30 Years of MBS: Diversity Management – The Latest Trend or a Must-Have for Businesses?

Diversity Rainbow Powder

The third online speaker event held as part of Munich Business School’s 30th anniversary celebrations took place in late June. This time, the guests and invited experts were not external figures but rather MBS alumnae. Verena Hüni and Katrin Heigl completed their master’s degrees at Munich Business School (MBS) in 2017 and 2007, respectively. Together with Christoph Schlottman, Study Advisor on MBS master’s programs and MBS Diversity & Inclusion Officer, they discussed the topic of diversity management and provided insights into their everyday work, in which diversity plays an important part.

Respect, curiosity, openness, a sense of belonging, psychological safety, a driver of innovation and new ideas, a supportive community, love and strength – these are just a few of the answers the podium discussion’s participants gave to Christoph Schlottmann’s opening question of what diversity meant to them. MBS alumna Verena Hüni expanded further on the issue: “There’s a great saying which says that diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard. I am absolutely convinced that we are only able to see the entire picture and grow by integrating different perspectives and ways of thinking!”

Portrait Katrin Heigl
Katrin Heigl

Implementing diversity in practice is more than just a personal passion for Verena Hüni. Since 2018, the MBS alumna has served as Diversity Manager at automotive supplier ZF Friedrichshafen, based beside Lake Constance, working with her team to promote the topic of diversity in the workplace. While ZF now has an international diversity team with a global lead and hubs on various continents, diversity management is a decentralized issue at Allianz SE. As a result, MBS alumna Katrin Heigl’s job title does not include ‘Diversity Manager’. However, that does not mean that the Head of Management Board at subsidiary Allianz Beratungs- und Vertriebs-AG is not committed to diversity-related issues – quite the opposite. “In effect, everyone in a management position at Allianz has been a diversity manager for several years,” explained Heigl. “As managers, we bear responsibility and actively introduce diversity-related topics, such as in the application procedures we oversee.” Diversity initiatives brought into being by Katrin Heigl in her many years at Allianz include the internal Women@Allianz network and the ‘Allianz – bunter als du denkst’ (Allianz – more diverse than you think) campaign, which promoted gender and sexual diversity. Heigl is already looking forward to International Women’s Day on March 8 next year: Working with her Women@Allianz network, she has organized a global network event that will feature renowned panelists and attract many thousands of participants. Allianz also promotes other internal initiatives and networks, making the insurance group one of the most diverse companies in Germany – a position confirmed by numerous studies, including the German Diversity Index 2021 (BeyondGenderAgenda).

Portrait Verena Hüni
Verena Hüni

So, what is this all in aid of? The same studies that acknowledge good diversity management in companies also highlight the benefits of a diverse and inclusive work environment. There’s certainly no shortage of upsides, from higher employee satisfaction and a better understanding of customers – and thus the ability to optimize processes – to an inspirational work environment with space for innovations, a positive corporate image, and higher turnover. Verena Hüni wholeheartedly agreed that companies simply cannot afford to ignore diversity management as a success factor. “The topic of diversity already has a rich tradition at ZF, but it was always seen more as a nice-to-have than as a must-have,” she said. “That has changed in recent years and the entire topic area is now given greater attention. We are receiving more and more inquiries from the media and applicants asking how we, as a corporate group operating on a global scale, are committed to diversity. The topic is now also a higher priority for our board of management and supervisory board. They have high expectations of our diversity management activities and look for clearly quantifiable successes and progress.”

Hüni started to lay the foundations for this at ZF three years ago and can recommend that all companies follow suit. She suggests defining a vision and a mission, grappling with individual aspects of diversity, and informing and educating yourself. Katrin Heigl added that, if you want to promote diversity in the workplace, a particularly useful and helpful first step is to look for allies, both within your organization and beyond. Just like at Allianz, there are now employee networks at ZF for every dimension of diversity, and various KPIs have been established – such as the number of women in management positions. Verena Hüni is particularly proud that employees come to her and express their desire to play an active role, which allows networks to grow of their own accord rather than simply being set up by management.

Portrait Christoph Schlottmann
Christoph Schlottmann

The topic of diversity is also growing in importance at MBS. As a result, Christoph Schlottmann was able to use the podium discussion to present some of the most recent and upcoming diversity initiatives at MBS, which go beyond dimensions of diversity examined to date. These include introducing a language guide on gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language and implementing it in all internal and external communication channels, signing the German Diversity Charter, and MBS apprentices’ participation in the Diversity Challenge.

So, where exactly will this journey lead? Will we find that the diversity debate soon runs its course? Verena Hüni does not think so. “I am pleased to see that discussions surrounding diversity are increasing and have taken center stage in society,” she says. “We are on the right path, but there is still a great deal more to do.”

Katrin Heigl is of a similar opinion and rounded off the evening with a touching anecdote. “When you’re at the Christopher Street Day (Pride) celebrations and a stranger comes up to you and tells you that he needs to hug you because he is so happy that his trans child is in good hands with Allianz as their employer, that’s a big indication that our commitment to diversity is hitting home – and, for me, it’s motivation enough to keep going!”

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