“Dare to be different.”
Janina Kugel, Chief Human Resources Officer
Life at Siemens
The power of being different
When Janina Kugel, member of the Managing Board at Siemens, gave a talk at TEDxBerlin 2015 on the power of diversity, she shared a potent personal experience that’s informed her way of thinking since she was a child.
“It hit me at the age five. I was walking home from kindergarten and passing a soccer field, where all the kids were playing soccer. So I stopped there in really joyful anticipation of them to invite me to join their playing. And they did stop. And there was an awkward silence. And then, the first one shouted ‘little n*****’. And then the second one joined in and said ‘little n*****’. And then everyone else there was standing there and shouting ‘little n*****’. I did not really get their point at that very moment, but I felt that something was terribly wrong. And it hurt. So I ran home, to tell my parents, but I somehow knew this experience would not be the last one of its kind in my life.
Twenty years later, in my early years as a young professional in a consulting company, mostly white and male-dominant, I was there and again I was different than anyone else there. I was young, inexperienced – and on top of that a woman. And I remember the very first time that I was invited to one of the senior meetings. I was going into the conference room, obviously I was there very early, and then all of the guys came in. Most of them were unknown to me. Most of them only greeted each other, some of them greeted me, and then they sat down at the conference table and then the last one came in; he looked at me and said ‘Hey young lady, I’d like to have my coffee with milk please.’”
These moments of exclusion seem to be crushing at a first glance, but they are priceless at a second glance. I would not be who I am today nor where I am today without those experiences.
People who’ve had real experiences dealing with being different, Janina argues, will excel as leaders. In this inspiring TEDx talk, she shares her tips for working with a diverse workforce, and the lessons to be learned from cultivating that difference at work.