Using All Potential: Diversity Day at the Führungsakademie in Hamburg

Author: Jürgen Bredtmann ; Photos: Michael Gundelach/Laura Clayborn

Hamburg, 31 May 2017

Music band "Cause of Action"

Dr. Maren Tomforde organized the project

Confident of the strengths and talents of "his" men and women: Rear Admiral (Upper Half) Carsten Stawitzki

Photographer Katharina Junge developed the concept for the exhibition and photos

Active involvement of the audience in the improv play

Dr. Petra Köppel "open our minds to unfamiliar things"

Questionnaires for self-evaluation

The photos will be shown as a touring exhibition at other places, too.

Even the music was full of diversity. Playing unplugged with two guitars, one keyboard, one cajón and three vocalists, the band “Cause of Action” took the audience through a colorful Diversity Day at the BwCSC in Hamburg.  The Bundeswehr has supported the Diversity Charter since 2012, and this time a photo exhibition was the central event.

"Through this photo exhibition we want to show the diversity of the personnel serving in Hamburg’s Bundeswehr agencies," said BwCSC's photographer Katharina Junge, explaining the concept behind the project "Diversity in Uniform". 70 military or civilian staff members from Hamburg's Bundeswehr agencies volunteered as models for this exhibition. They were portrayed in their uniforms or workwear and in their casual or hobby outfit with a third photo showing an object each person considers to be important in his or her life.

Full Body Portraits with Texts

The photos are complemented by interviews concerning the person's private and professional identity— with quotations from these interviews supplementing the fascinating full body portraits. Who is actually the person behind this uniform or workwear? "In our busy daily working routine, we often perceive people in their official functions only. The individuals behind these functions and all their interests, abilities and all their potential often remain hidden," said Dr. Maren Tomforde, who works as a lecturer at the BwCSC and had taken the lead responsibility in organizing the Bundeswehr's Diversity Day in Hamburg.

A Framework to Promote Talents

The Commandant of the BwCSC, Rear Admiral (Upper Half) Carsten Stawitzki, had previously opened the central event of the day in the Gneisenau Hall of the Manfred Wörner Center at the Clausewitz Barracks. "If you look at my family name, you may recognize that my ancestors came from East Prussia. This is a fact that caused me quite some trouble when I was looking for an apartment in 1992," said the Commandant with a view to his manifold experience with prejudices. "Forming efficient teams that are able to solve tasks jointly and that sometimes need to be more homogenous and sometimes more heterogeneous—this is our leadership task, be it at the operating table, in a small combat group or during a meeting," the admiral continued. The working atmosphere was the essential aspect that decided whether a person stayed at a workplace or quit the job.

Subconscious Stereotyped Thinking

The BwCSC organized the fifth national Diversity Day in Hamburg in close cooperation with the city's other Bundeswehr agencies. From 9.30 a.m., about 250 representatives from the Bundeswehr hospital, the Helmut Schmidt University, the Land Command and the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College gathered at the Clausewitz Barack for a meeting. "With a view to the seven dimensions of diversity—ethnic background, nationality, sexual orientation, individual abilities, religion and world view, age, gender and social background—the diversity at these agencies is quite impressive. It brings many challenges but also numerous opportunities because we human beings are able to reflect over matters," the admiral said.  

A Day Full of Inspirations

Keynote speaker Dr. Petra Köppel from consulting firm Synergy Consult pointed out how valuable diversity is for the Bundeswehr. "Diversity is not always visible. The first impression often causes us to make judgements about the whole person," she warned. Experience, values and attitudes are something you don't see at first sight. "Diversity can only bring to bear its advantages and contribute to more job satisfaction and better task management if there is mutual respect."

Diversity is a Management Task

"Diversity is a management task and it starts at the top," the consultant said. She explained that in our complex world, it is absolutely necessary to have categories - but that these might distort things or lead us to be guided by patterns. It is therefore important to differentiate between describing and judging a person and therefore to question one's first impression and allow for criticism. "Aspects such as questioning oneself, changing one's patterns of thinking and leaving one's comfort zone are a prerequisite for dealing with uncertainty, for allowing for unfamiliar things and for being curious and able to change oneself," Dr. Köppel emphasized. It's all about using potential—the potential of all personnel.

Colorful Diversity

In the afternoon, three workshops were conducted focusing on diversity management on an equal-opportunity basis as a leadership task, on diversity practice in the Bundeswehr and on related experiences and challenges with regard to the compatibility of family and service. Parallel to the workshops, the Kaleidoskop theater group from Hamburg Altona performed the improv play "Diversity" with active audience involvement. The actors asked the audience questions on diversity in general and then acted out the answers. The result was a lot of laughter from the audience: "We recognized ourselves pretty well in the play."

Presentation of Diversity Initiatives

Good communication, clear requirements and the confidence to be allowed to open up oneself are essential prerequisites for the success of initiatives such as diversity-related panels and bodies, the diversity symposium, questionnaires for personnel, the academic postgraduate master program "Leading Diversity", the dialog of cultures or the one-week seminar on diversity and the 2018 Diversity Day.

Conclusion

At the end, the commandant summarized this most informative day very positively: "What impressed me most was the good atmosphere that prevailed during the entire day. The keynote speech held by Dr. Petra Köppel, the surprise performance of the BwCSC band, the workshops that provided so many valuable ideas and impulses and of course the photo exhibition. It was this mixture of events that made the whole day fabulous."