“Diversity” is worth as much as it is put into practice.
For us and our corporate culture this means that we want to provide equal opportunities to every employee – whether young or old, woman or man, German or non-German, with or without a handicap. We therefore have a dedicated department that's committed to the promotion of diversity, supporting HR development and recruitment in the different departments and affiliates. In the end, this is not only important for you as an employee, but also for the economic success of the Otto Group – because it makes us more attractive as an employer.
Leena, you work exclusively on the issue of diversity within the Otto Group. What does diversity really mean?
Leena Maxin: The term generally refers to the sustainable management of human resources, uncovering our employees’ potential that might have lain dormant because of inopportune circumstances, and taking into account different life phases and situations. This includes, for instance, the qualified female employee that takes three years instead of one year parental leave, believing that she cannot reconcile working in a demanding management position with her wish to have a family; or a 50-year-old employee that has 17 years on the job ahead of him before retirement, and who is seeking out new professional prospects and challenges that make his job more interesting. We’d like to create corporate-wide frameworks, which offer the same opportunities to everybody, regardless of gender, age, nationality or condition. After all, at a time of demographic change and skills shortages, this is becoming increasingly important.
You’ve been managing the diversity programme since 2011, when the Otto Group put a large emphasis onto it. What has changed in the company so far?
Leena Maxin: Under the motto “diversity first!” we address the four focus groups women and men, young and old, different nationalities and people with special challenges. Even before we started the diversity initiative, the Otto Group offered many activities and programmes on these issues. In the past year, however, in line with the group-wide HR strategy, we decided to pool all of these resources and develop and implement additional diversity goals, thus responding to developments in our society such as demographic change. For instance, we started an internal diversity controlling programme in 2011, which polls company-specific diversity goals once a year. Along with the group company in question I develop those goals and help with the measures to achieve them. For example, one group company might want to internationalise its recruitment with multi-lingual job postings. Another one might wish to increase the share of women in top management by offering flexible work arrangements such as home office jobs or part-time management positions.
Could you describe responses to your job? Have you had direct feedback from employees concerning the issue? And what other companies or networks have you been in touch with?
Leena Maxin: Because of the current public and political debate, many immediately jump on the mandated proportion of women in the workplace – yet they soon understand that diversity is about a lot more than gender equality. Colleagues from different divisions contact me all the time, proposing many ideas and initiatives. After all, that’s what diversity management is all about: the employees, frameworks and structures. Otto, being a family-owned company, has had a long tradition of focusing on sustainable and staff-oriented issues. Diversity and sustainability, aside from profitability and innovation, are two of the four dimensions of our corporate mission. This is why my colleagues with the independent group companies are important contact persons. After all, they are the ones to implement the specific measures locally – and we support them on the corporate level.
What does your typical workday look like?
Leena Maxin: There is no really “typical” workday – every day is different… or truly diverse! I work closely with our various HR departments, as well as with other corporate divisions such as the communication or sustainability department, and, of course, the group companies. This is why I’m often on the move, in order to talk about implementation or identify additional need for action. When I do end up sitting at my desk, I talk a lot on the phone or exchange views with my colleagues in person. Diversity can only come to life when it’s lived day-to-day, and when everyone has a voice that is listened to.
What is your top priority for the coming months?
Leena Maxin: We are planning two corporate-wide projects in diversity management: One senior experts consultancy that seeks to bring back former and now retired employees for specific projects; and a group-wide women’s network that pairs up female future executives with their experienced counterparts, in order to guarantee long-term success all the way up to the Executive Board. The focus is on exchanging experiences and on promoting women in their careers within the group.