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 | 18-12-2023

Panel discussion: Diversity – real impact for the sports industry?

Copyright: FC Bayern Basketball


As part of the FC Bayern Basketball Business Circle Main Event, a panel discussion on the topic of "Diversity" moderated by Lisa Ramuschkat took place in the Allianz Arena on June 28, 2023. The three panel participants Johanna Mühlbeyer (EQUALATE), Tijen Onaran (Global Digital Women, ACI) and Frank Sprenger (fors.earth) agreed that more diversity is needed in companies and in the sports industry. The three had very different ideas and suggestions on how to get there.


Lisa Ramuschkat: Are there any differences between a sports and a non-sports organization?

Frank Sprenger: Absolutely! It starts with the fact that most industrial companies in various sectors have long felt that topics are becoming strategically relevant, be it the energy industry or the chemical or automotive sectors. In sport, on the other hand, the speed - which seems to be inherent to the system - is significantly higher. So while we have long processes in industrial companies we often have to be faster in sport. However, we must not forget: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" - and a sports organization is always strongly influenced by culture. For us, it is important to pick up on and proceed from wherever an organization stands. Just throwing around buzzwords like "sustainability" or "diversity" doesn't help at all.

One last big difference is the relationship between the size of the organization and its appeal. I see this as a huge opportunity for sports organizations because their charisma is sensational. With the transformations that are imminent, sports organizations also have a responsibility to help fuel this transformation. On the other hand, sports organizations are not particularly large. From our point of view, FC Bayern with around 1,300 employees is a rather small company, but one with an almost unbelievable charisma. Some sports clubs are even smaller and people expect them to implement all issues at the same time - which is of course completely illusory.


How can diversity contribute to sustainability in companies?

Johanna Mühlbeyer: Arguments such as "more diversity leads to more ideas" are obvious. I think there are two other facets that are currently playing a greater role. Firstly, we have to ask ourselves how the labor market is currently functioning and where the bottlenecks are. Namely: finding good people and the special qualities that these people need to have. Especially in times of AI & Co. we need completely new profiles. And that's where diversity can help us. One example: different people in my setup - keyword "similarity effect" - in turn attract different people. If I have 10 men in the team, there is a very high probability that men will apply. But if I have a higher proportion of women, the likelihood of women applying also increases. And secondly: companies will be confronted with new issues, pressure and efficiency in the coming years. Diverse teams can shed light on problems from different perspectives, which a group with similar people would not be able to do.

Tijen Onaran: We are trapped in our habits and when you are in certain bubbles, you don't know any different. Systems don't work by constantly pouring something in from above and suddenly all employees are intrinsically motivated and say "I've been waiting for this, I've always wanted to have a diverse corporate culture and pay attention to what I eat and how I travel!" Instead, you have to show people that sustainability adds value. Just because I have understood it myself doesn't mean that everyone else has. That's why we need people at decision-maker level as role models who lead the way and help shape the discourse, because: What I can see, I can become. When young female talents see women in leadership positions, on supervisory boards, in management or an investor like me, then the likelihood increases that they will say to themselves: "Tijen made it, I can make it too".

Of course, this also works for other dimensions of diversity, which is why it is so important that we have more diversity in all areas of life, in soccer as well as in politics. We must finally see diversity as a real added value, this has even been proven in studies, there is this causal relationship "diversity pushes innovation". The performance of diverse teams in companies is always better and more innovative than that of non-diverse teams.


Why does economic success also require ecological commitment?

Frank Sprenger: One example: sports organizations often operate large halls or stadiums. Anyone who relies on gas as an energy supply for a large facility today will feel the economic impact of this when it comes to installation, gas prices, but also when the outdated technology has to be replaced. If a company understands what transformations it is facing, it can make much better long-term investment decisions. Sponsorships, for example, represent a different perspective.

The city of Augsburg has been awarded the title of World Heritage City for its water management, the local soccer club FC Augsburg is addressing the issue of water in its sustainability strategy and is committed to protecting clean water. This allows it to approach sponsors in a very targeted way, and suddenly sponsors see a platform that they haven't seen before. This is the second perspective for a sports company with a direct economic impact, so there are great opportunities here.


The realization is there, the implementation is a big challenge however. How do you manage to get into action?

Frank Sprenger: First of all, you have to realize that sustainability is a marathon, which takes some of the rigor out of it. Secondly, you don’t have to be perfect. We talk about sustainability as if it were an absolute. A company does itself no favors if it calls itself sustainable just because it has a product that is better in a product category or because it improves a quota. That does no one any good, because everyone has weak points somewhere. Thirdly, set the right priorities. Strategy means concentrating and, conversely, leaving a lot of things out or at least giving them lower priority.

This also applies to sport - there is no point in ticking off 150 criteria. You should consider where you can achieve an impact and at the same time break away from the old narratives. A lot has been communicated, a lot has been written, e.g. "We take diversity for granted in our company” and suddenly people are interested in it and are looking into the company. Employees, for example, have a good insight and know exactly if it’s bullshit or not. I can only advise companies to be more humble in their communication and to call things as they are.

Johanna Mühlbeyer: I would go even further: Sustainability is not a marathon - sustainability is actually a race that never ends. With regard to the topic of digitalization: as long as we are changing and there are innovations, this will also happen in this area. I also advocate starting small, you have to try things out, you can make mistakes, you should discuss them critically and then you'll get a whole step further.


