Researcher of the Month
The activities of HR departments are growing in scope and importance as enterprises are becoming more and more aware of their ecological and social responsibility. Companies document the sustainability-oriented activities carried out by their HR departments in their sustainability reports. A recent study by WU Professor Michael Müller-Camen shows that even though these reports are based on global standards, there are considerable differences in how companies around the world define their priorities in sustainable HR management. These international differences are particularly striking when it comes to measures for supporting women.
Today, diversity management is regarded as one of the key strategies for the success of business enterprises: Diversity is enriching, it stimulates innovation, and it helps to ensure that many different interests are equally represented. This development is creating new responsibilities and challenges for HR departments. These responsibilities and challenges are part of the sustainable HR management approaches increasingly adopted by companies, subject to their own specific corporate diversity strategies. The sustainable diversity management activities carried out by HR departments are documented in the sustainability reports issued by the respective companies. International norms like the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) standards have been developed to enhance the comparability of companies’ sustainable HR initiatives and data. As part of a joint project with researchers from the WU Institute for Gender and Diversity in Organizations, Michael Müller-Camen, head of WU’s Institute for Human Resource Management, has investigated the differences and similarities between sustainability reports issued by companies in the US, Germany, China, and Japan, focusing especially on the field of HR management. For better comparability, the analysis was based on the sustainability reports issued by the biggest banks from these countries, according to the Forbes Global 2000 ranking. The results clearly show that despite the existence of global standards, considerable differences can be observed from country to country in the field of sustainable HR management.
Diverse approaches to diversity management
The diversity strategies of US banks were found to be particularly detailed and nuanced. “Diversity management was developed in the US, so it’s little wonder that the implementation of these approaches is especially advanced there. It’s very interesting to take a closer look at the individual dimensions, however: In addition to gender, ethnicity, skin color, and sexual orientation, also factors like veteran status are taken into account,” Michael Müller-Camen points out. By including these factors, US banks emphasize their patriotism. Banks from Germany and Japan take a less comprehensive approach to diversity management and focus primarily on increasing the number of women in management and, due to demographic developments, age diversity in the workforce. The dimension “sexual orientation” is only included in reports from Germany and the US. “Japanese and Chinese banks do not mention this category in their sustainability reports. This may be evidence that sexual orientation is regarded as a taboo in these countries. Chinese reports also avoid the concept of ‘diversity’,” Professor Müller-Camen explains. “In general, these differences in the approaches taken can be attributed to historical factors, different legal frameworks, and also different population structures.”
Different ways of supporting women
The goal of strengthening the position of women is a priority in the sustainability reports of all banks in all countries covered in the study. However, the measures taken to achieve this goal vary greatly between the different countries. In the US, Germany, and Japan, the focus is on education, networking, and coaching services for supporting women’s careers, but companies in China are taking a completely different approach: The sustainability reports issued by the Chinese banks include measures targeted at female employees that do not focus on career development at all. Instead, they include gender-stereotyped activities such as fashion shows or cookery courses for women only. “At first glance, many topics, for instance measures in support of women, appear to be the same in all the different reports, but our research has brought to light significant international, cultural differences,” says Professor Müller-Camen. “Our results clearly show where improvements are needed on the way towards a type of strategic diversity management that is inclusive and comprehensive and takes into account the most important dimensions that are recognized as essential in the current discourse on diversity, for instance age, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.”