16 May 2022

Network diversity at the REWE Group: “Diverse is more than varied”

Petra Meyer-Ochel promotes diversity at the REWE Group via a specially created network. In this interview, she explains why true diversity goes beyond mixed teams and how you can learn how to promote diversity.
Reading time: 6 min.

Diversity makes teams more successful. Diversity is part of the REWE Group culture. And diversity can be learned. In this interview, Petra Meyer-Ochel explains how people with different skills and personalities can work together successfully. She manages the Diversity Network, the diverse team that is responsible for bringing together and driving numerous diversity measures across the REWE Group.

Ms Meyer-Ochel, you are part of REWE Group’s Diversity Network, which was founded about a year ago. Each of the nine members is responsible for diversity-related focus areas within the company and their knowledge is combined within the network. Why did the REWE Group decide on this rather unique model and not simply appoint a diversity manager?

Petra Meyer-Ochel: We deliberately decided against traditional diversity management because we want diversity to be embraced by the entire company. Our Diversity Network includes representatives from the various HR departments and key areas. PENNY and REWE, the Works Council, and our LGBTIQ network are all represented.

We have ‘ambassadors’ for the areas of inclusion, multi-generational workforce, work-life balance, and the advancement of women. The network thus includes people from across the organization who deal with diversity-related issues on a daily basis. The aim is to achieve a snowball effect by passing on our ideas and raising awareness of the subject.

Portrait of Dr. Petra Meyer-Ochel.
Dr. Petra Meyer-Ochel

is Head of CoE HR Development for Retail Germany at the REWE Group and manages the Diversity Network.

How exactly does the network work?

Petra Meyer-Ochel: Everyone assumes responsibility for their specific focus area, be it gender equality or inclusion. We meet three to four times a year and together consider which overarching topics we want to address. We are a working group that brings together and communicates the existing diversity measures throughout the company.

What is the Diversity Network currently doing?

Petra Meyer-Ochel: Our first goal was to shed light on all the diversity initiatives that already exist throughout the company. We are also involved in the discussion of gender-sensitive language, the outcome of which is currently being finalised. We have just finished an employee e-learning course on unconscious bias and prejudices.

In close cooperation with Corporate Communications, we are trying to raise awareness of these issues among managers and employees.

Why is it important to promote diversity within the company? And is a varied team the same as a diverse team?

Petra Meyer-Ochel: Studies have shown that diverse teams achieve better work results. For success, however, it is not simply about putting together a varied team. Woman, man, one younger person, one older person. That’s not enough.

What you need is diversity of professional and personal skills. For one thing, the input of people with different areas of expertise is hugely valuable. For example, if I develop an IT application, not only do I bring developers into the team, but also the users. If you develop in a technical silo, problems would probably only come to light when the finished product was already in use.

What’s more, teams are more successful if they include different personal experiences and competencies because they bring diverse perspectives, qualifications, and social experiences to the table. One may be skilled at conflict management, another may bring international experience, the third may have a creative mindset. This naturally permits a different way of working together than with team members from the same background.

For success, it is not enough to simply put work teams together in a colourful way. One woman, one man, one young, one old…that’s not enough.

Dr. Petra Meyer-Ochel
Portrait of Dr. Petra Meyer-Ochel.
Dr. Petra Meyer-Ochel

Isn’t such a broad mix of personalities a breeding ground for conflict?

Petra Meyer-Ochel: Conflicts can arise, yes. But the basis of a consciously diverse team is that everyone is willing to listen, empathise, and take account of the perspectives of others in order to find a solution. Diversity relies on people working together.

How do you put together a successful diverse team?

Petra Meyer-Ochel: This is a management task and is not always easy. The challenge for managers is to consciously select employees with a diverse mix of personal and professional traits.

Is it enough for managers to keep their eyes open? Or is there a need for mandatory training, quotas, etc.?

Petra Meyer-Ochel: The support of senior management is absolutely vital. Promoting diversity and being a diverse company is only possible if respectful and open communication is ingrained in the corporate culture. Only if these values are lived authentically will the employees also perceive this. Targeted initiatives certainly help.

Changing a culture is a long-term commitment. How do things currently stand?

Petra Meyer-Ochel: I firmly believe that the REWE Group is already on the right track. Because respect, fairness, and openness are already firmly embedded in the company values. Our LGBTIQ network has been in existence since 2013, and measures to promote women have been in place for several years and are becoming increasingly important. In stores and logistics, in particular, we have integrated colleagues from more than 150 nations for many years. We have a dialogue-driven culture; we involve employees in the problem-solving process. And that’s the kind of culture that fosters diversity.

We are on the right track with REWE Group’s corporate culture. Values such as respect, fairness and openness are already firmly anchored in our mission statement.

Dr. Petra Meyer-Ochel
Portrait of Dr. Petra Meyer-Ochel.
Dr. Petra Meyer-Ochel

Starting with ourselves, how can we learn to embrace diversity and take full advantage of its benefits?

Petra Meyer-Ochel: First of all, by listening, by asking questions, and by seeing things from other perspectives. Everyone has prejudices and it’s important to be aware of these. The important thing is to get feedback and reflect on yourself. We offer these subjects in many training courses for different target groups. We conduct intercultural training, for example, for the many diverse teams in logistics. In addition, there is our voluntary, ten-minute e-learning course on unconscious bias and prejudices. And last but not least, we learn how to embrace diversity by engaging with it first hand.