Campus - 01.12.2022 - 13:47 

"This course is a commitment by HSG to the important role of diversity"

A new course at HSG deals with diversity in companies as well as everyday racism. Among other things, students learn how to lead heterogeneous teams and how they can make companies more innovative and successful.

"On the one hand, we want to sensitise students to discrimination, which often also happens unconsciously in everyday life. On the other hand, we want to show them how heterogeneous teams make companies stronger and how to lead these teams," says Christian Pierce, project manager at HSG Competence Centre for Diversity & Inclusion (CCDI). Together with HSG professor and CCDI-Director Gudrun Sander, an expert in diversity and gender management, Pierce is running the course "Increasing Racial and Ethnic Equity in Switzerland" at HSG for the first time in the autumn semester of 2022. 

Pierce and Sander developed the idea for the course together, having already held a workshop on this topic at the St. Gallen Diversity & Inclusion Week 2020. "At the time, the killing of George Floyd had intensified public discourse on racism an ethnic discrimination everywhere, even in Switzerland," says Pierce. "In addition, HSG has been at the forefront in the fields of management and entrepreneurship." These topics include dealing with racial and ethnic diversity in today's internationally-networked economy, he adds. "We would like to further strengthen HSG teaching in this area," says Pierce.

Diversity strengthens business success and innovation

As an introduction, students work their way into the course topic with a broad perspective: they read texts on the basic structure and function of diversity management, on the meaning of ethnic and racial equality in organizations, and on post-colonial racism in Switzerland. "We also discuss the impact that diversity has on corporate performance," says Pierce. Companies that are strong in dealing with ethnically and gender diverse teams also benefit financially. 

For example, a study published in 2018 by McKinsey, a global management consulting firm, showed a correlation between diversity and business success. For this, 1007 companies in twelve countries were surveyed and analysed according to financial key figures. "For companies with particularly pronounced ethnic diversity, the probability of being more profitable than average increases by 33 per cent," according to the study authors. Pierce and Sander also have the students read a study by US sociologist Cedric Herring. He analysed data from more than 1,000 US companies and concluded that ethnically and racially diverse companies have more sales, more customers, larger market shares and higher relative profits. "In addition, firms with diverse teams are more innovative because they bring together many different perspectives," says Pierce. 

Large number of unreported cases of racism

In addition to business aspects, the students also gain a foundation in the history and current state of racism and discrimination in Switzerland. Pierce says that there is always a large number of unreported racist incidents. In any case, current figures from the Network of Counseling Centers for Victims of Racism show an increase: In 2021, 630 cases received counseling from the centers. There were 756 total incidents reported, but 65 were determined not to be related to racism and 61 were a simple report. In 2019, 352 cases received counseling. 

The course also includes a city tour of St.Gallen with historian Hans Fässler.  This shows traces of colonialism on houses in the old town, for example, or shows buildings that belonged to former owners of slave plantations. "The understanding of what happened in the past sharpens one's view of the discrimination that still exists today," says Pierce. In order for HSG students to be able to successfully work with diversity in companies – possibly as future managers as well - it is important to have the broadest possible knowledge of the subject area.

After this familiarization, Pierce and Sanders present various cases of discrimination in Swiss companies and organisations to the students and discuss them in class. The two lecturers also advise companies and organisations on the topic of diversity and conduct workshops. Accordingly, they can draw on real, anonymised case studies. 

Pierce and Sander would like to run the course again in autumn 2023. "By approving the first-time implementation of this course, HSG has also made a commitment to how important this topic is, especially for educational institutions," says Pierce.

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