D&I Keynote: the Propelling potential principle, Cologne Business School (CBS) University to Business

Diversity deals with complex issues. Sometimes it is helpful to get an overview and an introduction especially when basic questions turn up. You might ask how to create value through diversity and inclusion and how to get the diversity of Diversity just as students of Cologne Business School did. Michael Stuber answered those questions to students who are beginning to care about this topic.
Michael Stuber’s presentation was a kick-off for the two-day networking and recruitment event “Workforce of Tomorrow – Managing Diversity in the 21st Century”, organised by the Cologne Business School (CBS) University2Business (U2B). Several companies, including Henkel, TÜV Rheinland and SUPER RTL, introduced their diversity management strategies within the scope of presentations and workshops.Michael Stuber explained the specifics and uniqueness of D&I and furthermore the challenges and barriers to D&I. Last but not least, he shows how to manage a successful holistic implementation of Diversity.

First upcoming question always is: what does diversity mean and what is the difference between diversity and Diversity? At first glance you should realise that diversity is a fact of everyday life. If you concern yourself with diversity, you concern with the reality around you. The aim of Diversity as a concept is to get a valuable outcome from diversity. How do you get it? There are two minor steps with a big implication.

What you need most is an open attitude towards diversity. It refers to our emotional level – our thinking and our behaviour. Be aware of your thinking and your behaviour that leads to inclusion (as a result). We describe this process as “Propelling Potential Principle”. The Diversity approach builds upon the particular contributions that different people (can) make due to their individual personal background, origin and characteristics – not despite these and certainly not regardless of those. Diversity puts the focus on strengths.

The “principle” refers to Diversity as systemic approach. Diversity is not a melting pot of differences and different concepts of inclusion. Different target groups with different experiences can be addressed all together with one single approach: The propelling potential principle.

Who are these diverse target groups we talk about? What and who do we mean when we talk about diversity? First: there is no diversity in general. Let’s do an experiment. Imagine yourself standing in a circle. You are surrounded by elements which are Age, mental or physical Ability/ Disability, Race/ Ethnicity, Sexual Orientation, Beliefs/ Religion, Gender. Can you identify yourself with them? I guess that every element is part of you somehow. And even more. If you face diversity you need to face a broader context, e.g. Personal & Lifestyle, Organisation, Market & Consumption, Work & Employment. Remember that even your wishes, your workplace or technical skills are something very individual and probably something you have in common with other people. Diversity does not only consider differences but also similarities.

The Propelling Potential Principle consists of the inter-related elements of differences, open-mindedness and inclusion. Properly combined, these lead to the benefits and value-added base on differences, such as productivity, creativity, and synergies.

The uniqueness of D&I lies in its integral way of viewing things. It addresses every individual, not only a few that are considered as a minority group.
Diversity is a reaction of a changing society. In the past, we find a linear and hierarchical system whose success factors had been production and materials. The culture in which the system had developed was national and rational. Based on temporary development, our future tends to be the contrary of the past. We will work in a distributed system where networks and project work will be dominant. Success factors will concentrate on knowledge and human resources. And we will live in a more emotional and international culture.

The world becomes more complex and virtual. The labour market needs to be innovative and should give workforce priority. Due to global markets, intercultural issues will be a future focus. Hence, there is urgency for change, and this urgency is easy to talk about but it is not that easy to deal with. There are a lot of challenges and barriers within the implementation.

Nearly everyone would describe himself as open-minded and tolerant. But researches have shown that the strongest feeling towards other people is scepticism and fear.
Stereotypes, prejudice and preconceptions are normal reactions to handle these feelings (individual bias). But when in a social context, stereotypes become more than just a personal opinion as they will be part of the process. As an example you may think about micro-inequities – tiny words with a huge impact. See: Anja’s new boyfriend is Turkish BUT he speaks German very well. Personal prejudice turns up on an interpersonal level here.

Furthermore, there are barriers on the structural level, e.g. a male, white, heterosexual manager as role model. Impressions and behaviours that are taken for granted and considered to be normal occur here. Because of people preferring sameness and hardly never criticising normality, monocultures can grow. Barriers block open-mindedness and prevent valuable synergies.
All kinds of barriers need to be figured out, otherwise the Propelling Potential Principle cannot take root. But how do you implement Diversity successfully?

First of all Diversity must have a unique position within the company. Defining the understanding of Diversity is the first step before analysing goals and instruments.
What are the company’s goals (e.g. profit maximisation, facilitate communication etc.), its values and identity, strategies and principles (e.g. acquisitions, market expansion) and the challenges (e.g. recruitment, customer focus etc.)? These questions form the basis for further activities, which are implementation strategies like introducing and mainstreaming diversity.

A main focus has to be cultural change strategy. As mentioned before, nobody wonders about everyday principles, because they are normal things. Most people do not analyse their normality or – in this context – the corporate culture.

Therefore, the importance of corporate culture has often been underestimated in the past. But only changes of corporate culture can cause change processes. It is important to be aware of all behaviors, corporate values and unwritten rules (e.g. dress codes), as Diversity will fail if they are not consistent with Diversity-attitudes. Especially, the executives are asked to walk the talk. A combination of rationality, emotional aspects and concrete activities is the key for sustained cultural change.

All in all we can say that Diversity & Inclusion can systematically add value.
There are common dynamics between and within strands. D&I is an appropriate approach relating to the third industrial revolution. Inter-related barriers prevent the promotion of Diversity & Inclusion. Complex strategies need to be deployed to create sustained change.