A diversity expert talks with an employee representative on the Supervisory Board about the promotion of women in leadership positions
Christian Berg is the managing director of the Swedish AllBright Foundation in Germany, which works to increase the number of women and promotes diversity in business leadership positions. Previously he had been a diplomat for almost ten years at the Swedish Embassy in Berlin.
Dr. Anette Brüne is the head of Strategic Business Development at BYK and a member of the Supervisory Board of the parent company, ALTANA AG. Brüne, who has a PhD in chemistry, has worked for ALTANA since 2003.
Mr. Berg, due to your position at the foundation you know the circumstances in Germany and in Sweden very well. Why are there fewer women in German companies than in Swedish ones?
Christian Berg: Equality has been a greater focus in Sweden than in Germany since the 1970s. This has a lot to do with the tighter job market, but also with gender-equality policies. So the gender roles known in Germany are not very pronounced in Sweden. Also, economic change is a factor in Sweden. The diversity issue is not limited to the question of men or women, but is also a matter of competitiveness. Companies want to have the best people, and that means both the best women and the best men.
Dr. Brüne, you are one of the women in ALTANA’s leadership team. Where is there room for improvement?
Dr. Anette Brüne: We have increased the share of women in leadership positions to around 21 percent worldwide. At the top level, in particular, we have to intensify our efforts even more.
Dr. Anette Brüne: As a chemical company, we are male dominated. Also, the share of women in the ALTANA Group as a whole is only 30 percent. We have to hire, develop, and promote more women so that they can move up into leadership positions. Furthermore, the existing role models in top management are not sufficient. It was and remains a very homogenous group, still male dominated, with very similar manager types. But the process of cultural change has been set into motion. Men are opening their circles more and more. They are realizing that it is beneficial to work with women in mixed teams. And many of them are actively participating in our mentoring program for women.
Is it only because of the men?
Dr. Anette Brüne: Not at all. The women also have to want to take on responsibility and have the confidence to advance. They have to be encouraged to do so. A push-and-pull situation is ideal.
What is more promising, top down or bottom up?
Dr. Anette Brüne: In many companies, including our own, this change can only be brought about from the top down. The top management has to want a change.
ALTANA intends to increase the number of women in leadership positions to 30 percent by 2025. Is this quota necessary?
Dr. Anette Brüne: I personally was skeptical at first. I thought there were enough well-trained women who could forge ahead if they wanted to. But then I saw that there was hardly any progress. So I think the quota is very helpful for initiating this change and provoking discussion.
Christian Berg: That has also been our experience. There has to be a certain amount of pressure. Homogeneous groups do not necessarily change voluntarily, even if the mindsets are good and the men are pioneers. The management has to be involved and committed. Bringing women into leadership positions has to be a management issue! There have to be clearly defined goals and they have to be controlled.
What advantages do companies have that change their structures?
Christian Berg: According to studies, companies with greater diversity in leadership positions, in other words with more women, different nationalities, and so on in these roles, are often significantly more innovative and profitable. You know, typical homogenous thinking is a big disadvantage. Because if everyone thinks the same way, no one questions anything. Yet it is only when things are called into question that room can be created for new ideas and approaches, and the risk of wrong decisions being made can be reduced. In addition, companies can offer not only women, but also special talents in general, as well as lateral thinkers, sufficient room for development. Many Anglo-Saxon investors have already recognized these key success factors. If there are no mixed teams in the company’s management, they are reluctant to make investments. Even if the company is very profitable and innovative today, the signs for the future are not good.
What are the most promising measures a science-driven company like ALTANA can take to promote diversity?
Christian Berg: Corporate culture plays a key role. ALTANA is working hard on its corporate culture. And it’s also important that the men are not forgotten. They should be motivated, say, to take parental leave like the women, or to use flexible work models. Because then employees with and without children, both younger and older people, can feel welcome in a company and develop further.
Dr. Anette Brüne: We have adapted to employees’ changing needs, and in the process introduced trust-based working time. At ALTANA’s biggest sites in Germany, mobile working is permitted, and people can work in home offices. Moreover, we offer various individualized part-time models, for example after the birth of a child.
What are the next measures?
Dr. Anette Brüne: Mobile working should be extended to other sites. There are still areas in which the time employees are actually in the office is still a key factor. At the same time, we are working increasingly in international project teams, across sites and time zones. Future success means changing the way management thinks and acts.
What form should this take?
Dr. Anette Brüne: ALTANA’s management should be result and solution oriented. The leadership style should be cooperative and motivating. Managers should have a trusting attitude toward employees, giving them the freedom to work independently. We are on the right track, but there is still potential for improvement. Let us be even bolder!
In Sweden, the topic of diversity is not limited to the question of man or woman, but is also a matter of competitiveness. Swedish companies want the best people, which means the best women and the best men.
MORE WOMEN IN MANAGEMENT
LEADING WOMEN @ ALTANA
ALTANA wants more diversity in top management positions. Within the framework of LEADING WOMEN @ ALTANA, programs such as Mentoring for Women aim to improve the share of women in top management.
30 % SHARE OF WOMEN