a culturally diverse working environment. With this in mind, what exactly do you mean by “Diversity & Inclusion”?
Everyone is talking about diversity, but what is it all about? Recognizing and respecting the differences in personal backgrounds and life histories and actively ensuring integration. Diversity describes the variety, the mix of differences and the individual otherness of people. Building on this, inclusion means bringing this mix together in the company and using it constructively. Let me give you an example from everyday life. Diversity is when you are invited to a party and allowed in. Inclusion is when other guests actively approach you, talk to you, offer you a drink or dance with you. Applied to a company, inclusion means a culture that includes all employees and enables them to contribute their skills.
Recognizing and respecting the differences in personal backgrounds and life histories and actively ensuring integration.
What aspects of “Diversity & Inclusion” is Freudenberg looking at?
For us, all dimensions of diversity are important. These include people’s age and gender, their national and ethno-sociological origin, religion and specific physical or cognitive abilities, but also their sexual orientation and identity. In short, we look at every aspect of our human diversity.
Why is diversity important for a company?
Our customers are also diverse. In our international business world, it is important that our employees reflect and represent the diversity of our businesses and global activities. What’s more, the best employees often don’t act in a straight-ahead manner, but have distinctive individual facets and rough edges. At Group level, we make a point of ensuring that project teams are diverse, with representatives of different genders from different subgroups, cultural backgrounds, age groups and with different experiences. The perspective of a young employee can also advance a project team. This diversity, these different perspectives on issues, is enriching.
Diversity is when you are invited to a party and allowed in. Inclusion is when other guests actively approach you, talk to you, offer you a drink or dance with you.
One of Freudenberg’s priorities to date has been equal rights for women.
That’s right. Change is best initiated when we can clearly measure conditions, when we can prove facts with figures. We have found that the higher up in the hierarchy you move, the lower the proportion of women – especially in management positions. That is why the advancement of women was, is and will remain one of our focus topics.
You personally are the first woman on the Freudenberg Board of Management. What advice would you give to other women who want to make it to the top too?
Even today, unfortunately, there is often the impression that women have to prove themselves doubly in their professional lives and earn their advancement twice over in order to avoid the accusation that they are a “token woman” who owes their job solely to their gender. This severely undermines the achievements of all those women who work hard to achieve success. Fortunately, I do not feel this is the case in my environment at Freudenberg. My advice to other women is to be themselves, remain authentic and go their own way. Regardless of gender, a wide range of experiences, such as time spent abroad, can prove helpful in your future career. Getting to know something different in your professional life, experiencing other cultures and adapting to them – I think that’s very valuable and important so as not to develop tunnel vision.
Where else does Freudenberg focus on the topic of “Diversity & Inclusion”?
As I said, it is easier to promote areas where we can measure progress in concrete terms. One current focus is on racial diversity, particularly in the USA, because we have a database there. There are many good projects in the Business Groups concerning the inclusion of people with disabilities; Freudenberg Chemical Specialities, for example, is exemplary in this respect. Other dimensions of diversity, such as sexual orientation, are not measurable because we naturally do not ask our employees about this. Here, it is important for us to create a working environment in which employees of all sexual orientations feel comfortable.
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