Some 5,000 people’s arrive at Munich’s International Congress Center on Sunday morning. During the Bits & Pretzels Founders Festival grand opening presentation on Center Stage, Andy Bruckschlögl, Bernd Storm and Felix Haas announce the theme of this year’s event: diversity.
It’s clear they have carefully considered the topic as part of their yearly conference’s agenda: the entire venue is wheel-chair accessible this year, they provide free child-care for working parents, the menu is varied for those with specific nutrition needs, there is a silence room for religious and other practices and the agenda is packed with opportunities for listening to presentations and participating in discussions on the topic. Well done gentlemen.
Yet they joke: “We are three Bavarian guys up here.”
The conference’s keynote speaker is Tarana Burke, founder of the #metoo movement, a powerful African-American woman who teaches victims of sexual abuse how to use language so they can better describe their feelings and thus ignite the healing process. Her commitment to her vision is incredibly remarkable.
Yet she jokes: “With me, you get a 2 for 1 for your diversity score”.
Dan Ram, an Indian-born, American-educated, Ireland-domiciled, third-time MC of Bits & Pretzels is a super engaging host. In fact, everyone I spoke to really liked him: he is high-energy, funny and his cultural awareness is magnetic.
Yet when facilitating a German Q & A session with the country’s best-known satiric comedian Jan Böhmermann, he jokes: “Oh, I don’t know German, I am just here for diversity.”
As I sit in the audience and reflect on a wonderful day at a conference that is the climax of my trip to Munich, I wonder, if the topic is so important that we are dedicating a whole event to it, why are the people holding microphones making jokes about it?
A few weeks ago, I attended the Global Digital Women‘s Network After Work event in Munich. After leveraging their impressive Digital Female Leadership Award nominee roster to network in this city I love, I was so excited to finally attend an event where I would have the opportunity to experience #GDW’s mission in action.
At Porsche Consulting, the evening’s corporate-sponsored venue, I am greeted by a man: “Welcome to Porsche Consulting, I’m Federico Magno“. After discovering that he is an Executive Board Member and runs the automotive industry for the consultancy, I am even more impressed. I think: “Wow, this man, who I am sure has a very busy calendar is fully present for an after work event and is committed to meeting and welcoming every single one of us”. I’m thrilled.
Yet later, as I sit and “listen” to a presentation on culture and diversity, skillfully delivered by Cindy Scharlock in German, I can’t help but look around at the crowd: there are at least 100 women in here.
And I am again wondering, where are all the men?
In fact, diversity is one of the themes that consistently came up in my conversations with the 30+ women I met during my 6 weeks in Munich. With each of them, I find myself describing my career, experiences and aspirations using different stories depending on how the conversation uniquely unfolds.
It’s obvious to me that my recent career has been in the setting of a “male-dominated” industry: automotive. Yet as I discover more about these women’s professional and personal experiences, I am reminded once again that we are more alike than different, even across industries.
I recall a brainstorming session one September Saturday afternoon with Amanda Birkenholz and Cristina Hartmann, where we review McKinsey’s 2017 Women in the Workplace report. I am completely astounded by an infographic that describes the distribution of employees in American corporations by gender and race.
I realize, aren’t we all in a male-dominated world?
Here are my thoughts on how to begin creating a more diverse workplace for all of us to be comfortable and thrive in, together.
One: No more jokes.
Every time we make light of the topic with sarcasm or comedy, we undermine it. You know what they say: there is a little bit of truth to every joke (whoever they are). Rather, let’s get serious and take a deliberate stance on the importance of diversity. Let’s sober up and use the power of language to deepen our conversations on this important topic.
Two: Invite the men.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all about women empowering women. I literally wouldn’t be where I am today if there wasn’t an organization in #GDW dedicated to bringing women in digital more visibility, globally. No way.
But I believe we need both genders, and a whole lot more, to make real change. We must work together.
So, I challenge each and everyone one of us to invite just one man to join us. Let’s find out what happens if we ask a kindred-spirited man: “Pete, would you please join me at one of my networking events? I value your opinions, thoughts and input and it would mean a lot to me if you came.” For real, let me know.
Three: Change the conversation.
Everyone has a story about diversity. And it’s usually an emotionally-charged one. I want to hear more emotions, more humanity in our discussions, in our coverage and conversations.
Let’s approach these story-telling moments as opportunities for connection, with empathy and deep curiosity about each other’s experiences. Let’s engage in a dialogue about discovering individuality. Let’s listen more and share more. Let’s find out our commonalities and use them as the place to anchor change.
Finally: Do you.
Looking back at my immigration to the US, at 16 years-old, I wanted nothing more than to fit in. I still talk like those Scottsdale girls I emulated so fondly back then. Yet, in me, there is always been a trail-blazer, a go-getter, a I’m-gonna-do-it-a-little-different-than-everybody-else. Now more than ever, I feel a sense of peace and confidence about how different these peculiarities make me. I do me. And I invite you to do you.
This is how I chose to honor my diversity practice; with strong words, humility, curiosity and by being true to myself. I may not be for everyone, but I’m super special for the right one.