Germany: VK initiatives to improve diversity management in the workplace

The German Association of Gay Managers and Entrepreneurs (VK) seeks to achieve a non-discriminatory working and living environment for gay employees. This spotlight report reflects on five VK initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in the workplace in German companies: Max Spohr Prize, Diversity Studies, Diverse City, Future Leaders and the Young Professionals.

The German Association of Gay Managers and Entrepreneurs (VK) is a professional association for gay managers, entrepreneurs and professionals in Germany. It seeks to achieve a non-discriminatory working and living environment for gay employees.

Legal framework for rights

Article 1 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (PDF) states that ‘Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority’. At local level, the enforcement of the right to equal treatment and non-discrimination has been the main sociopolitical objective of the Berlin State Office for Equal Treatment and against Discrimination (LADS) since its establishment in 2007. The General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG) has been in force since 2006 and it is based on four EU directives aimed at tackling discrimination. The Act governs the legal consequences in the case of discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age or belief.

VK was launched in Hamburg in 1991 with the aim of creating equality between gay and lesbian workers and their heterosexual colleagues within the areas of business, academia, administration and culture. From its early days, the VK has worked with gay and lesbian partner organisations such as Austrian Gay Professionals (agpro), l’Autre Cercle in France, Network in Switzerland and PrIMO in Italy. Since 2005, these organisations have been connected under the umbrella organisation, the European Gay and Lesbian Managers Association (EGMA). VK today has 700 members organised in 14 divisions, 14 trade groups and 21 regional groups within Germany. Its national office is in Berlin.

Initiatives to boost workplace diversity

VK has five main initiatives designed to increase diversity in the workplace.

Max Spohr Prize

The most well-known VK initiative is the Max Spohr Prize. This is awarded annually to social partners that have excellent diversity management and represent best practice in German society. The prize winner is selected on the basis of the findings of VK’s research study, Diversity Studies (see below). The group of social partners eligible to win the prize includes companies such as SAP or IBM, and local authorities and public institutions such as the city of Munich and Dortmund (the winners in 2012 and 2014 respectively). All winners share the conviction that diversity of the employee body (in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, religion, disability and sexual orientation) benefits the development of enterprises and employees. The Max Spohr Prize is thus unique in providing an incentive to employers and public institutions to show their commitment publicly and to give innovative examples for other social partners in Germany.

Diversity Studies

This initiative is part of VK’s work to monitor and detect the level of development of diversity management in the German economy. Its aim is to recognise the social partners that are signatories of the Diversity Charter. VK carried out surveys of the signatories in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Over 100 employers with 1,000 or more employees were interviewed to find out about the methods they use to promote, manage and utilise diversity in a company or government agency.

What VK has found from these studies is that a lack of knowledge and experience of diversity management is often a barrier for employers to develop simple and effective tools for the promotion of diversity in the workplace. Diversity Studies’ public data from previous years serve as guidelines for competitive employers wishing to improve their expertise in this area.

Diverse City

Diverse City is a project that looks at the mechanisms and strategies used by German cities to create a climate for the freedom of expression of gay people living in their territory. Dortmund is a recent example in terms of advertising gay-friendly places, events and activities organised by local government. An important point, which VK always stresses, is that a city’s gay-friendly policies benefit its local economy and other marginalised groups in society such as those with a disability or from a migrant background.

Future Leaders

Future Leaders is a programme for young gay people – students, (future) young entrepreneurs and the self-employed – from both academic and non-academic backgrounds. The programme includes workshops and seminars during which young gay people learn from others who are successful in their careers how to succeed in business as openly gay people

Young Professionals

The fifth initiative, The Young Professionals, consists of a group of young VK members who work as mentors on the development of Future Leaders programme activities and who are based in all 21 regional divisions of VK in Germany. This mentoring programme, scheduled to begin in October 2016, is the latest initiative from VK.

Many of these Young Professionals are alumni of the Future Leaders programme who have proved in practice that VK also acts as a prospective employer for talented gay people with leadership capabilities in Germany. At the same time they also influence other employers to pay more attention to young and creative gay employees.

Willingness to learn from others

An international initiative in 2015 that aimed to promote non-discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Montenegro involved the collaboration of VK, the Montenegrin government, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and other representatives of business and the non-governmental sector.

The initiative took the form of an international ministerial forum called Ending Hate Crime and Violence, held under the auspices of IDAHO 2015. The forum was based on the international approach associated with the common goal of mutual learning and exchange of best practice, and of cooperation in combating discrimination against LGBT individuals. Participation in the forum demonstrated that VK is seeking to learn from others within and outside the European Union, as well as learning from the best examples in countries other than Germany about the promotion of diversity in the workplace.

Commentary

An important benefit of VK’s initiatives, such as the Max Spohr Prize, is their positive external effect: the image of a gay-friendly work environment can inspire business partners and public institutions that want to be committed to diversity. In this way, VK draws out the innovative ideas and approaches used by social partners who in turn are striving for a positive evaluation by VK. At the same time, VK assembles committed employees with talent and creative potential who want to work on concrete proposals related to diversity management in the workplace. By including private sector and public institutions in its projects, VK creates a space for dialogue between employers from business and the public sector; this also helps those employers who lack the knowledge or experience of diversity management but want to implement it in the future.

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