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“Racism affects all of us”

Interview with Sarah Nonnenmacher

On the International Day against Racism: Sarah Nonnenmacher, Diversity Manager at Volkswagen, explains the measures the Group and the brand are taking to reduce prejudice and make diversity the norm.

Since 1966, the United Nations has been focusing global attention on activities against racism every year on March 21. What is Volkswagen doing to fight against prejudice and exclusion based on external characteristics?

The Group's diversity management has driven forward many projects in recent years. However, the Black Lives Matter movement has also shown us that we need to talk more about the issue of racism again. Being a global company, we see it as our social responsibility to step up our commitment to this issue. For example, we have been organizing a mandatory training program on ethics and diversity in advertising and communications since 2020. The training content covers various diversity topics such as unconscious bias, psychological safety, non-discriminatory marketing communications, and compliance and integrity issues. In addition, we offer regular consultation on marketing and communication materials. With the Code of Conduct and our company agreement "Partnership-based Conduct in the Workplace," we commit all employees to refrain from any kind of discrimination and to enable respectful cooperation in a spirit of partnership.

How do colleagues respond to your offers?

The demand for advice and training is enormous. We sense a great willingness to learn more and expand our knowledge. Nevertheless, I notice that talking openly about racism means personal challenges for some people. It is a shameful topic that comes with a guilty conscience and often triggers a defensive reaction. Most people don't want to be racist, it's against their understanding of values, and yet it happens unconsciously. So-called everyday racism is difficult to recognize. In order for people to perceive it better, they first have to understand racism in all its facets. It's a long process in which I'm also constantly learning.

You are also involved in anti-racism in your free time. What does that look like in concrete terms and how can other people get involved?

I give workshops and seminars in my free time. I try to make people aware that racism is more than just rejecting people because of their origin – by means of a change of perspective, an examination of colonial history and group exercises. I don't want participants to leave my workshop burdened with guilt. Rather, I want to encourage them to take responsibility for what happens in their environment and reduce insecurities. If you want to take action against racism, one of the most important steps is to start with yourself. Books such as "exit RACISM" by Tupoka Ogette or "Deutschland Schwarz Weiß" (Germany Black and White) by Noah Sow can be very helpful. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier put it perfectly: "It is not enough not to be a racist. We have to be anti-racists! Anti-racism must be learned, practiced, but above all, lived."

Works agreement and Code of Conduct

With its works agreement "Co-Operative Conduct at the Workplace", the Volkswagen Group lays down the principles of cooperation within the company for all brands and locations, defines violations and regulates reporting, complaint and counseling options. All employees are obligated to refrain from any kind of discrimination and to enable respectful cooperation in a spirit of partnership. For example, the company agreement prohibits statements, behavior and symbols that are xenophobic, extremist, anti-Semitic or otherwise inhuman.

In addition, the "Code of Conduct" is a guideline that formulates rules of conduct and behavior in everyday professional life. One corporate principle reads: „We offer equal opportunities for everyone. We do not discriminate or tolerate discrimination on grounds of ethnic or national origin, sex, religion, views, age, disability, sexual orientation, skin color, political views, social background or any other characteristics protected by law. We embrace diversity, actively encourage inclusion and create an environment that fosters each employee’s individuality in the interests of the Company."

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