People and Culture

Diversity breeds innovation

Womens Talk at Zühlke

How can we increase our efforts to promote diversity, help employees combine career and family and offer flexible working options at Zühlke? Annina Scheidegger (Head of People & Culture Switzerland), Micaela Feldman (Group CMO), Elena Jasvoin (Group CFO) and Barbara Hotwagner (Managing Director of Technology, Zühlke Austria) met for a roundtable to discuss the topic.

9 minutes to read
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Do women’s expectations of a company generally differ from those of others?

Annina Scheidegger: In principle, no. It’s more that we tend to focus on slightly different things. But just like men, women want to have interesting jobs, a sense of appreciation and opportunities for advancement.

Barbara Hotwagner: I wholeheartedly agree. I’d also add that in an ideal world, the requirements women have regarding their jobs would be exactly the same as those of their male colleagues. However, the reality is unfortunately a little different: it is still mostly women who have to be able to cope with twice the load and therefore require more flexibility.

Elena Jasvoin: I completely agree with that. While flexible working hours and forms of employment are becoming more of an issue for men, the case is probably more extreme for women. In general, the topic of corporate culture also takes a slightly higher priority for women.

Micaela Feldman: When it comes to flexibility, I think that the stage of life you’re in also plays a huge role. Those just starting their career usually have different requirements from a company than those with families, regardless of gender. But particularly among young men nowadays, we are seeing expectations regarding working models change. The classic full-time position is no longer in such high demand.

How flexible is Zühlke as an employer?

Elena: I’m still relatively new at Zühlke, and I’m excited about what’s offered here in terms of hybrid forms of employment and flexibility. These are rare, even in tech companies, and need to be highlighted to the outside world even more, as we’re offering a great benefit here.

Barbara: I have fond memories of my job interview in that regard. Back then, I was looking for a part-time management position. And I was pleasantly surprised not to be asked if I could actually work full-time during the interview. Instead, I was asked what adjustments would need to be made to the position to make it suitable for the part-time model. I’ve never experienced that before.

Micaela: That’s also something I noticed, as another new employee at the company. It’s interesting to see how many people work on a part-time basis here. It is also worth mentioning the flexibility of working hours, along with the opportunities to take breaks. I’ve rarely seen that to the extent we have it here, even in the tech sector. While many places talk the talk, Zühlke actually walks the walk in these matters.

Elena: Absolutely! Take our site in Schlieren, Zurich, for example: it’s more of a co-working space than a classic office. The infrastructure here reflects the corporate culture.

Micaela Feldman CMO at Zuehlke Group

Corporate culture – that’s an important topic. How have you experienced it at Zühlke?

Annina: Our culture helps to support women. There’s no dog-eat-dog mentality here. The team always takes priority. If someone falls absent, for example if their child is sick, help is provided – which benefits fathers as well as mothers. This cultural element also lays important groundwork for promoting diversity.

Micaela: There are some things I’d add: I find the general tone within the team at Zühlke extremely pleasant. People usually assume the best of others, even when there are differences of opinion. To me, that shows a high level of appreciation for others throughout the company, which is another particular priority among women.

Elena: Very good point. In my previous jobs, I found that I had to be loud to make myself heard by my male colleagues. But I don’t feel like that at all at Zühlke. Here, I am heard. And have been right from the start.

In what areas do you still see challenges in terms of promoting diversity?

Annina: As mentioned, we’re already well ahead when it comes to flexibility. But of course, we could always develop more flexible employment opportunities – depending on what phase of life the employee is in. Simply introducing a 60 % workload isn’t the end of the story. Because then we have to think about how to ensure that promotion opportunities and career development are still possible. We could definitely step up our work on framework conditions and take suitable measures without relying on rigid methods such as a fixed women’s quota. Particularly among top management, we can and need to become more diverse.

Barbara: We need to communicate more strongly to the outside world just what it’s like to work for a tech company like Zühlke. The IT industry generally has something of a mixed reputation, which may still put women and others with a more diverse background off a career in the field. We need to work on this and dismantle this stereotype using practical examples.

Elena: Absolutely. After all, we want to bring the best people on board. And diversity can only help us in that goal. We therefore need to increase our investment in infrastructure – so that we can compensate for public provisions that are sometimes lacking, as well.

Micaela: I also consider it our societal task as a company to get started early on and to get girls and young women interested in tech topics and what are known as MINT subjects – that is, mathematics, IT, natural sciences and technology. As a society, we need to succeed in creating more diversity within this key industry.

Barbara: I too find that very important. At Zühlke Austria, for example, we use the Daughter’s Day format. This allows us to play a small but important role in showing girls that working in this industry is open to them.

Annina Scheidegger and Elena Jasvoin from Zuehlke Group

Why is diversity so relevant in the tech environment in particular?

