“Diversity makes us stronger” is one of our core values at Babbel. A diverse workforce allows us to create a product for a diverse audience and adjust our messaging accordingly. It allows us to be more innovative: Different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives lead to new ideas and approaches. Of course, challenges can arise, different perspectives, language barriers, or unconscious bias can make working together seem difficult at times as team members are confronted with different ways of thinking and need to find common ground to move forward. However, these productive conflicts are exactly what leads to better results overall.
Understanding the benefits and the moral obligation of a diverse workforce is the first step — the second is ensuring you actually hire people different in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical and mental abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is equally as important to provide an inclusive and empowering environment that is safe and nurturing and provides equal opportunity for every employee to be heard, to have an impact, to progress, and to be paid fairly. At Babbel, we are by no means perfect at this but are striving to become more diverse and inclusive. Therefore, we are working with external consultants and taking part in training on unconscious bias, racism, and microaggressions, for instance.
At Babbel for Business, we believe that one way of addressing cultural diversity in particular is through language training. Not only does language learning improve communication and collaboration, it also provides a window into another culture, making employees more open-minded and empathetic towards each other, leading to conflicts being resolved more easily and successful ideas evolving. This potential is truly one of the biggest drivers for me personally and what motivates me in my daily work.
“When do you plan to have kids?”
As an Italian woman, I grew up knowing that whenever I had a job interview, I had to dedicate some extra time to prepare an answer to a very recurring question: the “When are you planning to get married and have kids?” one. It takes lots of time and diplomatic skills to find a polite and professional answer to a very rude and unprofessional question, yet I always made sure I came prepared. I had internalized this fact so much that it took me months to actually understand that that question was discriminatory, if not pointless at all.
My big realization came about the same time I moved abroad for work. How come the companies I was interviewing for didn’t even get near my “five year plans,” relationship status or any other non-legally incriminating ways of asking the “kid” question? What were the values they were based on? As it turned out, they all promoted diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Though for many companies these are only buzzwords, for others those are commitments and goals they are actively working towards. When I joined Babbel, I was impressed by the number of initiatives taken to acknowledge our own biases and learn new ways to work together and create an inclusive workplace.
As someone that only fairly recently realized her own naivety, privilege, and biases, I welcome those initiatives as they give me the chance to learn and grow. And the more I discover, the more I want to share with others, in the hope that one day companies in Italy and beyond will stop asking their potential future colleagues “When do you plan to have kids?”
I am currently reading a book about a woman who decides to leave her hectic life in Berlin behind and relocate to the German countryside. She lives in an idyllic little town in a lovely little house, but unfortunately her neighbor is know as the “town nazi.”
In one particular scene, her neighbor says something highly inappropriate. The main character is so shocked, she becomes incapable of responding and only hours later she can think of an answer to defy his comment. She calls this phenomenon a “racism-freeze.” While I was reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder: How often have I fallen into a racism-freeze? Or a homophobia-freeze? Or a sexism-freeze, where I wasn’t even able to speak up for myself? After some reflection, I had to admit the answer was: too many times have I not stood up against the wrong behavior.
In my opinion, this is where the discussion of diversity should always start: with yourself. It’s such a complex matter, it’s best to start with reflecting on your own actions, behavior, and privilege.Then, see how you can make a stand for inclusion and diversity around you.
When keeping this in mind, it’s safe to say that using proper and appropriate language is a very easy, yet effective way to foster diversity in your thoughts and actions.
Some examples for using correct language:
- Addressing somebody with the right pronouns.
- Including firewomen in the discourse when talking about local heroes who saved cats from a fire.
- Never ever using racial slurs in your vocabulary, even if they are part of lyrics of your favorite rap songs or pop songs.
Working at Babbel allows me to dig deeper into language and its power to shape our reality. In addition to my daily work, company-wide anti-racism workshops and DE&I talks give me the opportunity to reflect on my own behavior. It’s still a learning process, but in the future, I will speak up more vigorously when I encounter inappropriate behavior and won’t remain frozen.
“What does the typical German team look like?”
Diversity is neither a tip-toe nor a tick-off topic. In the context of corporate language learning, diversity as a value has come up regularly in our editorial meetings. That’s why your B2B content team at Babbel wants to let you in on our thought process that made us collaborate with researchers to produce some material we hope you and your employees will find helpful in your everyday work life.
You may have had some work life experiences already, in which a diverse group brings different approaches that lead to productive tension — and ultimately, if these tensions are being addressed rather than ignored, to an innovative output that speaks to a larger market and a more complex audience. The endless treadmill of reproducing stereotypes may seem like a more streamlined process because it commonly takes the form of white men dressed in suits making a united decision. Great, if you wish to sell suits in size 44. In most other scenarios, this is a too superficial way of speaking to a greater “real” audience.
Our little Berlin-based content team started off by producing German-speaking content. Now what does the typical German team look like? We are all experts of the German language — we are also Austrian, American, Romanian, expats, speaking dialects, speaking with an accent, speaking German as a second or third language. We embrace the different positions we take on topics — and we are aware when we have similar points of views. That’s usually the moment we ask ourselves: How can we enrich this discussion? Who can we talk to so we don’t assume that what is clear to us is the standard for our audience?
In the following weeks, we’ll provide some material that makes the topic of diversity more tangible within the learning culture and the work environment.