Digital transformation is here to stay. That is why we must constantly foster dialogue to increase awareness for all that is and will be digital. To do so, Digital Day 2019 will have a strong focus on bringing the conversation to the Swiss population – without fear of debating challenging topics. Digitalisation brings not only opportunities, but also risks that need to be addressed and taken seriously. In addition, I am also starting a new series of “Dialogue Interviews” with leaders in the country. Representatives from member organizations, digital shapers and the brightest people in the area of innovation and digitalisation.
First up is Nadia Fischer, Cofounder of Witty Works, a company that focusses on increasing diversity in the Swiss Tech and Digital Industry.
Nicolas Bürer: Nadia, please tell me why it is important to increase diversity in companies.
Nadia Fischer: Because diversity is a factor with which you can leverage your company’s innovation and economic performance. There is a correlation between the degree of diversity within a company and its rate of innovation and economic performance. McKinsey and BCG both conducted studies on this topic that can be found here and here respectively. Diversity might not be the only factor that influences these targets, but it is a very relevant one. It is crucial for managing boards to pick up diversity as a strategic measure in order to survive in the fast-moving, technologized world markets of today
Nicolas Bürer: How exactly should we understand and define diversity?
Nadia Fischer: There are different dimensions to diversity such as age, cultural origin, gender, level of education or professional experience in the workforce. Once a company is aware of those dimensions, it seems like a simple task to reach good representation of each of these groups and consequently reach an achieved innovation boost. But, unfortunately, it is not that easy.
Nicolas Bürer: Any why is that?
Nadia Fischer: Simply put: subconscious bias. Even though we can consciously say that we want to embrace diverse backgrounds, our subconscious mind sometimes won’t let us do it. We, men and women alike, approach the diversity dimensions with different biases that influence our behavior and decision-making towards these groups. For example, we all have a subconscious bias that plays against women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) which taught us, while we were still young in school, that male is the gender that’s good at math, engineering and being in charge, while female is the gender that excels in the arts, languages and social sciences. Even though most people today recognize that these stereotypes are untrue, we subconsciously still believe them and behave accordingly.
Nicolas Bürer: How can we overcome our subconscious bias and increase diversity?
Nadia Fischer: By consciously changing the rules and by designing structures and processes to circumvent biases, for example in the recruitment process: if the goal is to achieve heterogeneity, companies have to look beyond their own networks and start looking at CVs differently, too. Even though that may have worked out fine for them up to this point. But by continuing to rely on these structures, companies will always only get “more of the same.” When you want to recruit for diversity, you recruit for diverse characters that may not easily find their way into a streamlined recruitment process.
Nicolas Bürer: Can you give specific guidance?
Nadia Fischer: Firstly, a company should make sure that job-ads are formulated in a way that is attractive to women in STEM. We at Witty Workshave developed a method of writing ads in a way that women in STEM actually want to apply to. Take a look, it is worth it. Secondly, a company should de-bias its recruitment process. Once a company has received CVs from diverse candidates, it should make sure that the diversity follows to the interview process. In many companies, recruiting processes are biased against women and therefore, candidates with a different background often drop out. This is preventable by creating newly structured recruitment processes.
Nicolas Bürer: What would you recommend to any Swiss company that wants to start tomorrow?
Nadia Fischer: Get together tomorrow at the management board level, put diversity on your strategic agenda and decide upon a diversity target, just like you would do in sales or product development. It’s not a big thing to do – half a day is sufficient. Based on that we can propose concrete measures, like those mentioned above, to reach those diversity targets.
In today’s market, diversity is a business imperative. Neglecting or dismissing it as a sideshow is misinterpreting the times we are living in. Consequently, lacking diversity can lead to a company’s failure in an ever-faster market. Emphasizing diversity on the other hand leads to more innovation and thus more growth. But let me ask you back: digitalswitzerland has an Executive Committee of 15 members. Only one of them is a woman. What are the particular challenges when trying to find female Executive Committee Members?
Nicolas Bürer: Our Executive Committee has the particularity to only rely on people who have a high availability to engage in our mission and projects and who agree to work pro bono. That means we are looking for the brightest minds from all over Switzerland, with a very good track record in their sectors, who represent our member base and the different important stakeholders, like academia, the economy and politics. Not an easy task that already narrows down the field of potential candidates a lot. We are aware of the Committee being unbalanced and aim to have more women in leading roles at digitalswitzerland in general. For example, Marianne Janik, CEO of Microsoft Switzerland, is doing a fantastic job at co-leading our new vertical “Technology”. We are confronted with the same imbalance in our Steering Committee which does not have enough women as CEOs of their companies. Especially as Nicole Burth from Adecco, Philomena Colatrella from CSS, Patrizia Pesenti (Credit Suisse, Ringier), Iris Grewe (BearingPoint), Luciana Vaccaro (HES-SO), Simona Scarpaleggia (IKEA) and Marianne Janik are all incredibly engaged and bring an enriching mindset to the table. What I am satisfied with, though, is that our operational team is balanced with 50% women and 50% men.
Nadia Fischer: digitalswitzerland is renowned in Switzerland and has a lot of impact on many decisions in our digital economy. How do you use your influence for more diversity in the tech and digital industry in Switzerland?
Nicolas Bürer: It starts with simple steps. For example, when we organize a panel, we aim to make it as diverse as possible. Sometimes we fail, but we try as much as possible. With our publication of Digital Shapers, in partnership with Bilanz, Le Temps and Handelszeitung, we also aim to represent diverse voices: not only in regards to gender, but also by including people from all different regions of Switzerland. Last but not least, we also emphasize the topic of diversity in our education projects. Young kids, who attend our partners’ summer camps, are likely to be the shapers and shifters of the future. And if they are diverse, our future will be, too.