Sarah Cordivano
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Sarah Cordivano

Lessons Learned on D&I work in Germany

Picture of an empty notebook open, with blank pages. Sharpened pencil on top.
Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash.

Here are some of the lessons I want to share regarding approaching diversity, inclusion and belonging work, thanks to the inspiration of fantastic colleagues and friends doing D&I work in Berlin and beyond.

A Journey without a finish line

D&I is a constantly evolving field. There’s no finish line. It’s a journey that requires continuous learning and growth. Even for those in leadership, there’s still much to learn. Take every opportunity to read, listen and learn every day. Leave your ego at the door. No one has all the answers.

Measuring success

When looking to measure the impact of D&I work, do not look to the senior white men in leadership for approval. Focus your effort to have impact for those that lack opportunities and representation in leadership. Make sure your work supports and empowers them. If you are doing a good job, they will tell you.

Listen to your ERGs

Listen to your Employee Resource Groups and other unheard voices in your organization. Ask them for their painpoints and their input (but do not ask them to do the D&I work for your organization). Listen carefully, to what they have to say and take it to heart. They are experts of their communities and have valuable insight to share.

Diversity strategy beyond gender

Obviously diversity is not just gender, and especially not just white women in leadership. But it’s good to continually remind ourselves of this, especially in Germany. A good D&I strategy should not focus on one or two dimensions of diversity and should not set its goals to only empower, hire and promote women into leadership. A good strategy will take a holistic approach and include race and racism, sexual identity, trans and nonbinary gender, religion, disability, age and more.

Feedback is a gift

When you get feedback or criticism, say thank you and learn from it. Most people have good intentions but that doesn't mean the outcomes of their actions can’t be harmful. When someone takes the time and emotional energy to give you critical feedback, take it as a gift. That are showing that they want you to grow and learn. Listen without defensiveness, take it to heart and learn from the experience.

Acknowledge and address structural discrimination

Diversity and inclusion work does not exist in a vacuum. You can have a strong strategy with great initiatives, but if you have problematic, discriminatory or exclusionary structures in your organization, your strategy is meaningless. Take the time to review processes across the board (for example: hiring, promotions, compensation, company culture, ethics, health care, family friendliness, benefits) with an eye for inclusion and anti-discrimination, to figure out where your problems truly lie.

Acknowledge the work

Truly recognize and compensate the work that goes into D&I. This includes the work done by: advisory board members, working group teams, ERG organizers and members, volunteers; simply put — compensate anyone who spends time on D&I. This work greatly improves the organization, but it is not free labor. So recognize it. Minimally, recognize it during performance evaluations and salary reviews. But even better, compensate it with bonuses, allocated working time, leadership opportunities, coaching, additional trainings or other ideas. Simply, ask your D&I champions how they want to be recognized and compensated for this work and then make it happen.

Empower those who are passionate

I’ve found that my team’s time is better spent empowering role models who are eager and passionate on the topic with support, education and resources than trying to convert skeptics who do not think D&I is worth their time or energy. Period.

Take time to recharge

This work is intensely emotional and much more draining than a typical job. Acknowledge the emotional effort it takes. Take time for self care and recharging. Say no to extra work if it becomes too much, acknowledge and respect your own boundaries. Be thoughtful how you spend your free time to preserve your energy. And find a trusted group of friends or colleagues who understand the challenges and can be a source of support and reassurance.

Of course, on all these topics… your mileage will vary! Share the lessons you’ve learned below.




This publication explores practical diversity, equity and inclusion guidance for driving change in a global working environment. Header photo credit: @aznbokchoy on Unsplash.

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Sarah Cordivano

Sarah Cordivano

Community Building, Equity, Inclusion and Maps. Former Philadelphian, Current Berliner. Twitter @mapadelphia & LinkedIn.

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