LEAD: Ms. Ankersen, you worked for Swedish organizations in Germany for almost 20 years, most recently as a press attaché at the Swedish embassy. From your experience: Why is it that Sweden is so much further on diversity?
Wiebke Ankersen: Not only Sweden is further away than Germany, also the USA, Great Britain, France, even Poland. As for diversity in leadership positions, Germany is a developing country.
Pure male leadership teams are no longer socially accepted in Sweden – as well as in the USA. Such a team simply can not present the companies there.
In large parts of the German business elite, on the other hand, there is an attitude that astonishes foreign companies: a high proportion of women in top management is seen as a somewhat difficult challenge. In other countries, it offers new opportunities and simply recruits women.
What differences do you observe in Germany specifically for countries such as the USA or Sweden?
The corporate culture in the US and Sweden is different. She is braver, more open to new things, enjoys the change and less fear of failure. More is being tried and always asked: what can we do even better? Mixed teams bring better results? Well, let’s try that.
And a participatory culture that helps employees shape rather than force them into a ready-made corset is one of the secrets that companies use to successfully engage women. They say we really want you. What would this leadership position look like if you wanted to take it over instead of saying, “You do it like the man in front of you, that’s how we always did it, and if that does not suit you, it’s just a man again.”
In the reports and initiatives of the AllBright Foundation, you clearly show how the proportion of women in German companies is. Why do you focus on integrating women? What other aspects of diversity are important in Germany?
Women are not some minority in Germany, they are more than 50 percent of the population. Since 2012, more women than men have a degree in business administration and start in the company, but are rarely in the higher management positions. And that is mainly due to the recruitment and promotion template of the companies.
Not only women fall through the grid, but also, for example, East Germans. Less than one percent of board members in German stock exchange companies are socialized in East Germany.
More diversity can make an excellent contribution to breaking up encrusted structures in German companies, because people change and questions things.
“Businesses need to rethink and wonder if they are actually rewarding good results, or traditional masculine behavior in the first place.”
In what do you think Diversity often fails?
We observe a phenomenon in Germany, which we call the Thomas cycle, because there are more Tomasse and Michaels than women on the German stock exchange boards. Thomas recruits – if you let him – out of his gut feeling always new Thomasse, which are similar to him and thus creates extremely homogeneous teams. This is convenient for the individual manager, but in the interests of the company it is not, there must be active countermeasures.
It does not help to name a diversity manager or to set up women’s support programs if these women are ultimately not taken into account in top-line occupations because, as is customary, only West German economists are shortlisted in their mid-fifties.
In Germany, the debate revolves around what women supposedly do wrong: they do not prevail, are not good networkers, do not call loud enough “here” when there are executive positions to be shared. That’s the wrong approach. It can not be that women behave masculine. The women do not get involved in the long run, because they leave the company sooner or later. Businesses need to rethink and wonder if they are actually rewarding good results, or traditional masculine behavior in the first place.
More diversity topics can be found in the current issue of LEAD 04/18, which is also available online.
What specific measures can companies take to be more diverse?
The companies have to occupy differently. You have to get away from the prevailing recruitment template. Above all, this requires a clear message from the very top and some highly visible, diverse occupations of management positions. Otherwise no one takes it seriously and everyone continues as before.
As with any change process, it is about overcoming strong habits and the gut instincts of individuals. As a result, companies need to set concrete goals and achieve these objectives.
Companies must consistently challenge their existing structures and culture. What is usually lacking is an open, inclusive and participatory corporate culture that is consistently practiced at all levels, including at the top management level.
How do you personally feel about the results of the latest AllBright report? Were you surprised by the result that the proportion of women in German boards remains at eight percent?
The catastrophic outcome of our latest report did not surprise us, as the proportion of women in German top management has stagnated for years. However, companies are increasingly under pressure to change that and we have seen in Sweden how fast it can go when the process has got off to a good start everywhere. And we also see there how positively the working world changes for everyone, if it is designed by men and women together, we look forward to it also in Germany!
Also interesting: “I also have other skills, thank you”
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All companies need to keep pace with digital transformation. Everyone wants it. Why is it so difficult for many? The well-tried is given up for the uncertainty of the new. In LEAD Bookazine 3/2018, let an innovation coach explain why being innovative means staying successful in the future.