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Kick-off to a new era – Misel Ahom on the success of our Global Diversity Week and her future plans

“We care for your uniqueness – You will be heard. You will be seen. You will be inspired.”

A motto at Beiersdorf that has not only been in the center of attention due to the Pride Month in June but was proclaimed even before. At the end of May, Beiersdorf invited all global employees to its first digital Global Diversity Week. Turning its promise into reality, an inspiring program was prepared to further accelerate their Diversity & Inclusion agenda. With a total of 23 digital events, diversity ambassadors from the company as well as external guests shared their stories, gave trainings, held keynotes and engaged in discussions on topics such as equal opportunities and leadership diversity.

In our interview, Misel Ahom, Global Director Diversity & Inclusion, talks about the success of our Global Diversity Week, Beiersdorf’s new ambition for diversity and inclusion in the company, and her personal motivation for being so committed to the topic.

Misel, an eventful and exciting week is behind you. Are you satisfied with your first digital Global Diversity Week?

Absolutely! Global Diversity Week was a great success for everyone involved and the result of a strong collaboration between our Group headquarters and our international affiliates. With almost 70 colleagues on the digital stage, over 3000 people tuned in live to watch our program. To date, we also have had hundreds more watching the recordings available online. As a company we place a high value on building a diverse and inclusive workplace and this week was fully dedicated to building awareness and driving engagement across the full D&I spectrum. We are very proud both of the diversity of our program as well as the diversity of our speakers. We hosted so many motivating personalities and inspiring experts who took the time to share their knowledge and stories with our employee community. Based on the feedback we received to date, I think we can truly be happy with the outcome!

Poster of the Diversity Week 2021

Which items on the program were particularly well received?

The opening of the week by our Board Member for Human Resources Zhengrong Liu, the Powertalk with Stefan De Loecker and the panel with our new CEO Vincent Warnery, were of course very popular, as was our panel ‘Board meets Beyond Borders’ where we had a lively exchange between 3 of our talented Beyond Borders trainees and Gitta Neufang, Harald Emberger and Ramon A. Mirt. All these sessions offered very interesting insights into the commitment of our senior leadership on diversity and inclusion and why it is so important for our company to cultivate a thoroughly inclusive company culture. Our training sessions on how to better integrate diversity and inclusion into your everyday work-life were also very well received. The feedback from participants tells us that this is what our organization wants: more training, tools and practical tips relating to D&I. There was also an overwhelming response to the personal stories shared during the sessions, most notably the “Walk in my Shoes” talk with our very own employee Mo. Mo is a young Syrian who had to flee from his home country at 18 in search of a chance at survival. Displaying a huge amount of courage, he found his way here to us as an apprentice at our corporate headquarters. His key message: ‘learn to unlearn’, open your mind and be prepared to challenge some of your beliefs. Like me, many of our colleagues were touched by his story and grateful to be able to gain such an open and honest insight into his experiences.

You have been Global Director Diversity & Inclusion at Beiersdorf since the beginning of the year, and even before that you were strongly committed to diversity and inclusion. Why?

First of all, I find it really hard to tolerate when people are treated with less respect, dignity or tolerance – just because of what they look like, where they come from or whom they love. I think this attitude stems from my tolerant and liberal upbringing. I grew up in Holland, as the daughter of a Colombian mother and a Dutch father, and my parents had a relatively diverse circle of friends thanks to our family connections to the South American and Caribbean community. They taught me to be open and accepting of others and to try not to judge people. This was normal for me.

It wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina in the United States when I was 15 that I realized that my normality was not necessarily like everyone else’s – and that what is exciting and stimulating to some can be seen as inflammatory and offensive to others. The four years I spent in America had a profound impact on my beliefs, forcing me to critically examine what I stand for. Having lived in Barcelona and London, and now residing in Hamburg, I continue to deepen my beliefs and broaden my perspective. It is a constant journey, as I too have my prejudices and blind spots. So, it remains very rewarding to continue to enrich my worldview and get a deeper understanding of what motivates others. I wholeheartedly believe that a diverse society makes life so much more interesting and an inclusive society makes life so much fairer and that is society I want to be part of and that I want my kids to grow up in.

4 Images of divers & queer people

Your great interest in the subject makes you a perfect match for your new role...

Absolutely! (laughs) But diversity is not completely new for Beiersdorf, of course. It was initiated as a management topic back in 2012 and is a strategic pillar of Beiersdorf’s C.A.R.E. + strategy. I’m not starting from scratch and can build on a great foundation of initiatives and successes that have been put in place by equally driven and passionate colleagues. What is new is that, with my appointment in January of this year, Diversity and Inclusion has dedicated leadership, directly below our Executive Board member responsible for Human Resources, enabling us to drive D&I forward even more ambitiously than before.

The Global Diversity Week is the third major D&I initiative this year. In March, Beiersdorf was the main sponsor of the Impact of Diversity Awards and partnered with BeyondGenderAgenda, and on International Women’s Day we announced our Beiersdorf pledge to achieve 50/50 gender parity in leadership at all management levels below the Executive Board by 2025. This ambition serves as a beacon in the area of diversity, but also exerts the necessary pressure for more and faster progress. I am convinced that, by promoting diversity and building a mindset of inclusion, we will become more successful as a company.

What role did our Global Diversity Week play in this context?

Our Global Diversity Week was the kick-off for our new company-wide diversity and inclusion roadmap at Beiersdorf and helped us to create a more common understanding of the what, why and how of Diversity & Inclusion, that together we can create a culture where everyone feels they belong and can fully contribute. What the Global Diversity Week also allowed for is to start an open and transparent dialogue on what can be a very sensitive topic where different employees have very different perspectives. Having these conversations and highlighting these areas of tensions is an important part of the journey we need to go through as a company. There is no question that we need to move forward and accelerate, but we also need to realize that not everyone will be doing this at the same speed. However, when we all take a step forward, we can make tremendous progress and have a real impact! I believe that with the Global Diversity Week, we all took a big collective step forward. :)

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Diana Lühmann

About the editor: Diana Lühmann

Since autumn 2019, Diana has been responsible for corporate communication related to HR and inspiring people at Beiersdorf. These include the areas of Diversity, Learning & Development, Career, Leadership, and Health. Previously, she was in charge of R&D Communications and explored the exciting world of our research and development.