Research - 07.07.2023 - 10:30 

15 years of diversity & inclusion research at the HSG

Exploring how we can shape our existence together in a society with weaknesses and strengths. That was the theme of former US President Bill Clinton's speech during the inauguration of the Center for Disability and Integration (CDI-HSG) in St.Gallen in 2009. At the end of the funding period, HSG looks back on the successes of past years and the new paths being forged by the Center.

When opening the Center in his capacity as patron of honour, Bill Clinton, pleaded for a humane economy. Together with the founder of the MyHandicap foundation Joachim Schoss, they are committed to exploring ways in which the state and companies can better integrate people with disabilities into the world of work and everyday life. HSG President, Bernhard Ehrenzeller, notes in his address commemorating the CDI-HSG's 15 years of work, "Beatrix Eugster, Stephan Böhm and Nils Jent: An economist, a business economist and an application-oriented researcher on diversity management – the combination of these three specialisations has led to a multitude of outstanding, multiple award-winning insights."

Diversity & Inclusion in teaching and research

There is growing interest in the topic of diversity & inclusion among university staff, as well as demand for support and advice services. Thus, at HSG, numerous committed individuals contribute to a diverse and inclusive university. Various institutions also focus on diversity and inclusion in teaching and research. The portfolio of offers and activities is very broad. Issues of reconciling family life with studies, work or an academic career, care compatibility, support for students with disabilities or chronic illnesses for equal opportunities in their studies or measures for accessibility are just as much a part of this as the introduction of a Matura Day to inspire more young women to study.

Worldwide signal effect 

The Center for Disability and Integration (CDI-HSG) establishes the professional inclusion of people with disabilities as a research focus at HSG. It is an interdisciplinary research Center with three disciplines: Business Administration, Economics and Applied Disability. Almost 15 years have passed since the founding of the CDI-HSG. At the CDI-HSG's anniversary celebration on 5 July 2023, the Center's directors, together with guests, sponsors, cooperation partners and staff, looked at the past funding period and the future direction of the Center. 

“When we started research on the occupational inclusion of people with disabilities in 2009, the topic was still exotic and there was no small amount of resistance. Disability is now an integral part of any diversity strategy”
Prof. Stephan Böhm, Director of the CDI-HSG

The CDI-HSG was officially inaugurated on 5 November 2009 at the Holzweid Continuing Education Center (WBZ-HSG). The opening speech was given by former US President Bill Clinton  an honorary patron of the MyHandicap Foundation, which made the establishment of the Center possible with a generous private donation. The idea of the research Center was initiated by MyHandicap founder and entrepreneur Joachim Schoss, who has been living with a disability himself since a serious accident. He pursued the vision of bringing science and practice together at the HSG Center and thereby sustainably promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities. It is thanks to Mr Schoss' pioneering spirit and his trust in research and HSG that the Center has been able to make its impact, said Bernhard Ehrenzeller on the occasion of the anniversary. After 15 years and numerous projects, the funding period through MyHandicap is now coming to an end. 

“We have a lot to learn from brave people with disabilities. It's a form of unconscionable arrogance to consign people, whose disabilities are more physically obvious than others, to be anything less than they can be. The centre is designed to change that.”
Bill Clinton, former US President, at the inauguration ceremony of the CDI-HSG on 5 November 2009

Collaboration with renowned cooperation partners

Over the years, the CDI-HSG has developed into one of the world's leading research institutions in the field of vocational inclusion of people with disabilities. Supported by a diverse team from the fields of business administration, economics, psychology and political science, the CDI-HSG is characterised not only by excellent research, but also by a strong practical orientation and long-standing corporate cooperation. For example, the CDI-HSG worked with the German Federal Employment Agency, AUDI AG, the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM), BARMER Krankenkasse, SVA Zurich, the Federal Office for the Equality of Persons with Disabilities (EBGB), ABB Switzerland, Hitachi Energy Switzerland, with Novartis as well as with Swiss Post.

“Our empirical research has clearly shown that institutions play a crucial role. Inclusion does not succeed just because people talk about it. But it can succeed if everyone is brought on board: People with and without disabilities.”
Prof. Beatrix Eugster, labour market economist and former director of the CDI-HSG

Practical findings from the research work

As part of the project work, evidence-based and practice-tested measures for the better inclusion of people with disabilities were developed according to scientific standards. Research was also conducted at the CDI-HSG on how healthy leadership, digitalisation and flexibilisation of work or dealing with mental illness in the workplace can be achieved. In recent years, researchers at the CDI-HSG and their partners in practice have made the following core findings for business practice, among others: 

  • Inclusion in schools can be successful if it is managed properly (Balestra, Eugster, & Liebert, 2022).
  • Disability diverse teams are more innovative than homogeneous teams, especially when there is an inclusive climate in the teams (Dwertmann, Boehm, McAlpine, & Kulkarni, 2022).
  • Inclusion, measured on the scale of authenticity and belonging, makes employees healthier. This applies to majorities (e.g. "white men") as well as to minorities (Böhm et al., 2023).
  • Inclusion not only strengthens the bond between employees and managers, but also increases the performance of employees – with and without disabilities (Dwertmann & Böhm, 2016).
  • Well-intentioned inclusion efforts (such as the German "disability ID card") can sometimes have the opposite effect and reduce social participation if they reinforce stigma (Brzykcy & Böhm, 2022).
  • Healthy leadership practices can reduce the sickness rate of the workforce by a factor of eight, especially if employees have pre-existing conditions (Böhm & Baumgärtner, 2016).
  • Healthy leadership can be trained and learned. Especially for employees with mental illness, it is crucial that their managers master this leadership style, as it doubles the likelihood of job retention (Böhm & Kreissner, 2017).
  • Flexible working (home office) reduces inclusion and the sense of togetherness in the team. This makes active measures in areas such as virtual leadership or team building all the more important to maintain a sense of inclusion (Schertler, Glumann & Böhm, 2023).
  • Flexible working (home office) increases the emotional exhaustion (burnout) of employees. Increasing boundaries between work and private life as well as constant accessibility are responsible for this. Both should therefore be limited in order to be able to work healthily in the home office (Carls & Böhm, 2023).
“The aggregation of experience and knowledge of the diversity of people for sustainable benefit requires a change in values towards equality. At HSG, we therefore teach and live inclusion as mutual participation on an equal footing.”
Prof. Nils Jent, Director of the CDI-HSG

The work of the Pioneer Center continues and is being expanded 

Research at the CDI-HSG has impressively demonstrated that inclusive companies have healthier, more productive and more satisfied employees. This realisation is of great importance especially in times of the 'War for Talents'. But what is the next step for the CDI-HSG? 

Even after the end of the funding period, the successful professional integration of people with disabilities will remain a central research focus at the CDI-HSG. To that end, existing research findings and tools such as the "St.Gallen Inclusion Index" are used and further developed. The index makes it possible to measure inclusion in teams and organisations and, based on this, derive targeted interventions for an improved working climate. Current topics such as the influence of digitalisation and flexibilisation on health and inclusion will also play a significant role in the research.

In the future, the Center will be financed by the University's central budget and by secondary and third-party funding. Research funding and practical cooperation are to be further expanded. The sustainable anchoring of the Center at the University underlines the high importance of the topics of diversity & inclusion for the research, teaching and practical activities of the University of St.Gallen. A focus that is also strived for in HSG's strategic guiding principles and goals until 2025. 

Image (f.l.t.r.): Joachim Schoss, founder of the MyHandicap Foundation, and Prof. Stephan Böhm, Director of the CDI-HSG