For diversity and justice. Diversity, gender mainstreaming and anti-discrimination in the everyday practices of foundations.

For diversity and justice. Diversity, gender mainstreaming and anti-discrimination in the everyday practices of foundations.

For diversity and justice. Diversity, gender mainstreaming and anti-discrimination in the everyday practices of foundations.

Henning von Bargen - Photo: Stephan Röhl - Some Rights Reserved

Henning von Bargen

Published in StiftungsWelt 2012, 2, pp. 30–31.

By Henning von Bargen

Although foundations support democracy and foster and encourage political action, not all foundations interpret democracy in the same manner. In the last StiftungsWelt, Maik Bohne and Knut Bergman argued that in the future democracy will come to mean pragmatic problem-solving. As an example, they stressed that in the future foundations will compile knowledge that is relevant for this process more systematically; consequently knowledge will be used more innovatively. Moreover, foundations are the predestined supporters of new forms of political participation in democratic politics.

As a result, foundations that consider human rights, gender equity and non-discrimination as important, need to ask a number of questions regarding the planning and implementation of their activities. What is the most important problem in each case? What kinds of knowledge and skills are relevant to solving the problem, and which are not? Which parts of society are affected by and involved in these new forms of political participation, and which ones are not? Finally, are there any understandable reasons why certain problems have been ignored; why existing knowledge has been left untapped, or certain social (target) groups have been included, excluded, disadvantaged or privileged?

Strategies such as gender mainstreaming and diversity management aim to systematically integrate such questions as issues that cut across (political) action and decision-making processes within organisations. The main aim of such strategies is to achieve social justice and a form of democracy that enables people of all genders to participate. Furthermore they aim to take diversity and difference in living conditions as well as the potentials of different people into account, while avoiding inequality in opportunity and chance from the outset.

What does this mean for the everyday practices of a foundation? What do foundations need to take into account as part of their activities if they are to remain fit for the future and continue to act as models of democracy? An example is the issue of quotas for leadership positions and in committees that is currently being discussed by various foundations. The different positions on this issue range from ‘qualifications not quotas’ to ‘without quotas nothing or not enough will change’. However, the fact that higher management and decision-making bodies in Germany remain unashamedly ‘white’, despite an immigrant population of around 20%, is rarely made an issue; the same applies to age and disability. Comparisons with other countries and research into organisations demonstrate that organisations tend to become more homogeneous unless this trend is consciously tackled. People in charge of employing staff tend to employ people from their own social group, despite the fact that this leads to a loss of an often desperately needed potential for innovation. In such cases, quotas can act as useful tools that enrich diversity and increase the success of businesses.

Anonymous application procedures are a further helpful tool. In many countries, these procedures have long been part of everyday practices, yet in Germany they are still treated with scepticism. Such procedures provide a method of choosing staff based solely on their qualifications. At least during the first round, irrelevant data such as the applicant’s name, gender, age, hobbies and appearance are not taken into account; this prevents these details from distracting from the actual application. The German Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency recently completed a pilot project on anonymous application procedures and has produced a helpful, easy-to-follow guide, which is available from (in German).

The grounds on which foundations decide whether or not to provide support are generally based on formal criteria such as guidelines. Clearly, criteria that are both transparent and accountable are important components of application procedures if disadvantage and discrimination are to be avoided, and equal opportunities and fairness are to be ensured during application procedures. Consequently, when deciding on specific criteria, it is essential to verify which applicants will be excluded or afforded preferential treatment due to the criteria, and whether there are objective reasons for doing so. Furthermore, it is extremely important that the criteria fulfil the aims of the foundation. This is crucial, as in practice unrelated considerations are often taken into account, and foundations may be unaware of the impact this can have.

However, tailoring an approach to the needs of target groups is not only important for the public image of a foundation. Alongside content, choice of imagery and media, language is a decisive factor in public relations work. Language produces images that can be interpreted differently; it can appeal directly to people or exclude them and intentionally or unintentionally discriminate against them. Consequently, gender-equitable, non-discriminatory, and inclusive language should be a basic component of a foundation’s work.


Foundations for Gender Mainstreaming: the example of father-friendliness.

By Dr Ulrich Kuther | Representative of the board of hessenstiftung – familie hat zukunft |

According to a study by hessenstiftung – familie hat zukunft, family-friendliness and father-friendliness need not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Although 40% of participating fathers said that they considered their employers family-friendly, the same number also argued that their employers were not father-friendly. Family-friendliness is usually interpreted as a women’s issue, and is viewed as an accommodating social benefit. It is only when businesses (and foundations!) learn that family-friendliness also needs to mean father-friendliness, that it will be possible to turn a social benefit into a serious strategic choice that could help ensure fathers remain with a provider in the long term. However, in order for this to occur, fathers will have to assert their rights to paternity leave and part-time employment; while management will have to understand the higher motivation levels that satisfied parents bring to the workplace.

At the same time, actors such as foundations are needed to promote and support this process of development. The foundation hessenstiftung – familie hat zukunft, for example, supports a fathersnetwork that covers a number of different companies based in Darmstadt. This network solution for small businesses is based on an easy-to-follow guidebook providing support to fathers. The Ursachenstiftung’s project ‘Fathers in family businesses’ in Osnabrück is structured in a similar manner. Both projects aim to provide easily manageable solutions that answer the questions: what benefits would father-friendliness bring to my company? How can I find out more about my employees’ family situations in order to better meet their needs? And finally, what measures are most appealing to fathers?

Henning von Bargen

Henning von Bargen, studied Sociology, Educational Science, Cultural Anthropology (M.A.) and Dipl. Pädagogik. Training in TCI, personnel development and the systematic designing of change processes. Gender trainer and gender consultant since 1998. Many years of experience in political and trade union educational work. Since 1997 spokesperson for the shared task ‘Gender Democracy’ at the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Since 2007 Director of the Gunda Werner Institute together with Gitti Hentschel.
Henning von Bargen
Gunda Werner Institute in the Heinrich-Boell-Foundation
10117 Berlin
Phone: +49 - (0)30 - 285 34-180


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