What is your position on the Leadership Positions Act (FüPoG or Women's Quota Act) of 2015 and 2021?

Johanna Mühlbeyer: The law is an important lever and I am absolutely in favor of it sometimes being needed to deal with other networks, e.g. in the area of recruiting. However, the quota should only be one of many levers. The focus should be on what each individual or a management team can do.

Tijen Onaran: Seven years ago, I might have said "Quotas are the worst thing you can do to a company!". However, in the six years that I've been working in this field since then, I've had a reality check and I have to admit: It doesn't work without pressure. It is bitter enough that we need such instruments. I would like to dispel another myth: "quota" is not synonymous with "no qualifications". It is not an attempt to elevate any women to supervisory board positions, it is about having a stronger KPI. Just as I set myself profit-turnover targets as a company, I set myself targets in terms of diversity. The quota is the most tangible tool here, all other dimensions of diversity are less tangible, such as social background, as it is not possible to tell whether someone comes from an academic household or not. Incidentally, in my opinion, there is no point in putting a woman on an all-male board and she has to act in the same way as a man.

This is where the second part of diversity comes in, this is where inclusion comes into play, we have to manage to change the topic of leadership and bring it into the modern age. The table is becoming more diverse, so there are other perspectives, what does that mean for the definition of leadership? I hate the word "support programs for women", it sounds like "getting them out of the corner", but it's not about fixing women, it's about fixing the system. And you can only fix a system if there are concrete figures, data and facts to guide me as a managing director, supervisory board member, board member or manager. Many companies work with recruitment consultancies – recruitment consultancies also need to become more diverse, because if they keep suggesting the same profiles to companies from their databases, which have not become more diverse over the years, then nothing will change.


What can companies do to create incentives to actively promote sustainability within the company?

Frank Sprenger: There are various starting points. On the one hand, there is the competitive perspective, let's just look at the energy industry. Some large energy suppliers continue to rely on coal, while those who have chosen a different path are now doing better economically. Focus is also important. We need to reduce complexity as much as possible, keyword: "choose your battles". Don't start with the topic that is the most difficult for the industry or culture. For me, the best thing is to observe when the impetus in a consulting process comes from the customer themselves, when the customer realizes: "Ah, we haven't even had topic XY on our radar yet, we had completely forgotten about it until now..."

Tijen Onaran: We have to set precedents in the company. You can only convince people if they experience it in their immediate environment. My recommendation is to start with a specific area so that this area can radiate into the company. Train ambassadors who report on their experiences. We need to get into the reality of employees' lives in companies. My advice: start with one department, initiate projects, make the most of their impact and follow up with a strategy for the entire company.

Johanna Mühlbeyer: It's about involving people and asking for their opinion. External consultants or even an internal diversity task force shouldn't be the only ones leading the way. The people who work in the company are much closer. People want to be heard and seen. In customer projects, we therefore not only talk to the core target group, but also to other groups. For example, when it comes to the compatibility of family and career, we interview not only the main target group - mothers and fathers who work part-time - but also their managers and employees who do not have children. This allows us to get a holistic picture and adapt the diversity strategy to the individual company.


How can we drive forward the topics of diversity and sustainability in the future, where is the journey heading?

Johanna Mühlbeyer: I hope that we talk more about cases! We should openly share "What works well for us, what works well for you, where can we learn from each other?"

Tijen Onaran: The figures speak for themselves, among the 40 DAX companies there is just one sole chairwoman, I'm not satisfied with that. We have to use the momentum of change that we are currently experiencing in our society in a positive way to create real impact. Change is coming, regardless of whether I want it or not, so I should take the lead and help shape it at my own pace. Hence my appeal: be an agenda setter, shape it in your own handwriting, with your own frequency.

Frank Sprenger: In two years' time at the latest, sustainability will be voted "non-word of the year" because it no longer has any substance at all, because everyone is "sustainable" and nothing has changed significantly. I think we will have to change our focus. To me, two of the UN's 17 sustainability goals are crucial: SDG 5, "Gender Equality," and SDG 10, "Less Inequality" in the sense of "More Equity." You can take any sustainability issue and if you look at it from a justice perspective, you will quickly realize what is happening. For example, climate change hits those people hardest who have contributed the least to it: the inhabitants of the global South. When in doubt, it helps to ask children what they would consider to be fair. They usually intuitively have a very clear picture of what we would describe as unjust privileges after much thought.

Thank you very much!


Some of the quotes have been shortened and slightly edited for better readability.


Lisa Ramuschkat has been presenting web and TV shows and events since 2013. The former competitive field field hockey player's favorite playground is sport in all its facets - whether soccer, basketball or racing. She has had her own podcast, "Team Lisa", since 2019 and also appears as a speaker.

Johanna Mühlbeyer describes herself as a curator for the topic of diversity in the sports industry. With her start-up EQUALATE, she helps companies to build and develop more diverse and inclusive structures and to use diversity as a competitive advantage in the sports business.

Tijen Onaran is the founder of Global Digital Women and the diversity consultancy ACI. She supports companies in the conception and implementation of female empowerment campaigns and advises on all issues relating to diversity, inclusion and equality.

Frank Sprenger has been working in the field of sustainability since 1992. His focus is on the integration of sustainability into corporate strategy and its implementation. The founder of the sustainability strategy consultancy fors.earth is convinced that corporate sustainability can only be successful if it is economically feasible.