Micaela: It’s not about diversity for the sake of diversity. It’s been proven that more diverse companies are better at doing business. When I look at a problem from different perspectives, I’m able to achieve a better solution.

Elena: Absolutely. We have to proactively seek diversity, as it breeds innovation. But we also have to be careful not to delude ourselves, because of course diversity can have its stressful side. It may mean meetings take longer sometimes, which we then need to plan for and manage accordingly. This takes training.

Barbara: It challenges us as a company. We have to work on our mindset and ask ourselves how we handle friction and conflicts. However, I think it’s essential – as innovation providers, we have to cover a wide spectrum.

Annina: Which brings us back to the topic of corporate culture: positive friction and constructive confrontation need to be something we strive for. If we only ever strike the path of least resistance, then we’ll become part of the average. And of course, we want to prevent that. We have to start with our culture of consensus.

Elena: Of course, consensus doesn’t need to mean that we all share the same opinion right from the start. The case is rather the opposite – we want to learn to understand different perspectives by asking questions and listening. It goes without saying that this is a process and it takes time to get there. But I firmly believe that this kind of approach leads to better results because everyone in the team feels like they belong and that they can contribute.

What differences are there in Zühlke’s different regional markets?

Barbara: I see them as an opportunity to learn from best practices. I am constantly impressed by the high level of cultural diversity among our colleagues at Zühlke in Asia. This diversity is incredibly fascinating to me. However, it’s also worth adding that it’s not something that is managed deliberately, but rather this diversity is simply the reality in Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Annina: I absolutely agree that in the German-speaking regions in particular, we could learn a lot from other subsidiaries, such as from our colleagues in the United Kingdom and Asia, along with Bulgaria and Serbia.

Micaela: I think that our growing international alignment as a global company and our efforts to increase diversity feed into each other. I consider it a key two-way driver for our continued global growth.

Elena: In any case, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the infrastructure and the respective contexts are very different in the various regions. Concepts cannot be transmitted one-to-one. Supportive coaching and a change in mindset are needed. We need to be aware of where we stand in the individual markets.

Womens Talk at Zühlke

As mentioned above, diversity is not limited solely to the factor of gender. What do you believe will be the focus in the coming years?

Annina: We need to understand diversity as cognitive diversity and take a holistic approach to the topic. It’s not only gender we’re talking about here; diversity goes much further. As a company, we need to be open to different cultures, sexual orientations, religions and so on. After all, as already stated: diversity is critical to our success.

Micaela: It may be worth going back to the concept of being a good ‘cultural fit’: what does that mean for us? By that, do we simply mean streamlined profiles and more of the same thing? Or can we also redefine it? The way I see it, we absolutely have to take it into consideration in the recruitment process, when we put teams together for customers or address strategic initiatives. By taking account of diversity at this early stage, we can already reap huge benefits.

Annina: Exactly. We constantly talk about values. We have to start here and work towards becoming a diverse company where all employees with all of their differences share a certain internal compass.

Barbara: This is where corporate culture comes in once again: the ideal culture is adaptable, meaning it can be actively shaped by old and new employees alike – regardless of their role and background.

Elena: One final point: for me, diversity is also about having different personalities within a company – we need both introverts and extroverts. Here, it’s very important that even our more reserved employees are listened to. This is a task for leadership.

Finally, a personal question. Each of you has made a career in your fields: what tips would you pass on to women in the business?

Annina: It’s important that we know what we stand for – and especially what we don’t stand for. That we each form our own path and don’t give into pressure from external expectations. I myself have been lucky enough to find a very positive environment that has constantly challenged and encouraged me, and made me feel seen. That’s another reason why I’ve always enjoyed my work, which, of course, helps with further development.

Elena: Exactly, the key question we have to ask ourselves is this: what makes me happy? What do I want in life and what do I want to contribute to this world? Having a focus is also key. Of course, it’s great to try out lots of different things, but at some point, we need to focus in. And last but not least, we need to be able to accept setbacks – they’re not the end. There are many different ways to achieve a goal. Internalising this fact helps to reduce the emotional burden.

Barbara: There are many different ways to achieve a goal: that’s a great saying! Especially when I think about all the – sometimes contradictory – advice I’ve received over the course of my career. That’s why you should always listen carefully, but also not be afraid to ignore advice if you need to.

Elena: A certain level of self-confidence is also needed. Being open to constructive feedback has really helped me. It also helps the other person.

Micaela: I’d also add that confronting yourself and your weaknesses is important and the right thing to do. However, I often see people being a bit too harsh in that respect, which is why I am a strong advocate of focusing on your own strengths first and being brave here, too. I would say my ability to reduce complexity is my greatest strength – it’s a quality that has been crucial during my career in the tech sector so far.

More about our commitment to diversity and inclusion