About Diversity & Inclusion from the perspective of a white, straight man

Interview with Managing Director Erik Slooten about the power of diversity and inclusion

Nowadays, we can hear colleagues’, opinions leaders’ experience – both negative and positive – about being a member of a minority. Having difficulties because they belong to a non-mainstream part of society, based upon their religion, ethnicity, nationality or sexual orientation. On the other hand, we hear a lot about great examples of female career paths and successful cross-generation collaborations. Different perspectives, personal involvement and experience, as being part of a minority. But how can you relate to this topic as being one of the privileged? Does your opinion matter, or your job is to just simply support the equal treatment of others? We asked a straight white man about his opinion about diversity and inclusion.

Erik Slooten is the Managing Director of the biggest ICT employer of Hungary, Deutsche Telekom IT Solutions. He, as a key speaker, participated in the 2021 Annual Inclusion and Diversity Summit, organized by the international conference organization association, Halcyon Group. We asked Erik about the outcome of the conference and about the speech he delivered there.

How do you relate to the topic of diversity and inclusion as a person, and as the leader of a company?

I am a huge advocate of this topic, I have experienced the strength of representing an inclusive attitude both in my private life and in business. At Deutsche Telekom IT Solutions, we are committed to equal opportunity of employment, development, compensation and all people-related processes and practices without discrimination, regardless of color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, religion, political opinion, nationality, ethnic background, social origin, social status, disability, age or union membership.

Equal opportunity toward the employees definitely seems to be beneficiary for them. Is this attitude also beneficiary for the business, the productivity of the company?

Absolutely. We believe that diverse and inclusive teams drive performance and create business value, and are therefore strategic to the business. A workforce with a broad range of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences drives innovation and makes the business more resilient. Diversity helps the Deutsche Telekom Group to better understand its clients, to fuel a spirit of innovation, to create the best products and to offer the best services, in order to make DTAG the leading TELCO company in Europe and make T-Systems International a successful global ICT provider.

As mentioned previously, you were one of the key speakers of an international online summit around Diversity and Inclusivity. What was your main takeaway from the other speakers?

Yes, it was the 3rd occasion of this annual summit, and I had the pleasure to be one of the speakers. I have shared the virtual stage with 6 other speakers. Most of them were Chief Diversity Officers or members of the top management of their organization, being responsible for running a diversity and inclusion program on a country or global level. The key practical learning points for me were that the management of a company has a huge responsibility of implementing a successful diversity and inclusion program, that it should be an essential part of the overall corporate culture and that the internal corporate communication has a crucial role in the successful implementation of such a program. Also, it was interesting to see great examples of how other companies use the power of technology by measuring the progress of the implementation, as well as trying to provide reports about the return on investments around the program. Great speakers, great professionals, it was my pleasure to be one of them.

The title of your speech was “Leading Diversity as a white, straight man”. What were the key messages you wanted to share?

Well, as you said at the beginning, I am in an interesting situation, I see thing in a different light, being a straight white man. Still, I have my own opinion, and reflecting on your introduction, I want to be a part of the conversation, not just cheering on the sidelines. At the summit, I shared the concept of DTAG’s Living Culture program, including our so-called Guiding Principles, that unites different cultures and diversity levels throughout the organization worldwide. Also, I have highlighted the importance of adjusting the global diversity and inclusion programs to the local scene, traditions and culture.

Why is it important to localize a global program? And what could be the risk of not doing that?

Taking into consideration the local historical and political background, hierarchical thinking, level of acceptance is essential. All companies are running diversity-related campaigns, programs and initiatives, but if the local environment and readiness is not considered, it can fire back. Pushing this topic too hard in a polarized, stressed society can be counterproductive, so we need to be very careful and empathetic. Still, besides having such an attitude, the leadership must break a sweat and be courageous and stick it out for such a program. So, we monitor, and respect the local differences, avoid mandatory quotas over qualification, as putting quotas in front of qualification would not be a fair process, but it would create more tension and resistance.

You have highlighted what you won’t do in such a program. So, what do you want to do to support the case of diversity and inclusion?

We wish to create equal opportunities and an even playground for all, and we support our colleagues to overcome their personal biases with the power of learning. We believe that the respect of diversity, acceptance and open-mindedness starts before the introduction to the company culture. Through our CSR programs and our strong university collaborations across the country, we support the education of the next generations with scholarship programs, innovation-related projects, special extracurriculars, Ideathon competitions and specific professional trainings. We create awareness at an earlier stage in cooperation with local programs, like our project in Szendrőlád or our „Hősök” project in Pécs, and we are actively trying to support the better life of homeless mothers and their children. All in all, we consider this one complex, overarching system, to which we adjust our corporate culture initiatives, the localization of our diversity and inclusion program and our CSR activities as such.