Don’t leave your identity at the door

Diversity within the company pays off, but it also takes effort, says Nicole Knaack. The head of Diversity & Inclusion has a strategic approach to encouraging diversity at HHLA.

Diversity and inclusion has become a valid economic factor, with stakeholders expecting companies to take a more diverse approach. Why do you think that is?

The first diversity management initiatives were started in the USA in the 1970s. They were a result of the civil rights movement that began there in the 1950s. Germany first started discussing diversity and inclusion management in the 1990s, when companies came to realise that equal rights weren’t just the right thing to do ethically speaking, but that they could also be an economic advantage. Nevertheless, the path towards real inclusion is very long.

It mainly requires changing existing structures, which takes time – not least because these structures usually also took a long time to develop. It's obvious why the topic became increasingly popular: In times of change, growing insecurity and the seemingly ever-increasing complexity of the world, we need the ability to react more flexibly. We need resilient teams and solutions that match the complexity of the problems. This is where diversity comes in, provided we know how to recognise and leverage it.


Our task is to demonstrate what we at HHLA all have to gain from an increased understanding of diversity-related topics.

Nicole Knaack, head of Diversity & Inclusion

Embedding diversity into the working environment is something that affects all employees in their everyday lives. What are the first steps needed to get everyone on board?

The diversity is often already there. Fundamentally, it's about creating fair conditions for all. Put simply, if you don’t have to leave your own identity at the door, you’re going to do a better job. That should be the basic tenor. For that to happen, we first need to focus on education and awareness.

Not everybody knows that we unconsciously deny people opportunities and that these exclusion mechanisms are present in all structures. Thus the first step has to be to create awareness. Step two: Provide knowledge in order to hopefully create real engagement. Understanding the issue and accepting that we have to change our behaviour is difficult. Only then can we start with implementation. Occasionally, we have to work on all steps at once in order to move forward.

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What are the challenges you see in the process towards successful diversity management?

In my experience, the biggest obstacle is a lack of openness or knowledge about the subject. Many people think that inclusion just creates more work and has no benefit. Having to fit that into your busy schedule can be daunting and may lead people to balk at first. That’s totally fine too. Our task is to demonstrate what we at HHLA all have to gain from an increased understanding of diversity-related topics. In the end, more equal opportunities, a working environment free from prejudice and increased openness lead to a healthy corporate culture. And that automatically leads to more success – including at HHLA.

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People of different generations come together and we promote equal opportunities for all employees. We learn from this diversity every day.

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Published 8.3.2023

Nicole Knaack

Diversity and Inclusion

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