German or Global?

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The CEO of Siemens announced last week that his priority for his second year in charge would be to improve the ‘global diversity’ of managers and warned that Germany’s competitiveness could be threatened if it failed to do so.

“The management board are all white males. Our top 600 managers are predominantly white German males. We are too one-dimensional,” he said in an interview to mark his first year in charge, according to the Financial Times.

He is not alone. Jorma Ollila, while CEO of Nokia, said that his company had to reflect its key markets in the internal diversity of its staff.

Of course, as the FT goes on to point out in its leader, you have to strike a balance. There are many admirable qualities of German companies, such as their reliability and technical prowess; their long-termism, and the consensus between management and workers that has increased competitiveness through wage restraint.

When diversity is encouraged, yet managed and anchored in some common values which everyone understands and shares, it can be powerful indeed. Not just in business, but also in nations.

We have seen how the various ‘-isms’ of the 20th century have resulted in warfare, oppression and economic failure. They have been rooted in the belief that there is an absolute truth or one way of doing things.

The USA, of course, is the prime example of a nation that has achieved economic success by managing to get a truly diverse set of people to stick, on the whole, to some core beliefs – such as that anyone can succeed; that you can take risks without too much fear of failure, and that you can learn from your mistakes. Outside of this set of beliefs, you are encouraged to be different, and diversity is in general respected.

The USA has not been doing well in the global popularity stakes in recent years, and certainly, in politics, the media and in business, one could say that it may have tried to export its way of doing things rather vigorously.

But in Europe, where countries like the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium are struggling with questions of national identity, we could learn a lot from the Americans. At least they have had a clear and shared sense of purpose, while encouraging and supporting difference.

Getting the balance between diversity and shared values right is vital for business success in a changing world as well.

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