—— Is diversity today a value in and of itself? Yes, says TÜV SÜD Chairman of the Board Axel Stepken. We spoke about the advantages of diverse teams, the promotion of diversity and values that are non-negotiable, diversity notwithstanding.

Portrait von Axel Stepken, der in einem Stuhl sitzt, ein schwarzes Jacket trägt und über die Schulter lä


Mr. Stepken, let’s talk about diversity. In the past years, the term has become a major topic in society and politics. However, this has long been a goal for many companies, to be as diverse as possible. Is the business world a pioneer in this social development?
———— I think the social discussions and the changes in the corporate world go hand in hand. In the majority of European countries, as well as in the United States and also in Asia, there’s been a vigorous debate about diversity in recent years—and many societies have indeed become much more open. But this process started decades ago as a result of social developments. It’s certainly the same in companies. I’ve been a member of the board of TÜV SÜD for almost twenty years. Back then, the company was very far removed from the concept of diversity that we have today. I must admit, however, that my initial aim was not primarily to create more diversity, but to internationalize the company. In this process, more diversity came almost automatically. All at once, people with different native languages and from different cultures began playing a role. Suddenly not everything revolved around our country of origin, Germany. That gave us a big boost in terms of diversity, which continues to this day.
How do you define diversity?
———— Here at TÜV SÜD, and for me personally, we understand it to mean the entire spectrum of people’s experiences and what makes them tick: gender, identity, ancestry, religion, age, sexual orientation—and so on. And we want all of this in the company because we believe that diversity like this moves us all forward.
Is diversity a value in and of itself?
———— Yes, it is, and I think that appreciating this fact is the biggest change that we’ve experienced in recent years. We believe that diverse teams work together more creatively, find better solutions in the face of ever more rapidly changing conditions and can better respond overall to our clients, who are also very diverse. By the way, I don’t mean to belittle the work of our colleagues from the past. But I think that in a changing, increasingly diverse society, the teams that work for this society must also become more diverse.
Does diversity need to be deliberately fostered?
———— Yes. Our aim was to gather the best minds and the most capable employees at TÜV SÜD—regardless of what they look like, where they come from or what their gender is. In the past, diversity was more or less a byproduct and we thought that aspiring to this would automatically bring a high degree of diversity to the company. This is indeed the case to a certain extent—but you must actively address and foster true diversity.
How do you foster diversity?
———— For instance, we specifically promote people from different cultural backgrounds and countries of origin to leadership positions—across the group as a whole as well—and have set up development programs for this. For our in-house talent identification and development, diversity is playing an increasingly important role in supporting women in leadership positions, for example, or in promoting high-potential employees in regional and global development programs. Just a few weeks ago, we held our strategy conference online. The varied mix of people from different countries and backgrounds was impressive and shows that we’ve already taken a big step forward in this area. One of our three board members is an American born in India. We support a wide variety of networks for our workers—some initiated by the company, others on their own initiative—dealing, for instance, with topics such as gender and sexual orientation. We take an active part in various initiatives and committed ourselves to the Diversity Charter years ago. And we’re currently working on integrating diversity more strongly into our recruiting processes.
How are you doing that?
———— Due to our international growth, we simply have to succeed in attracting a broadest possible field of people to work at TÜV SÜD. We must therefore design our recruiting process so that a wide variety of different people in their full diversity apply for jobs with us and that they also have the chance to be hired. That starts quite mundanely with how the job advertisements are written or how we present ourselves at events and where we look for applicants. As a result, we have to design our application process in such a way that the final decision is made solely on the basis of professional suitability.

What does that mean specifically?
———— Take an aspect of diversity that plays an especially major role in Germany: gender. In many fields, there are inevitably fewer women that are interested in working for TÜV SÜD simply because, as an example, there are more men than women in mechanical engineering with a focus on automotive technology. That’s just the way it currently is. But we want both women and men to feel equally addressed in our search for experts and that only professional suitability counts. To achieve this, our managers must specifically bring more women into the whole application process.

"We believe that diverse teams work together more creatively, find better solutions in the face of ever more rapidly changing conditions and can better respond overall to our clients, who are also very diverse."

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Axel Stepken
Are there moments when diversity reaches its limits?
———— Not really. There are of course individual criteria where it isn’t easy to ensure diversity. I gave the example of women in the field of vehicle testing. But that cannot stop us from continuing to work towards more diversity.
TÜV SÜD is an international company, with offices in nearly fifty countries. Is diversity equally important everywhere?
———— We aspire to this. It must be clear to every person who works for us, no matter what country or culture they come from, that we don’t tolerate any form of discrimination. But I do admit that diversity is viewed differently in different cultures. For instance, gender plays a major role in Germany, while in other countries it’s more likely to be religious affiliation or the colour of skin. We must accept that, because this is also an aspect of diversity—not wanting to impose or presuppose our central European view of things everywhere, but to work towards creating understanding.
We’ve spoken about how important diversity is. Are there also areas where we promote homogeneity?
———— Not with respect to the people who work for us. But, yes, there are certain substantive issues where we cannot tolerate diversity. Namely, whenever it is a matter of quality, our neutrality or correct behavior—in other words, when it comes to the fundamental aspects of our company. And there is also only one technical truth. Everyone who works for us, as different as they hopefully are, must agree to these clear values. That is perhaps the greatest challenge in a company as diverse as TÜV SÜD: to keep pointing out that there are values where everyone must think and act in the same way. Despite all the diversity!