7 January 2021

“The REWE Group reflects a varied and diverse world”

Reading time: 7 min.

To achieve success, you need people who think differently. In this interview, REWE Group CEO Lionel Souque discusses diversity in the business and explains why diversity management goes beyond promoting women and inclusion. He also tells us how it feels to be a French person in charge of German company that employs people from 150 different nations.

Mr Souque, the REWE Group is committed to the Diversity Charter, the industry’s voluntary code on diversity management. How important is diversity to you?

Lionel Souque: The REWE Group’s workforce comes from more than 150 countries. We have long been a community of cultures and religions, of different interests, opinions, inclinations and needs. In short, the REWE Group reflects a varied and diverse world. This diversity creates different perspectives and provides the vital impetus for new ideas and approaches. It is how we will develop and drive forward the ongoing success of our company. It would be impossible if our people were all the same, because – regardless of their position – every individual adds something to the mix. The result is different approaches which veer off the beaten path at times, opening up fresh new directions. So, in this respect, diversity has an important role to play in the REWE Group’s growth.

What are the tangible benefits for the REWE Group of fostering diversity within the workforce?

Lionel Souque: We know that diverse teams often produce better outcomes and solutions – countless studies have shown this to be the case. Beyond that, we need to be seen as an attractive employer in the future because our success depends on the people in our business. Attracting new employees is hugely challenging and we will only meet that challenge by implementing the Diversity Charter consistently. This means offering a workplace free of discrimination and giving equal opportunities to all employees, regardless of gender, age, religion, sexuality, background or disability. If we doggedly pursue and promote our ambition of a diverse employee structure, we will not only attract new talent but will also create a work environment in which the vast majority of people feel comfortable.

Diversity management is often limited to individual issues such as the promotion of women or inclusion. How does it look at the REWE Group?

Lionel Souque: Here at the REWE Group, diversity management is much more than aspiring to promote more women into management positions or give equal opportunities to people with a disability – although we are of course committed to both. Instead, we want to encourage people to be themselves and not to be afraid of applying for their ideal job with us. First and foremost, this means that we, as managers, need to indicate the openness we want to see and lead by example. Managers and supervisors have a unique responsibility here.

Diversity management is not simply an issue for individual departments. Instead, it must be part and parcel of the corporate culture.

Lionel Souque, Chief Executive Officer
Lionel Souque  (Chief Executive Officer)
Lionel Souque, Chief Executive Officer

Is diversity management primarily an HR matter or is it a corporate culture issue?

Lionel Souque: It is both. Diversity management is not simply an issue for individual departments. Instead, it must be part and parcel of the corporate culture. We need to foster an organisational culture characterised by mutual respect, one that values each and every individual. We have to create the conditions that enable supervisors and employees alike to recognise, share and live these values. In simple terms, we have to make the implementation of diversity management part of our internal and external dialogue.

What do employees think about the issue?

Lionel Souque: To date, I have had nothing but positive feedback from colleagues. There are enough real-life examples of diversity management issues in practice, as well as those initiated and pursued by employees themselves. I’m thinking here of, the REWE Group’s LGBT network. The network is growing all the time and has come to symbolise tolerance and diversity across the REWE Group, with a range of initiatives throughout the year. These include flying the rainbow flag over our head offices throughout Germany to mark the German Day of Diversity, taking part in Christopher Street Day parades and supporting the Come Together Cup. Like anywhere in life, there is no doubt that you sometimes encounter people at work who are less tolerant. However, this should always be used as an opportunity to stand up to those individuals.

What are the diversity measures already in place at the REWE Group? Where do you see room for further action?

Lionel Souque: Our corporate-wide initiatives include our LGBT network, development programmes for female talent and appropriate sponsorships and collaborations to enable us to promote diversity and show our support beyond the business too. Individual REWE Group companies have their own range of distinctive initiatives in place, such as seminars, mentoring programmes and networks for specific target groups.
And beyond that, each and every individual is called upon to play their part when it comes to tolerance and respect. Thanks to its sales lines, the REWE Group is known throughout Germany and many other European countries. Time and again, we are asked in a private capacity whether individuals who don’t see themselves as ‘conventional’ applicants, perhaps because they have a different passport, a disability or a different sexual orientation, should apply to work for us. We are working hard to review our HR processes to ensure that we can answer this question with a definitive ‘yes!’. We need to ensure that our processes recognise the diverse skills and talents of all employees and meet our expectations. German managers still dominate German business (the exception proves the rule…).

How important is it for the REWE Group’s recruitment to be international in scope?

Lionel Souque: I have always felt comfortable at the REWE Group as a French person, and everyone who works here should feel the same. By signing up to the Charter, European recruitment is one of the aspects our management has committed to. Around 20,000 of our employees in Germany and Austria hold a foreign passport. To compensate for a shortage of younger workers at home, the REWE Group in Germany hires young people from abroad and trains them up to work in a variety of positions. Our goal is to advertise directly in other European countries for prospective trainees and leadership-level employees. The REWE Group also aims to provide our new employees with long-term career prospects. And diversity management has an important role to play in this.