Two workers in protective clothing talking inside a chip-manufacturing plant
Electronics specialist targets having 20 per cent of leadership posts filled by women by 2030 © Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images

In June, 50 senior executives of German chipmaker Infineon from around the globe met for a two-hour summit at its Munich headquarters. Only one item was on the agenda: diversity and inclusion (D&I).

Managers agreed to boost recruiting activities for female talent at schools and universities and to participate more directly in initiatives aimed at bolstering diversity. After the meeting, participants held workshops within their teams to spread the thinking at the top.

“I feel it’s important to Infineon that we have regular discussions about diversity in the management team,” says human resources chief Markus Fink. “And it’s not only gender,” he adds. “We also see religion; we see age”.

Infineon — which tops the semiconductors and electronics sector of this year’s Diversity Leaders rankings — employs more than 56,000 people. It uses the Four Layers of Diversity model developed by management consultants Lee Gardenswartz and Anita Rowe to guide its programmes and projects aimed at boosting D&I.

Severine Fiegler, Infineon’s D&I head, describes the model as follows: the outer layer is a person’s company position and status; the next is their external background, such as educational level or appearance; the third comprises personal factors like sexuality or ethnicity; the core is made up of an individual’s personality.

“We use it to understand that we are all different individually,” Fiegler says. “You might be in a majority in one aspect but a minority in another.” Her work is largely shaped by a desire to have a workplace that offers employees “psychological safety and [a] feeling of belonging”.

Aside from flexible working arrangements and talent programmes, especially those targeting young women interested in science and engineering, the company offers mentoring programmes and diverse employee networks. 

Last year, the company hosted a three-day diversity conference for employees, with more than 40 hours of video sessions. Infineon says it had 6,000 sign-ups for the sessions.

From a hiring perspective, Fiegler spends a lot of time thinking about language: “How do we speak to people [ . . . ] are we using an inclusive language?”

Once people are at Infineon, she argues that they benefit not least from being part of its employee networks, adding that the company has especially active gender diversity groups.

Diversity programmes, especially those that seek more equality among women and men, have become widespread in large corporations across the world, including Germany, but the effects have not yet fully reached executive board rooms. 

An AllBright Foundation study published in October found that this year was the first in which there were more companies on the German stock exchange with women on their board than without them. But the foundation does not consider this a big step forward for those looking for more C-suite female representation.

The study also found that 83 per cent of board members in companies on the German Dax were still male and that three-quarters of the companies with “mixed boards” had only one female executive in the highest echelons — including Infineon.

Ev Bangemann, of EY Germany’s management board, says Germany’s need for more skilled labour makes it all the more important for companies not to overlook female employees: “Given the current shortage of skilled workers, no company can afford this . . . Anyone who cannot or does not want to make attractive career offers to ambitious female managers risks losing those employees.”

Measuring true diversity at German companies can be tricky, as the country’s data protection laws make it difficult to record, for example, the proportion of foreign-born employees. But a two-year-old study by German think-tank ifo, which acknowledges the limitations on collecting diversity data, points out that larger companies tend to have more heterogeneous workforces.

Infineon has begun offering diversity training to employees via LinkedIn-based courses on topics such as “unconscious bias”, how to support work-life balance, and managing multigenerational teams. It targets having 20 per cent of its leadership positions filled by women by 2030.

Fink says Infineon’s diversity efforts can be seen in its ability to retain employees. It has low staff attrition rates, he says, while many companies complain of difficulties in finding the right talent: “We want to make the best Infineon for everyone.”

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