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I hear applause and feel how my hands are getting clammy. I am standing in front of over 100 people that look up curiously to the stage. That is at least what I guess they do. I can’t see them. Because I am almost blind.
This was during Daimler Financial Service’s 1st European Diversity Dialogue where I participated in a panel discussion together with Ursula Schwarzenbart, Head of Diversity Management at Daimler AG, and Franz Reiner, Head of DFS Europe. It was the first time that Daimler’s financial sector was organizing such an event for the Europe region to stress the importance of diversity. I am working for Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Netherlands and responsible for debit administration. When I got the invitation to join this dialogue I felt very honored as participants had to officially apply to get one of the few “tickets”.
Obviously, when I think about diversity especially within companies, the dimension that strikes me most is the one concerning handicapped people. So I was happy to be a representative for this very small group of employees at the dialogue in Brussels. However, on the first day of the conference we heard some really inspirational speeches that focused on various dimensions. For example, Corien Wortmann, Vice-Chair of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, focused on gender diversity in companies. Marc Deeschemaecker, formerly Chief Executive Officer at the Belgian National Railways SNCB, highlighted the integration of different cultures in companies as well as in society and Berit Jacobs of the European Market Development department established a connection between diversity and innovation.
What I concluded from all these speeches was: There are so many situations where you need courage. You need it as a woman to become more visible when building your career. You need it in managing functions when deciding on the right job candidate and it also costs quite an effort to propose a self-developed idea that might seem a bit crazy at the first glance.
Showing courage is something I have to do a lot. When I had my first interview with Daimler Financial Services, I did not tell my future boss that I was blind. And he did not take notice because I really trained myself to move as natural as possible by strongly concentrating on all my other senses. When I got invited a second time, I gathered all my courage and told the truth. It worked out: I got the job. This shows to me that you can achieve your goals if you work hard enough – even if they are ambitious. I follow this philosophy also when it comes to growing and further developing my career. Actually, courage is what I need nearly every day, especially when I go to work on my bike. It sounds unimaginable and doing things like that are “normally” not possible but I keep on training myself. In those situations I always think: Just do it!
Just do it – this is not only the slogan of a famous sports equipment supplier but also one that I think we should remember after the Diversity Dialogue. And this might be the point when I should put the question: What is the main takeaway of the whole Diversity Dialogue? Well, I think that the outcome depends on each individual person. For me, it is definitely the experience that many people can move a lot. And differences – no matter if in thinking, behavior or appearance – make a group even stronger. Although I couldn’t see what all my colleagues looked like I suppose nobody looked the same (J). But what I picked up in the various discussions was that all European cultures together – and at the dialogue there were over 100 people from 23 countries – have an enormous potential in being creative and developing new ideas. For me it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about gender, cultural backgrounds, age or physical constitution. Most important is: Diversity is essential for being sustainably successful in the business world. At DFS that is existent. And the best thing is: All participants were “full of beans” and motivated to take the Europe region to the next level. So what we need to do now is review all ideas and impulses that came up and turn them into action. Because what we all should remember now: whatever you do – just do it!
PS: You might wonder how I am able to write this text. I have to work hard to be able to see but I have got very high-tech glasses that enable me to read and write at my computer. I think I don’t have to say that they are the most important tool helping me to do my daily job.