Ask someone what logistics means to them and you are likely to hear buzz words such as “trucks”, “warehouses”, “a man’s world”. But luckily, the logistics sector is much more than that. The logistics industry has been my home for the past 2 decades. It has witnessed a continued transformational change in past years. When it comes to diversity, Deutsche Post DHL Group embraces numerous cultures and nationalities. For example female employees represent 35% (Dec 2016) of the total workforce in Europe and 43% in the German organization. However, the higher on the career ladder, the wider the gender disparity.
My rewarding personal journey as a female leader is a strong evidence of the career opportunities in the logistics sector. Today, our sustained efforts on achieving greater diversity at DHL Consulting translates into a tangible increase in customer and employee satisfaction.
Why does a healthy mix in terms of gender, nationalities, age and educational backgrounds make business sense? And how can you, as a leader, best cultivate this diversity to reap the associated benefits for your organization?
A Proven Business Asset
Digitalization keeps challenging the business-as-usual approach and requires organizations to constantly question their operating model. Embracing diversity in the way you think and operate as a business is critical to maintaining a competitive edge in today’s changing environment. My experience shows that diverse teams bring together various perspectives and backgrounds. They put cognitive biases and shared assumptions to question, which fosters innovative ideas, high quality output, and better decision-making. There is no doubt that driving a diversity agenda creates tangible value to the business. However, I also know that getting it right requires a well-thought strategy.
Looking back at my personal leadership journey, promoting and successfully leading diverse teams proved to be a challenging task. Dealing with ‘mini-me teams’ who tend to see the world with the same glasses as I do is so much easier. The decision-making process can become more tedious and the need for effective communication more pressing. Cultivating a culture of diversity demands proven consensus building skills and advanced leadership capabilities. This is a reality you and your management team need to understand and embrace before embarking on your own diversity journey.
How do you establish a diversity-fostering culture and bring this richness to life? Building on my personal learning throughout my career as a leader, I consider the following enablers to be instrumental:
1. A Strong Vision
A mentality shift is usually needed to holistically embrace and encourage diversity. It takes courage, a vision, and a plan to champion organizational diversity. As business leaders, you need to take ownership for managing and accompanying this necessary change. It will not happen if it’s not on the CEO’s agenda. The explicit strategic plan driven by a clear success picture is a key prerequisite to guiding this transformational journey, defining KPIs, and regularly communicating them to your organization. To secure a qualitative and sustainable output, performance management must be an ongoing focus within your teams.
Your diversity targets need to be in line with your company´s vision and business priorities. In some areas, pursuing diversity can prove very challenging – such as reaching a balanced ethnical or educational mix.
2. A Supportive Framework
With a strong vision in place, you as a leader need to design the right environment as the foundation for promoting diversity. The recruitment process in particular, remains a crucial building block to be calibrated towards your company’s diversity targets. This is particularly true for achieving gender parity. Attracting, selecting, and retaining a mixed talent pool is key. This is sometimes easier said than done. We all occasionally fall into the trap of favoring candidates who think alike or remind us of ourselves. Despite my 20 year-experience in successfully identifying and attracting diverse talents into my organization, eliminating the recruiting bias can take some energy and focus to achieve.
At DHL Consulting we are committed to providing women with a supportive framework to grow in their professional environment. Our female recruiting event this year served as an empowering platform to attract and discuss career development opportunities with 20 female leaders.
3. A Conducive Culture
For diversity to come to life, the corporate culture and mentality need to reflect this richness. An environment of inclusion, openness, and appreciation of people’s uniqueness will guarantee employee commitment, team cohesion, and innovation. This is particularly critical when it comes to creating a culture that values different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. Sometimes it can be as simple as switching immediately to English if a non-German peer enters a conversation.
Whatever aspect of your cultural environment needs calibration, it is your task. You as the management team, need to craft a favorable space for diversity to thrive.
4. A Skillful Leader
It requires true leadership skills to turn diversity into an asset for your business. A leader needs to acknowledge the best in each individual and empower them to openly convey the uniqueness of their ideas. Your company leadership style should foster collaboration and team unity to bring out the benefits of diversity.
A Long-term Journey
Establishing diversity as the cornerstone of your organization can reinvent the way you do business in the future. It can break down structural barriers and leverage digitalization for better results. To develop and nurture a diverse workforce and management team, a long-term strategy for change needs to be in place. My experience shows, embarking on a journey of change requires leadership efforts, and the courage to make unpopular decisions.
What is your personal experience with diversity in your working environment? I would be keen to continue this discussion and hear your thoughts directly on my blog and social media channels.