Division and exclusion are no strangers to me. After all, growing up in West Germany post Second World War gave me first-hand experience of what a divided nation looked and felt like. My generation grew up knowing there was a wall you weren’t allowed to climb over; that there were “them” and there were “us”.
But this also gave me a glimpse into the power and will of the people when I finally witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Despite the struggles and the legacy division left behind, the years that followed were a clear example of how unity and inclusion can bring about various economic and social benefits.
A united Germany made us a stronger player globally. It was also testament divisions that persisted for decades can be revised and replaced. Yes, it cost a lot of money and effort to make it happen, but it also created many opportunities.
Clearly, and especially in today’s increasingly polarised world, some would beg to differ. But my personal and professional experiences have made me a firm believer in the power of openness and in breaking down barriers. This is why I believe it’s essential to stop and re-examine the way diversity and inclusivity shape our lives and businesses to the better.
Working with Siemens gave me the chance to live in various places — south-east Asia, Asia-Pacific, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. If there was one thing I took away from working in all these different countries it is that people — regardless of race, background, culture, and gender — can make you feel welcome, offer you unconditional support and create amazing synergies.
Thanks to my professional life, I feel I grew up as part of a global community that has contributed to our goals and the growth we enjoy today as a company in astounding ways. There is a growing body of evidence supporting the case for diversity in the workplace.
Research continues to prove that working with colleagues who are different from us can make us, as a collective, more creative, innovative, diligent and hard-working, compared to homogeneous groups. It makes us prepare better for different and new points of view and helps us keep an open mind to new information we may have never considered.
Companies with a diverse workforce also enjoy higher profitability and understand their stakeholders better.
As a company that employs staff from 171 countries, we continue to reap the benefits of diversity, especially when it comes to innovation. The number of patents held by the company worldwide at the end of fiscal 2016 increased to some 59,800, from 56,200 the previous year.
In fiscal 2016, our employees submitted about 7,500 invention disclosures — an average of about 30 per workday. Our Chief Diversity Officer, Janina Kugel, once rightly said: “Diversity strengthens our innovative capacity, unleashes the potential of Siemens’ employees and thereby directly contributes to our business success.”
Whether in business or social settings, our focus should not be on race, religion, gender or culture, but on what each individual — no matter where they come from — can contribute to the world around us. We should ask ourselves: What solution does someone bring to a problem? Does he or she make a meaningful contribution towards helping us achieve our targets?
Harnessing the best out of our differences is what makes us stronger, whether it’s to achieve higher profitability and greater innovation in business, combat climate change, cure diseases, eradicate poverty or preserve our environment. Now more than ever, the power of diversity and collaboration cannot be ignored.
In the UAE, where I’m based, the rulers have recognised this. After all, the country is home to some 200 nationalities that have contributed in their own ways to its incredible development. I believe the Emiratis’ openness to new ideas, regardless of who proposes them, and their adaptive nature have propelled the country forward and put it on the world map.
Regardless of your nationality, they are willing to listen and keep an open mind. I personally continue to enjoy working in an environment that encourages this kind of openness, where co-existence and tolerance are celebrated.
Today, the voice of companies, big and small, could be decisive in building a bridge of understanding between different worlds and in shaping our future.
The onus is on us, businesses leaders, to voice our unwavering commitment to inclusion and diversity, to resist building barriers and instead focus our efforts on breaking them down.
The writer is CEO of Siemens Middle East and UAE.