Resistance to the DM Process



by Trina E. Roach and Lale Otyakmaz

The list of companies and organizations that have already signed the Diversity Charta in Germany is impressive. These organizations – e.g. Dresdner Bank or Allianz Insurance – have taken their first energetic steps with a sharpened business sense and – in part – with a high level of PR visibility. With their committment to diversity they will open the doors even wider for more effective integration, while simultaneously securing important market and knowledge potential for themselves.

The Inofficial Hierarchy of Core Dimensions

In taking a closer look, it appears that certain core dimensions of diversity are more readily accepted by traditional organizational structures than others, based on their function as a subgroup of the dominant culture. In the meantime, core dimensions such as gender or age are almost automatically addressed, even though age is a relatively new topic compared to some of the other core dimensions. This development might have been fostered by political movements (see: Women’s Movement) that have since manifested themselves in tangible, broad-based political and legal steps (see: Women’s Representatives, as well as Equal Opportunity Man and Women). In contrast, other core dimensions such as cultural diversity still lag far behind as was shown in the recently published Bertelsmann Study. For example, in North-Rhine Westfalia there are almost no Equal Opportunity Commissioners who have an immigrant background and/or are people of color.

Let’s not fool ourselves: Diversity Management is one of the most demanding change management processes there is. An important component of any such process, however, is the courage to take the necessary risks and to exhibit the needed tenacity in order to allow change to actually take place. Existing Diversity Management projects in Germany concentrate mainly on programs and initiatives that benefit individual core dimensions. An analysis of the interaction between individual core dimensions and their respective connection to existing power and dominance structures – pivotal in diversity as a management theory – receives only limited attention (if any at all) in the German diversity discourse within the relevant institutions. This, however, could (and should) be exactly the place where a real change in thinking and long-term action takes place, whose results can be assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively in facts and figures.

It takes courage to critically evaluate your own internal corporate situation in order to identify and consequently address existing weak points. It would therefore be fatal to be lulled into a false sense of security just simply because there are a few female department heads, a colleague in sales is openly homosexual, and a friendly Afro-German woman works at the reception desk.

The Cost of Doing versus Losing Business

Hot topics like the scarcity of highly skilled workers are not fast approaching Germany, they have already arrived. Despite this, the economic advantages and necessary demographical pressures for a stringently implemented cultural diversity policy as an integral part of any diversity management program are still going unrecognized by many German companies. Apparently some would rather ignore – or suffer – the disadvantages than to proactively break through internal resistance.

With more than 15.3 million immigrants who make up 19% of the total population according to the 2005 Microcensus, as well as the current public debate on immigration, integration and equality, the fact that German companies view cultural identity as much less important than companies in other countries is a very sobering fact. It is therefore no surprise that as a result of this attitude German companies have the lowest number of foreign in-country employees, as well as the lowest number of local employees abroad, while both internationally and across Europe the number is decidedly higher. In a recent survey conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation, 95 % of American and British companies said they practiced Cultural Diversity Management, while only 44 % of the German firms surveyed could make the same claim. The percentage of companies in neighboring European countries that have established cultural diversity programs is 75%.

German companies are wasting Important time in the diversity cycle. While it is now possible to budget the additional costs needed to develop and implement diversity programs, as well as to break through internal resistance as “cost of doing business”; soon companies will see a significant rise in the “cost of losing business” if cultural diversity continues to be short-changed in the German employment market. This poses a decided challenge to diversity consultants in Germany, who must ask themselves whether or not they have the necessary knowledge and resources to support clients facing this dilemma.

Ratio+Emotio = Change

Diversity Management – including in the area of cultural diversity – makes good business sense. The economic advantages have been confirmed and rationally explained by international business cases. Why are many German companies still hesitating? Now is the time for more progressive German organizations to advance their cultural diversity processes, so that in the future more local business cases are available as best practice examples.

It is, however, a fallacy to believe that hard facts (e.g. additional research and new business cases) are the only thing capable of increasing the openness to a more highly differentiated and widespread Diversity Management within German organizations. This demand for more facts is in itself a part of the resistance to change that is a part of the diversity management process. The resistance that is being met in German companies is not founded in rational arguments, but is rather a reflection of current socio-political developments. The call for integration stands in stark contrast to the urge to exclude and isolate. In addition, many companies are simply uncertain in addressing the additional core dimensions of diversity (see: p. 28 ). This is an opportunity for German companies to take on a pioneer role with regard to an economically – as well as socio-politically – progressive corporate social responsibility that also makes good business sense.

The issue, however, can not lead to a trivialization of equality by either corporations or practicing diversity consultants. “We’re all diverse!”. This sentence or ones similar to it can be heard from some diversity consultants who find themselves – and their personal dimensions of diversity – a bit higher up in the inofficial hierarchy on core diversity dimensions. This becomes problematic when personal experiences of exclusion are used to minimalize widespread societal and institutional exclusion or discrimination.

The Challenge for Diversity Consultants

It is essential that diversity consultants know and can advise their diverse clientele – and their extensive customers and clients – in a highly individualized manner. In order to do this, the diversity consultant must grasp the complexity of the full scope of the different core dimensions in order to harmonize them with overall corporate objectives, instead of simply reproducing old prejudices and stereotypes in a new form.

It is invaluable for a professional diversity practice to learn and profit from knowledge and experience existing within the relevant individual disciplines; e.g. gender, race, age, etc.. This facilitates a better understanding of the commonalities of exclusion, on one hand. On the other hand, it enables the consultant to provide more individualized concepts for the respective relevant diversity context. Otherwise existing knowledge is replaced by something that is both limited and partial.

It is also imperative that a diversity culture develops in Germany that meets the demands of Diversity Management. It is conspicuous that the professional field in Diversity Management – in both research and consultancy – closely reflects the German corporate world. The ranks of leadership in research, consulting and corporations are anything but diverse. It is therefore hardly surprising that existing societal power and dominance structures are replicated in within Diversity Management as it is practiced.

The pressing question for diversity consultants is: “Why are you yourselves unable to achieve demographic diversity within your own professional context?” How can it be that – despite a varied and qualified pool of diverse practitioners – it is impossible to establish a functioning network of colleagues and cooperation partners who are not directly connected to the dominant structures? This means that diversity consultants in Germany are faced with the very same issues facing their clients. Here, too, we see the resistance and the fear of a loss of power that are an integral part of a personal Diversity Management process. Continuous self-reflection and a sense of positioning within the diversity context are what is called for. Because it is not only true for our clients, but also for ourselves: “Diversity is not about them, it’s about you!” (Gardenswartz and Rowe)

© 360° of Diversity

(This is the English version of an originally German-language article that has been published online by the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation and can be viewed HERE. )



  1. […] background and/or are people of color.  (…continue reading English-language version here -> […]

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