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Diversity: “Managers have to take responsibility”

(Vienna, 28 Jan. 2011) “More opportunities through diversity” - this was the theme for which the Vice Rector of HR Development and the Promotion of Women’s issues at the Medical University of Vienna, Karin Gutiérrez-Lobos, invited people to MedUni Vienna. During a conference yesterday experts from universities and consultants gave an insight into their experiences implementing diversity management in organisations and universities.

While in recent years, according to Vice Rector Gutiérrez-Lobos, some measures have already been implemented to promote women’s issues and gender mainstreaming, in a next step the existing diversity needs to be recognised at universities and integrated as part of strategic diversity management. Differences should be lived and experienced as something which enriches our lives and diversity should be considered an “opportunity to be open, a mentality” according to Ingrid Kösten (from womansuccess). The three pillars acceptance, appreciation and respect are decisive here. This is underlined by Michael Sicher (from busypeoplecoach): “If people are open they can achieve a lot!” He describes himself as a worker registered as severely disabled with better employment protection and looks to “the other side”.

Seizing diversity as an opportunity at universities
Diversity management comprises, among other things, strategies for the inclusion and participation of all employees and for seeing diversity as potential. It is not only about accepting difference, it is also about seeing and using it as something which enriches our lives. “To be curious” is, for Kösten, one of the most essential basic requirements for bringing about changes. In addition, when establishing diversity management, an intersectional approach is necessary because, according to Gabriele Bargehr (from Im Kontext), mono-cultural organisations represent obstacles for diversity. She also stresses the importance of commitment by the heads of the universities/organisations. Heike Mensi-Klarbach (Vienna University of Economics and Business) is increasingly committed to out-of-the-box thinking because this promotes creativity and lets people look beyond the obvious to see the existing diversity. Christine Binder-Fritz (Medical University of Vienna) addresses aspects of diversity in the healthcare sector. She explains how important it is to take transcultural differences and the significance of non-verbal communication into consideration in doctor-patient communication.

In the concluding panel discussion the topics included the influence of politics and society on the implementation of diversity management. Gutiérrez-Lobos clearly emphasises that “a legislative corset can be a boost but this also has to be filled seriously with contents.” Managers also have to fulfil their leadership role and take responsibility!

There is agreement that it is a key task of universities, university directors and HR development to raise awareness of the fact that difference enriches our lives. Karin Gutiérrez-Lobos emphasises that she sees her role as a responsibility and opportunity to set new trends! But implementing diversity management on a lasting basis represents a major challenge, and patience is needed to consider diversity as a lasting opportunity at universities and to systematically support and promote the prevailing diversity. “Here we need the active participation of everyone involved, creativity and appreciation of so-called peripheral issues,” explains Vice Rector Gutiérrez-Lobos.