German sporting goods company Puma SE signed a diversity charter in 2010 and surveyed its employees on diversity and inclusion last year. During a recent lecture in Berlin, HR head Dietmar Knoess explained how the company tries to live diversity.
Diversity and inclusion is not about ticking off a box but about equality, said Knoess right at the beginning of his talk at the retail congress in November. “If you do it, do it from the heart,” he advised. “If you do it, please do it with high credibility - because you want to. Otherwise it always comes across as quite contrived.”
Knoess shows that Puma’s commitment to diversity goes back a long way and begins his presentation with a piece of corporate history: the Dassler brothers and founding fathers of Puma equipped US athlete Jesse Owens with shoes as early as the 1936 Olympic Games in Munich.
Diversity in numbers
As a sporting goods manufacturer, it is no longer enough to demonstrate diversity efforts with sponsored athletes and advertising campaigns. Employees and customers are increasingly demanding that workforce and work culture reflect the promise of diversity and inclusion as well.
Puma currently has 18,000 employees worldwide; a tenth of them work in Germany. Overall, the number of women comes to 50.6 percent, 30 percent of those in management positions. About two-thirds of the world is represented in the 158 nationalities that work at Puma; 73 nationalities alone work at the head office in Herzogenaurach, Germany.
“It's not about nationalities per se,” said Knoess. “It's about an attitude, whether you are willing to work in an international work environment and whether you are open to diversity.”
A diverse workforce also has a positive effect on the bottom line of a group like Puma that wants to serve international markets: turnover has risen in recent years, as did the number of nationalities represented in Herzogenaurach and the proportion of women in management positions, which Knoess substantiated through graphics in his presentation.
The correlation between a diverse leadership team and financial best performance has already been suggested by various studies. For example, research by consulting firm McKinsey showed that companies that scored well on both profitability and diversity also employed more women in senior roles on their leadership teams. Similarly, profitability positively correlates with ethnic diversity.
Women in leadership positions
Studies have also suggested a correlation between a diverse leadership team and financial best performances. In job postings, it has been proven that language plays a major role when addressing men or women. This holds true also for imagery. In certain professions where certain groups are underrepresented, Puma also consciously exerts influence. The company does not use the suffix (m/f/d) in the titles of job advertisements, but instead relies on a statement that all are welcome.
With chief sourcing officer Anne-Laure Descours, Puma has had a woman on the board since 2019. But the group still needs to do more at lower management levels as 80 percent of Puma's managers are recruited internally.
But Knoess is confident because the basis is already equal, i.e. there are just as many female employees as there are male ones. The level of department heads also looks promising with a share of 42 percent, and from here, women can move up.
Employees should be themselves
Puma defined a strategic approach years ago according to which the Group believes that diversity fosters creativity and that global recruitment provides access to valuable skills.
“We believe that our employees are happy in diversity,” said Knoess. It is also important to write down your strategy, as Puma did in its Code of Ethics 2008, stated the HR manager. Then the topic must also be presented at events to further drive the process of change.
For Puma, hiring with diversity in mind means that employees are recruited internationally, but that they should also feel comfortable at their respective locations.
It starts with recruiters understanding the visa process and continues with language. English is the official company language; speaking German is not so important. Even among store managers, the company makes sure that employees speak English, because the area managers don't necessarily have to know German.
Last but not least, employees should also feel good about the food they eat: The canteen at the head office employs eight to nine different nationalities and takes care to cater for different holidays - for example, by offering halal meat on Eid.
In addition, Puma encourages employees to be authentic and speak their mind. “It is important for us that the private person also comes to work. That's the only way to feel comfortable in your work environment,” believes Knoess.
Lastly, Knoess pointed out that the topic can be uncomfortable for the human resources team and that one is actually never done when it comes to diversity and inclusion because it is about nothing less than providing equal opportunities all the time.
“Diversity is a discussion that will never end, but at some point, you have to start the conversation.”
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.