12. May 2022 | Magazine:

Equal opportunities and diversity Our President’s spotlights

I was recently given the opportunity to give a talk on the subject of equal opportunities in the world of work. Indeed, it is one of the main topics preoccupying our society at present. As the President of a technical university, and for me personally, this issue is of particular relevance, especially in view of the fact that it represents an essential facet of our strategy to achieve holistic excellence throughout the whole of TU Braunschweig. For this reason, I’ve decided to take up this complex and faceted topic as subject of this Spotlight.

What do we actually mean when we talk about equal opportunities in the world of work?

Professor Angela Ittel, President of TU Braunschweig. Picture credits: Kristina Rottig/TU Braunschweig

Various labels tend to be used when the subject is equal opportunities: equality, social diversity, gender and diversity management, equal rights and so on. The concept of equal opportunities can be defined as that of circumstances in which every individual has access to the same options in life, irrespective of their origin, social class or the group they are assigned to – for example in the way we differentiate between ‘men’ and ‘women’, ‘young people’ and ‘old people’, ‘immigrants’ and ‘natives’. The term diversity, on the other hand, describes the multiplicity of different persons or person groups and is often seen as something that promotes creativity, different ways of looking at things, productivity at work and better organization.

Why are equal opportunities and diversity relevant to and desirable in the world of work?

Firstly, let me point out that in Germany and the EU, there are quite simply laws that have been put in place to ensure equal opportunities for all. In addition to this legal basis, there is also the subjective aspect of fairness and – this should not be underestimated – the economic perspective. The lack of suitably qualified personnel is a persistent problem that also impacts on TU Braunschweig. Moreover, the benefits provided by actually practiced diversity and equal opportunities for both employees and employers are considerable, because a diverse team consists of disparate individuals with their own distinctive skills, outlooks and backgrounds. Studies have identified an increase in creativity and the innovative capacity of businesses and organizations that consider equal opportunities to be part of their corporate culture and implement it, while results are also better, there is greater satisfaction at work and a more positive and healthy working climate.

What can we actively do to foster equal opportunities and diversity?

Generally speaking: To consciously deal with the issue of equal opportunity and diversity. To try to pinpoint any traditional structures and hierarchies that might be hampering progress towards a world of equal opportunities. Customs and traditions should be honored and, where appropriate, also continued. But we do need to monitor these and determine how well they harmonize with future developments and new insights. It is only in this way that it is possible to detect and change the more subtle, less obvious discriminatory structures.

In the case of TU Braunschweig, since I came into office, enhancing and furthering diversity have been crucial systematic elements of our policy when it comes to all facets of our university – our research, teaching, administration and governance, transfer. By taking on the issues of equal opportunities and diversity as part of our development strategy we acted out of conviction; we also believe it to be our responsibility to provide the necessary support and through this intend to assume a more prominent role model in this respect for other employers based locally and those beyond regional borders.

Institutions and businesses must adapt their human resource policies so that recruitment procedures are impartial and processes are structured in such a way as to be transparent. Our recruitment concept at TU Braunschweig will not of course be targeted at only appointing women in future. As others, we naturally want the best, the most creative individuals who can help us to together master the global challenges we are facing. My actual objective with regard to TU Braunschweig is to ensure that we really reflect on who it is most advantageous for us to recruit and always ensure selection fairness.

In the world of work, access to positions and resources is often facilitated by networks. Anyone not affiliated with a suitable network is disadvantaged in terms of finding work or obtaining resources. Those in this kind of ‘contact community’ can interact with others and even profit personally and professionally from this. It is often the case that valuable, reliable professional relationships emerge from this that stand the test of time. Hence, this aspect of networks is important to me in connection with the subjects of equal opportunities and diversity here at TU Braunschweig. I already considered this topic in my Spotlight of November 2021.

Diversity and equal opportunities are concepts that are (or should be) anchored in the day to day routine of a university. They help establish variation with regard to research, teaching, study and administration. These are concepts to which we as the University of Brunswick, to which all universities must continually relate in order to facilitate holistic excellence. This year, we will also highlight the importance of diversity and anti-discrimination issues through events. It is important to me to engage in conversation with members of our university and to discuss together what we can do to promote social diversity.

It is particularly important to me that we underpin the process of change toward an open and equal opportunity working environment with valid data and provide scientific support. This provides the necessary transparency and the foundation for information-based, academically-substantiated reflection and debate. It is only in this way that we will be able to begin with the long-term remodeling of entrenched structures and processes in our working world. At the same time, we at TU Braunschweig intend to make major efforts to ensure that greater awareness of and responsiveness to this topic are created within our own structures, in our locality and even far outside this.

Let us together exploit the opportunities we have to daily strive towards the transition to an open society and working world – colorful, sustainable and multigenerational – using the means that we as an academic and educational institution have at our disposal. All of us can contribute towards this. Every day. Let us together pave the way to a bright new future.