For SKIDATA, diversity is not a buzzword, but a daily reality and a requirement for global business. Belkis Etz, Vice President of Human Resources, and Frank Lorenz, Senior Vice President of R&D, explain how diverse SKIDATA really is – and why it's no coincidence.
Belkis and Frank, we want to talk about diversity and start with you: What is your background?
Belkis: I was born and raised in Salzburg, Tyrol. I studied in Innsbruck and then worked for many years in Germany for large companies such as IBM and Philip Morris. I got my first name from my uncle, who lived in Afghanistan and suggested it. My parents liked it very much. At SKIDATA, I started in Risk Management in 2008. I have been in charge of Human Resources since 2009. I am 43 years old.
Frank: I am 52 years old and grew up in the former GDR. My home town is Havelberg in Saxony-Anhalt. At the age of 16, I carried out an apprenticeship as a skilled worker for chemical production in Schwedt an der Oder, followed by military service and a school-leaving examination at a distance-learning university. I studied electrical engineering in Leipzig and took part in the peaceful revolution. I then completed my studies in Munich. Afterwards I worked for many years in the mobile phone industry and was involved in the development of Apple's iPhone 1 for Infineon, amongst other things. I joined SKIDATA via the Kudelski Group, where I took over as head of Product Development in 2012.
What does SKIDATA understand by diversity?
Belkis: For us, it means difference, openness and tolerance.
Frank: In other words, it's the opposite of discrimination: the involvement of employees of different cultures, backgrounds, ages, genders and sexual orientations. Everyone has a fair chance of getting a good job in the company. We are actively looking for people with different backgrounds and international candidates have the same chance of getting a position as Austrians. We have also removed the language barrier: our company language is English.
Belkis: English skills are necessary to be employed by us and German skills are no longer required.
What dimensions does diversity have in your company?
Belkis: It has many dimensions because our 1,450 employees are active in about 25 countries. People from 25 different nations work at the AG in Austria alone. The proportion of women is 21 percent, which is not so bad for a company in the high-tech sector. Of course, we want the proportion to rise and for more women to take up technical occupations as well. After all, more than 10 percent of our managers are female. If we look at the educational level of the workforce, 10 percent of our employees have a HTL degree and more than 40 percent are university graduates. One fifth of our employees are older than 50 and another fifth are younger than 30. So we have a good mix.
Frank: I'll give you three dimensions. The first dimension is the international setup. We have 245 people working in development divided into two teams in Austria and one team each in France, the USA, India and Bosnia. The second dimension is the team composition. In the eleven-member team of the sales platform, for example, six nations are represented: Cameroon, India, England, Romania, Poland and Austria. The third dimension is equality. I have managed to have two women in my management team, among eight department heads. In my team in France, the overall proportion of women is 50 percent, in the USA and India it is 25 percent. With less than 10 percent, Austria is unfortunately at the bottom of the league. This is because too few women apply here.
Why is diversity important for SKIDATA and how does it manifest itself in everyday business?
Belkis: On the one hand, it is important because it brings us different perspectives and ideas. This is particularly valuable in an innovative company because we are working on completely new topics. We also operate globally, but our business is always local, which means we work very closely with our customers. In this respect, openness and diversity within the company help us. In this way, we develop an understanding of local markets.
Frank: Diversity promotes creativity and it also leads to improved teamwork. For example, if there are women in the team, the behaviour of the men becomes much more socially acceptable. If there are people from different backgrounds in the team, there is a better understanding of local peculiarities, simply through the different ways of thinking that people bring to the team. Conversely, it is also important that we give employees the opportunity to go abroad, gain international experience and develop themselves further.
What role does diversity play in recruiting?
Belkis: Basically, we want the best candidate when we fill a vacancy – regardless of their background. We receive applications from every country in the world. And if we are convinced by a candidate, we also help with their application for immigration to Austria. We are not deterred by the bureaucratic process. Openness is really important to us.
What people are you looking for right now?
Belkis: We are constantly looking for employees in all areas, with a clear focus on the technical environment. Here, we generally want more women. This is why we are also involved in many projects – such as Girl's Day – that aim to get girls and women interested in technical careers. I also see a social responsibility in our company to support women in their careers. We offer flexible working time models and support when returning to work. In the summer we also offer childcare.
Frank: In concrete terms, we are always looking for men and women for cloud software development – people who can develop highly accessible, high-performance systems. Since we also develop hardware, we are also looking for specialists in mechanics, electronics and embedded software – in other words, the entire spectrum. Our diversity is also reflected in the many skills that are used here.