European Diversity: A Strategic Business Approach in a Global Context GET 2002 (Europe-Japan), University of Cologne

Bringing students and staff from Japan and Germany together is part of the mission of the GET 2002 project. In order for participants to learn about the specifics of cultures and how to leverage them, they invited Diversity expert Michael Stuber to speak about European Diversity in a Global context. As a pioneer for Diversity Management in EMEA, Stuber presents a list of specifics of the European environment and what the implications are for each: European businesses are not used to dealing with differences, therefore companies find it difficult to rise awareness for Diversity in general. Diversity is only becoming visible for larger parts of the population, employees hence just start to realise that differences are there — and will remain, National thinking has so far prevented a pan-European conscience, Diversity is therefore lacking common ground on the European level, European companies are reluctant to learn from the U. S. and, to order to be successful, Diversity must be positioned in a European context, In Europe, soft factors of business are being ignored and compliance won’t be a major issue, so introducing Diversity requires a strong business case.

In the GET 2002 project report, Stuber writes more about his work and approach in a Global context. “What we see in Europe is that most companies, and even many politicians, focus on the representation of women in senior management. To us, this is a surprise in so far, as this strategy has created a lot of backlash in the USA (back in the 1980s). Our recommendation would be to look at male aspects of the corporate culture (policies, language, images, advertising, routines, long hour / face time work culture etc.) that might prevent women from participating effectively in the business. Another hot topic in the European gender arena is the question of balancing work and family life. Again, we suggest that a broader or more general approach could be more promising and effective. The reason for that being that most current activities focus imply that one specific lifestyle is chosen by women. The actual trends in Europe prove that not only women are seeking to balance their private life (whatever it may look like) and work, and that they are no longer following the pre-determined model known. We recommend to pursue contemporary schemes that seek to maximise each individual’s contribution by enabling him or her to integration private life and work – including sabbaticals, stress management, health issues and work life planning (extremely relevant in most Western countries, looking at the ageing of the populations and the related prolonging of work lives).” Regarding the comparison between European and Japan, Stuber says: “We see strong differences between Asia, Europe, America and other regions in general, and of course within those regions (Japan vs. continental Asia, Northern vs. Southern Europe) etc. The relationship between men and women is usually deeply routed in the history of a region or country. The existing political, cultural and economic / business contexts actually mirror the respective development. In Scandinavia, women participate much more in Public life than elsewhere in Europe, in Portugal they hold many positions in the Public Services, in Britain, their representation in companies is quite advanced etc. Cultural contexts do influence gender relations but not determine them.”
Public policy, for example on gender, provides another important cornerstone. In this respect, Stuber analyses the situation as follows: “For the larger part, gender policies are moving thing in the right direction. Although, there are quit a few mechanisms that even reinforce existing stereotypes about gender roles (as explained above, focusing on the mother’s role of women does not help a great deal to change the acceptance of female managers). We have identified key players that are called upon to help change our cultures in order to make them more inclusive, hence more effective: Education is in fact one of those areas. This includes primary and secondary education as well as higher education and the kind of education men receive when serving in the Army! The Media play another important role in developing cultures – the topics they cover, the images they use, the role models they present, the language that is used. Actually, the fact that more and more national and international series (such as Dark Angel) use people from diverse backgrounds quite aggressively does help to broaden people’s perception of what a hero, a good person or a bad person can look like. What could be more important in times after September 11th? Politics and Society are more actors when it comes to changing culture. Appropriate laws and interventions from foundations, trade unions and associations help to correct a system where it starts to be too mono-cultural. Many examples exist in the field of fighting racism and xenophobia in Germany. The corporate world itself is one major player in developing awareness – not only because most people work in companies, but because even those who are not working there are affected by corporate communications and many other mechanisms generated by the business arena. So, any Corporate Diversity initiative does have a positive effect on the more general societal context as well. More about the actors in this respect can be found on our Diversity WebSites”