STUTTGART, Germany - An old American concept is taking root in Stuttgart these days: diversity sensitivity.
DaimlerChrysler AG's German headquarters is giving new emphasis to hiring women and promoting minorities - not because it has to or because of cultural influence from the U.S. side of the family. The European company simply wants to make itself a more diverse workplace.
'It's not fair to say that this is because of Chrysler. It's us here in Germany,' says Christiane Reim, a personnel manager at the huge Mercedes-Benz car operations in Sindelfingen.
'Out on the lines, you will see workers from many nations. We began to become a melting pot 30 years ago when we began to recruit workers from Turkey. But we've never really dealt with it until now.'
The effort involves encouraging more non-German factory workers into white-collar jobs, seeking engineers from other nations, steering female and immigrant job recruits into professional positions and opening doors to women who want out of clerical jobs - even to work in the factories.
European nations tend to be more culturally homogeneous than America. Race, nationality and language are less litigious employment issues there.
German companies typically do not keep statistics on workers' ethnic backgrounds. And unlike their American cousins, European women have not pressed companies in large numbers for the opportunity to work in traditionally male-dominated hard-labor factory and construction jobs.
A NEW ERA DAWNS
But DaimlerChrysler sees the tide turning.
At Sindelfingen, women are beginning to show up on final trim lines, installing parts and interior components. They are increasingly seen in the army of temporary workers who step in to keep the plants running during the traditional German August vacation.
But company officials say women are still not employed in the more brutish and grimy jobs in the body shop or paint plant.
Only about 10 percent of Sindelfingen's 35,000 workers are female, and most of them are in administrative jobs. By contrast, women account for more than 25 percent of the production work
force at DaimlerChrysler's Merce-des-Benz factory in Alabama.
Across the border in Graz, Austria, DaimlerChrysler's outsourced assembly plant at Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG is on the same campaign.
'My personnel department said we must increase our ratio of women in production,' reports Gerhard Stiegler, general production manager. Women already number 15 percent of the work force in final assembly, where Steyr builds Mercedes cars and sport-utilities, Jeep Grand Chero-kees and Chrysler minivans. It used to be about 2 percent, he says. The company will raise it to 20 percent.
'I went to a meeting in Detroit in December with DaimlerChrysler managers from around the country, discussing diversity issues,' Stiegler says. 'For the first time, I understood why the issue is important.'
EUROPE'S CHANGING FACE
It is important because of the changing face of Europe - especially Germany, Reim believes. Newly opened European borders are allowing people of different nationalities to move among job markets like never before. DaimlerChrysler must hire engineers, communications experts and computer science professionals, regardless of where they come from.
The company is accepting more applications from foreign students. It is looking for ways to promote assembly workers of non-German backgrounds. In recent years, some workers of Turkish, Greek or Spanish backgrounds have been moving into some white-collar and supervisory positions. But now Daimler wants to do more.
And it is casting a cold eye on sexual harassment, an issue that has a low profile in European workplaces. As in the United States, women are protected by law from sexual harassment, but in Europe the issue rarely makes its way into a lawsuit. DaimlerChrysler spokesman Juergen Wittmann says the company is trying to raise awareness among German employees as to what harassment is and how to treat it.
Both Wittmann and Reim say it takes a long time to bring about such cultural changes. But Reim says that diversity will make DaimlerChrysler a stronger company.
'We want this to be a more attractive place to work for everyone,' the personnel manager explains. 'We want women to feel welcome in the plants. We want people here to have a better appreciation of each other. Changing people's attitudes is not a fast process.'