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Violeta Kameri: About finding strength in differences and challenging one’s own mindset

Violeta Kameri: About finding strength in differences and challenging one’s own mindset

Reading time for this article: 8 minutes

To create and ensure a safe and healthy work environment for everyone, it is crucial to strive for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (short: DEI). The BSH campaign “Nominate Your Diversity Champion” was launched to highlight the people and colleagues that actively foster these values and who put in the work to make change happen. One of these people is Violeta Kameri, who is Coach for NEW WORK & WOMEN and leading the culture development at BSH Region Europe. Today, we want to share her thoughts on her perceptions of DEI, on questioning and overcoming boundaries and the importance of challenging one’s own mindset.

How do you feel about being nominated as Diversity Champion and what does it (the nomination) mean to you?

I feel really good about this and will explain why: I started my first DEI initiative together with two colleagues in 2016. Our vision was to build an LGBT+ network at BSH. At that time, "Sexual orientation and Identity" were still taboo topics. We asked HR why this dimension of diversity was not mentioned on the intranet. We received the answer: "It's a private topic." That's one of the reasons why we took action. As a lesbian woman, I reflected on this statement. "Is such a large and essential part of me and my life really a "private" issue?” At the time, I felt I had to think twice before sharing the highlights of my weekend with my wife in the weekly meeting on Monday morning, while my other heterosexual colleagues shared their weekend stories with their partners without a second thought. To some, this seems like a trivial and small thing, but when people feel they have to hide a large and essential part of their lives, the company has a big problem. Our goal was to raise awareness, be a role model, increase visibility and break taboos. A lot has changed since then. And the Diversity Champion initiative aims for the same aspects, so I support it. Of course, at some point, such initiatives will hopefully no longer be necessary, but for now, we still need to pay attention and raise awareness, because our workplaces and our society are still somewhat biased and we are not yet where we should be when we talk about an equal and fully inclusive workplace. 

How would you define Diversity, Equity and Inclusion? 

First of all, I appreciate that we finally call it DEI. For a long time, there was the term "Diversity Management" in place. DEI is much more than only having a diverse workforce. There is ALWAYS diversity in some sort because we live in a diverse world and work in diverse organizations: Personalities, needs, mindsets, gender, identity, age etc … There’s a common misconception that in diverse environments inclusion comes along automatically. That's not the case because we are often not aware of subtle acts of exclusion.

Inclusion is when all employees feel valued and have a sense of belonging on equal terms. Even among the most diverse teams, there’s not always a feeling of inclusion. Women might be well represented at the senior management level but might still not feel included due to gender biases and norms, salary discrepancies, and other factors. Same with international diversity. 

Equity goes beyond equality. Equality essentially means providing everyone with an equal share of resources and the same solutions. Equity is about creating fair access, opportunity, and advancement for all. People might need different solutions in order to live up to their potential.  Equity is when resources are shared based on what each person needs in order to adequately level the playing field. This means that companies need to make sure that they not only create a diverse workforce, but people have the same ability to get promoted, to contribute and have the same impact. 

Was there ever a special moment that made you realize how important it is to foster DEI at the workplace? If yes, do you want to share it?

When I led the first global culture change program at BSH called MOVE, I was the only German on the team. It was amazing to learn so much about diversity and different perspectives. One day my colleague shared that he could not read the menu in the cafeteria because it was in German only. I was shocked because I hadn’t noticed this before. I started to pay attention and saw that many of the public signs in the Headquarters building were written in German. And I put myself into the shoes of our colleagues and visitors who didn’t speak any German. We started to talk to the BSH board and step by step we saw a change. This was a very important lesson for me since I realized how biased I had been. And I am sure I still am. But I am trying to learn and talk to people in order to understand their perspectives and to open my mind. 

Do you want to share your personal motivation for pushing DEI at your workplace?

My personal motivation is that I love people – I love their uniqueness and diversity makes me feel alive. And at the core of our humanity I believe, we are "designed" for diversity. Look at nature. There you will find the most beautiful and diverse organisms, flora and fauna, and everything thrives because of the diverse connections and various dependencies. The same is true for us humans. Diversity to me is so much more than gender diversity. 

Let me share my own example: In 2020, I reduced my work hours to build my own coaching business. I live a diverse work model that allows me to have both worlds: being employed and having my own business. I feel fulfilled and happy with this flexibility and the extended influence I can have. BSH benefits from the experience I gain outside and vice versa. I am very grateful to many people at BSH because many appreciate this diversity instead of condemning or even preventing it. 

But these diverse possibilities do not yet seem possible or imaginable for everyone. Many people approach me and share their experiences. The idea that this is impossible or career hindering is still strongly ingrained in us. In my life, I would also like to be a role model for all people who have ideas and visions and want to develop something that may seem unconventional. These ideas may not correspond to the classic paths. People are diverse and that is wonderful! When we value their diversity and not just tolerate it, we unlock unknown vitality, creativity and potential. 

