The past 10 months have shown companies that they can no longer put their culture ahead of local culture. This has meant developing a deeper understanding.
This need for cultural understanding has become even more pressing with talks of an inclusive culture and how to achieve it. The definition of diversity and inclusion heavily differs from country to country, but there is certainly one highly nuanced area that has been thus far overlooked, even by Germans.
The corporate Black footprint
Due to World War II, Germans no longer keep census and the fact that they don’t have an immediate colonial history as the UK does, the influx of Black people has not been monitored. In a country with over 80 million inhabitants and an estimated 3% of that population being Black, this is no small sum of people being overlooked.
Diversity in Germany revolves heavily around gender, but specifically white women. So while there are quotas for women on boards, the targets do not take intersectional feminism into the equation. As there is no census, there is, for the most part, the belief that that Black footprint is small or not least large enough within the corporate world to warrant attention.
Based on my experience of working and living in Germany for nine years, along with running a strategic management consultancy, three distinct groups need to be catered to within the corporate world in Germany, for companies to not only have their finger on the pulse but also to break down the diversity barriers that are very apparent here.
- Those who identify as Black and have one white parent (usually mothers) and a Black parent.
- Those who are Black and first generation.
- Black ex-pats
On the surface, these groups may seem the same, but the historical context is very different, meaning that each company within the German market has to a) ensure they are aware of which groups are represented and b) that each group has a spokesperson. Amplifying the voices of each group will not succeed if there is only one Black woman from a single group speaking on behalf of the many.
One of the largest defining factors would be the integration gradient. Moving from group one to group three, you would typically expect there to be less integration. A woman with one German parent will have more knowledge of the culture than a first-generation woman, whose identity spans two cultures. Equally, the first-generation may have more understanding versus ex-pats who, in many cases, have come voluntarily and may not have the language to support their integration.
How they approach promotions, how they are viewed in Germany, how they define belonging is very different. And most importantly, these groups acknowledge and know the differences. They are not interchangeable, even if there is still some commonality.
There are also differing gradients of privilege sitting within groups one to three, and it would probably be expected that groups one and two have the most privilege. It is often group three that has the most, especially when you are American or British. These accents buy a certain level of access, prestige and positive receptions, but it still doesn’t make them exempt from racism. Creating an environment to discuss these differences and address them within your company gives you a better chance of reaching a long-term outcome of diversity and inclusion.
The Black corporate footprint is barely acknowledged in Germany. Therein lies a huge opportunity to radically improve your company, culture and ultimately your success in a way that most German companies haven’t come close to recognising or engaging with.
The Afro-German movement and its move into mainstream consciousness resulted from George Floyd’s murder. While most companies have used the movement’s momentum to amplify their diversity efforts, they are not close to addressing the systemic issues that affect Black people, especially women within Germany. There is an almost resolute denial of having a colonial history and accepting that Black people have long been present in Germany.
Cultural backdrop informs so much of the acceptance and discrimination we see, and I wanted to capture the experiences of Black women across Europe.
This led me to create the Experience Chasm Survey. To identify the radically different experience Black women face in the workplace compared to white women and other women of colour, but also to show the nuance within the different groups of Black women, especially in Germany.
The outcome of this critical research will amplify the voice of Black women across Europe and will also do what has never been done before. Acknowledge that there is a spectrum of experience for Black women in Germany in the corporate world.
Data is great, but insights provide the tools to make a critical change, so take action now.
- Get to know your Black colleagues
- Find out about their experiences
- Create a strategic plan to address their issues with the culture.
If you don’t know how to approach your one Black colleague, click here.
Being a part of the solution should be the most important action point on your agenda, and here is the perfect starting point.
Leanne Mair is the Founder and Managing Director of Benefactum Consulting, a strategic management consultancy and think tank. Benefactum Consulting is currently leading the charge in Pan-European research around the Black female experience in the workplace to further deepen the fight for Gender Equality in the workplace. Leanne is also the author of a strategic guide, called Exploitative Femininity: The Secret Killer of Gender Equality in the Workplace.