Leadership, Diversity and Leid(t)kultur – a German Backlash to Multiculturalism or Prospects for Political Innovations?

This summer’s World Cup with a German Sommermärchen of a special kind (http://soraya-kandan.com/2010/07/05/the-german-sommermaerchen-changes-our-country-international-soccer-some-lessons-for-managers-politicians/) seems long ago. Since then, we have had intensive debates on migration and integration issues in Germany. The increased attention in the media was partly due to the surprising growth after the economic crisis and Germany’s rising need for more international workforce to support this growth.

It is also owed to the much contested book publication by the former board member of the Deutsche Bundesbank, Thilo Sarrazin, last August. Public statements and everyday conversations have since increasingly lost sensitivity and even been openly xenophobic. German Media have difficulties reflecting upon their own contributions to an exclusive language use. They use e.g. expressions like “Germans and Muslims” or terms like “Kopftuchmädchen” (“headscarf girls”) without quotation marks.

The various debates prompted by Sarrazin’s publication are a topic in Jürgen Habermas’ article on “Leadership and Leitkultur” in the New York Times this October (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/opinion/29Habermas.html?_r=2).
Habermas pursues the development of the debate since the summer and concludes the term “Leitkultur” to be a definite misconception:

We had, and apparently still have, to overcome the view that immigrants are supposed to assimilate the “values” of the majority culture and to adopt its “customs.” That we are experiencing a relapse into this ethnic understanding of our liberal constitution is bad enough. It doesn’t make things any better that today leitkultur is defined not by “German culture” but by religion. With an arrogant appropriation of Judaism — and an incredible disregard for the fate the Jews suffered in Germany — the apologists of the leitkultur now appeal to the “Judeo-Christian tradition,” which distinguishes “us” from the foreigners.

These are at first seemingly contradictory movements: a new multicultural consciousness and pride of the German national soccer league with its many management analogies to successful team development across all kinds of publications on the one side, and a rising xenophobia, particularly islamophobia, on the other side. In my view, the latter may well be a backlash to the former.
Frank Mattern, German CEO of McKinsey, states in today‘s Handelsblatt: „Beim Thema Diversity hat die deutsche Wirtschaft in den Führungsetagen einen geradezu tragischen Nachholbedarf …” -„Regarding diversity, the German economy has an almost tragical backlog in its leadership …”.

Diversity is indeed quite a challenge for German business leaders. Yet, whereas German political parties and the public debate resurrect the sufferable concept of a Leitkultur, regurgitating much of the debate of the early nineties, German corporations have at least started to realize the relevance of a cultural diversity and an inclusive organizational climate for the international and long-term attractiveness as employer, brand and for the success of business development in a global context, see e.g.: (http://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/bst/de/media/xcms_bst_dms_22186__2.pdf).

Thomas Sattelberger, Chief Human Resources Officer of Deutsche Telekom AG, has been a trailblazer for diversity issues with the introduction of a women’s quota (http://soraya-kandan.com/2010/04/08/women%e2%80%99s-quota-paving-a-path-to-power/ and http://www.handelsblatt.com/unternehmen/koepfe/reformer-des-jahres-thomas-sattelberger-vorkaempfer-einer-kulturrevolution;2718307). Whereas women are a top focus in current German business debates about diversity, we must not forget, diversity issues are multicultural issues.

Many German corporations make some efforts towards changing their organizational culture to make it more inclusive for all employees. Diversity is increasingly recognized to be more than a defensive reaction to the Guidelines of the European Commission and the respective anti-discrimination laws (AGG). It is increasingly seen as a strategic business dimension.

Given these global economic and social realities, politicians increasingly seem detached from society. Although distancing herself from Sarrazin’s publication, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, stated that German multiculturalism had failed (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/17/angela-merkel-german-multiculturalism-failed).

This is a strange statement from a diversity, respectively multicultural, point of view. For, the wider understanding of multiculturalism entails all kinds of minorities, including not only ethnicity, race, or religion, but also other dimensions like e.g. gender, age, sexual orientation, or social class. For Merkel herself and the current government incorporates diversity like no other German Cabinet ever before: she, herself of East German origin being the first female German chancellor; Ursula von der Leyen, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, is a mother of seven; Guido Westerwelle is Germany’s first homosexual Foreign Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, Minister of Finance, moves with the aid of a wheelchair, and finally, Phillip Rösler, Minister of Health, has an Asian background. And, last, but not least, President Wulff had, as the premier of Lower Saxony, been the first to appoint a German woman of Turkish origin as a member of his cabinet.

Jürgen Habermas concludes his NYT article by calling upon the political class:

What is needed in Europe is a revitalized political class that overcomes its own defeatism with a bit more perspective, resoluteness and cooperative spirit. Democracy depends on the belief of the people that there is some scope left for collectively shaping a challenging future.

There is indeed much potential for political innovation in the German society. I am curious to see how much of it we can unearth in 2011. My wish for the New Year: German business leaders making their contribution to the integration debates by innovating their own leadership to be more inclusive.

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