At BSH, we have the slogan "Unleash." We have achieved a lot in recent years. And we must continue to create environments where people feel safe to flourish. If we really want that, we need to reward people for bringing their full selves to work. We should value those who dare to be different because they show us alternative possibilities. That is diversity in action. 

How do you personally incorporate DEI at your position as a Culture Developer? And you are also a self-employed Coach for Women & New Work – what does this mean to you? 

Those are two of my focus fields. As a coach for women, my focus is to support women to live up to their authentic strength and full potential. Many studies show that women often self-censor for a variety of reasons. The internalization of stereotypes leads women to question their abilities and impact. One of many consequences is that women tend to underestimate their (leadership) abilities despite their equal or even greater qualifications. Fundamental change starts with women embracing their own unique style of leading. The world needs more female and diverse leadership. I support women with individual coaching at BSH for example through our internal coaching program space2Grow and through individual and group coaching programs in my own business. But coaching is ONLY one side of a very complex issue. 

On the organizational level, companies need to consciously create environments and mindsets where traditional limits are dissolved so all people can flourish. This is where my role as Culture Developer and New Work coach is relevant. In this role, I lead initiatives where mindset change can happen by reinventing the way we think and work. Here I focus more on the “rules of the game” and on new ways of leadership and collaboration. To make it more specific: Let's stay with the topic of gender equality in the workplace. This means that everyone – women and men – have the same opportunities and that there are conditions in place which enable all people to live their full potential and access all opportunities. This requires for example equal pay, the removal of barriers to the equal participation of women in the workforce and the overcoming of bias of gender, particularly in relation to family and caretaker responsibilities. That is where we need to tackle the systemic and structural issues. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge of fostering the incorporation of DEI?

Lack of consistency, consequence and deep dialogue. I see too many DEI activities which are not holistic and don't get adequate resources and real support from top management. By "real" I mean the courage to reflect on one's own mindset and biases and to dare to fundamentally change one's own worldview and daring to change the system. It might be difficult and complex. Absolutely! But there are many good practices and a lot of research out there we could use and learn from. There are also experts we could get support from. 

We could invest more capacity for people who drive and coordinate DEI initiatives. It starts with seriously investing in this field of action as any other business-relevant topic. It is not a soft topic, not an add-on activity, it is a hard-hitting business success factor that needs to be handled systematically, seriously and with expertise.

Another aspect I'd like to highlight is that we need to build bridges and open up towards dialogue between different groups like women and men, younger and older generations, heterosexuals and homosexuals etc. Why? Because we need to understand different perspectives, the barriers, conflicts and the issues we still have. We can bring about this change if we really care, if we want to ask the right questions and listen to the answers honestly.

Do you have a special story or memory to share that comes to mind when thinking about pushing DEI at your workplace?

A colleague called me once and told me that he was homosexual. He was not sure whether he should tell his team. He knew that I was one of the co-founders of Colors of BSH and that I was actively supporting DEI initiatives. Our conversation touched me a lot because I felt that he wanted to share but it was not easy for him. I mentioned that there was a Colors of BSH session coming up and he could participate to get some inspiration. After some weeks he wrote me an email: He said that our conversation and the session helped him find the courage for his outing with his team and that he felt free and relieved for the first time in a long time. You can’t imagine how my heart jumped reading these lines. This is another reason why I am a DEI activist. It can make such a big difference in peoples' lives.

Pushing and fostering DEI at the workplace takes courage and confidence. What piece of advice would you give colleagues that want to push DEI more, but don’t know how to go about it?

Search for partners who have the same vision. Join forces and support each other. We often remain alone with our visions and ideas and then it can become very tricky to find the courage for such endeavors. On my website, I describe a principle I use to create impact. It is called “WAVE”. At the core, it means that we will not be able to bring about and implement the necessary developments for the challenges of our times alone. People with the same vision and purpose need to unite and can achieve something great and seemingly impossible together. I am currently partnering with dozens of allies with whom I lead various DEI and culture initiatives around women empowerment, new work, leadership and mindfulness at work. I would never ever have had such an impact without them. I am sure there are many people out there who share the same ideas as you. Find them, join forces with them, and use the many opportunities there are at the moment like social media, networks, initiatives etc. Connect with people, complement your strengths and align your purposes. And most importantly: Trust in what you believe in and then just start without worrying about what others might think. You’ll see, you’ll find the courage and confidence on the way.

 

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BSH Hausgeräte GmbH, with a total turnover of some EUR 15.6 billion and 62,000 employees in 2022, is a global leader in the home appliance industry. The company’s brand portfolio includes eleven well-known appliance brands like Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau and Neff as well as the ecosystem brand Home Connect and service brands like Kitchen Stories. BSH produces at 40 factories and is represented in some 50 countries. BSH is a Bosch Group company.