There are still far more men than women working in the construction industry. Xella has decided to change this for many good reasons. On the one hand, it is important for the success of our company to remain an interesting and attractive employer for the best employees. On the other hand, cultural diversity, different skills, experience, age groups and a balanced gender ratio provide the wealth of perspectives needed in the competitive construction industry. This is confirmed, for example, by a study conducted by management consultancy McKinsey: companies that place a strong focus on Diversity & Inclusion are more successful. Xella wants to increase the proportion of women throughout the company and in management positions. By 2025, 25 percent of these positions are to be held by women.
But how can the proportion of women be increased in the long term? "We are taking a multi-pronged approach," says Dr. Christiane Schlüter, Head People and Organizational Development at Xella Group. One important component is a special program to make the skills of existing female managers more visible and to ensure that they are considered in future promotions or appointments.
Visibility to fill top positions
To identify most fitting female colleagues, managers at all Xella locations were asked: which female managers in middle management do you see as having the potential to take on a leadership role in the future? 13 women with high potential were identified in this way. They are interesting and competent women with very different backgrounds. Some are already in very responsible positions; others have been with the company for a long time or are about to take the next step. "I was really surprised when I heard about this opportunity. I am happy to be able to bring in my long experience and at the same time get to know areas I have not been able to explore so far," says Dr. Berit Straube. She is already an experienced manager as head of product and process research at Xella Technologie und Forschungsgesellschaft mbH and has been with the company since 2001.
Dr. Christiane Schlüter, who is responsible for the program, explains: "In all likelihood, many of these women would be able to take the next steps even without a program. We wanted to increase their chances of being appointed or given responsible projects by providing them more visibility.”
The program has three distinct components:
1. Mentoring by the Xella Executive Committee: each member of the Executive Committee acts as a mentor for two to three high-potentials.
2. Coaching for personal development: high potentials get individual sessions with external coaches for addressing personal and business challenges.
3. Networking: At the same time, the high potentials are building their own network. They exchange regularly online and share their experiences. At the end of 2022, the network members met in person for the first time at the Xella Leaders' Conference in Barcelona.
The feedback from the high potential is positive. “It makes a lot of things a lot easier,” confirms Meta Gradt, Head of Finance, and procurator at Xella Slovenia. Wiedya Debipersad, HR Director at Xella North-West Europe, adds: "I enjoy and benefit from the exchange. Here we can talk openly about our challenges and learn from each other.”
“At the same time, it is important to address the issue of potential development systematically and holistically in the long term," says Schlüter. This includes making work and working hours more flexible, improving the work-life balance for everyone at Xella, sensitizing managers to topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, and constantly questioning processes and working methods. Managers need to consider in their personnel planning that suitable internal female and male candidates are available for future appointments.
It's not just the participants who benefit. "I feel that the female perspective is heard much more often," says Dr. Christiane Schlüter. That is important for the organization as a whole and for increasing diversity in the company, she adds. "It makes a difference when women have a 'seat at the table' and are involved in discussions at the highest level," says Dr. Michael Leicht, CDO and Chief Human Resource Officer at Xella Group. "At the same time, we create role models for other women who are thinking about taking on leadership roles," adds Dr. Christiane Schlüter. In addition, she says, there have been more promotions and appointments of women, recently.
Some milestones have already been reached: With the appointment of Wiedya Debipersad as HR Director to the North-West Europe Executive Team, the team now also has equal representation. Furthermore, Aleksandra Kwapis, who joined Xella 2007 transitioned from her previous roles in accounting and purchasing into business operations and was recently appointed as the Head of Business Analytics for Xella. She says, “Our culture and commitment to promoting diversity helped me grow to the leader I am today.”