Learning from one another.

Diversity is a high priority for the BMW Group. This is apparent in our campaigns like  “Diversity Week” but also in our people. We have two deaf trainees who work at the BMW Group factory in Leipzig.

When Gillian Wacht and Jimmy Grunst are talking about a BMW, they tap their fist on their chin three times for “B-M-W”, and flex their biceps for “power”. Gillian and Jimmy, both deaf, are just completing their training as production mechanics at the BMW Group factory in Leipzig. They decided on these signs with the agreement of their supervisors, Enrico Horn and Roy Grambow, as well as the other trainees. Official sign language doesn’t always have a sign for a specific word – sometimes you have to get creative.

The team in Leipzig is just one example among many of diversity in action at the BMW Group. Likewise, a clear demonstration of how important tolerance and respect are to the employees of the BMW Group could be seen at the beginning of June at the factory in Munich. A series of events were organised for over 3,700 employees as part of the nationwide “Diversity Week”. As a member of the “Diversity Charter” initiative, the BMW Group held this campaign week for the sixth time this year. At the same time, 28 other DAX listed companies were also flying the flag in support. Members signed the charter, which is endorsed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a commitment to treating all employees with equal respect – regardless of gender, nationality, ethnic background, religion or worldview, disability, age, sexual orientation and identity (www.charta-der-vielfalt.de). “This year, interest in our Diversity Days was extremely high,” said Mirjam Wipfler, who is responsible for Diversity issues at the BMW Group. “I’m pleased to see that, because it means that we’re expanding the foundations for an open-minded, highly effective workforce, with opportunities for everyone to contribute their talent.” 

Voneinander lernen

For integration to be as successful as it was in Leipzig, everyone needs to make an effort to compromise, as Enrico Horn knows from his experience as a supervisor. Together with his colleague, Roy Grambow, he decided to set a good example by learning sign language on his own. In their morning meetings with the trainees, they now translate the daily agenda simultaneously with their hands. The other trainees are also presented with a challenge. At the end of the meeting, they are introduced to the “sign of the day”. This helps them learn how to communicate with their fellow trainees, bit by bit. In addition, the trainees accompany Jimmy and Gillian as mentors during their duties in the factory, which is a fixed component of their training. Enrico was surprised at how naturally the young people adjusted to the integration process. “Both of them just belong to the team,” he said. The team only needs a professional interpreter for complex issues such as occupational health and safety. “Our basic skills in sign language aren’t sufficient in those cases,” said Enrico. However, Jimmy and Gillian also do their best to help out. They lip-read, keep paper and pens at the ready, and communicate actively using tablets. Both of them are open-minded, curious and keen to integrate, at all costs. “That’s really important,” Enrico points out. “We can make concessions and support them, but we can’t offer them a completely sheltered space.” Gillian und Jimmy already have two role models – their predecessors. These two already completed their training in the Leipzig factory in 2017 and now work in production there as permanent employees. The integration of deaf employees has been equally successful at other locations. Other BMW Group factories also have experience with employees who are deaf or hearing-impaired.

For Dirk Wottgen, Head of Human Resources at the BMW Group factory in Leipzig, one thing is certain: “Diversity gives us the opportunity to perform at our best as a team, as well as make even better use of the potential of the qualified specialists in our organisation.”