VW’s Culture Transformation Entails More English and More Women in Leadership

VW’s Culture Transformation Entails More English and More Women in Leadership

The emissions cheating scandal that rocked Volkswagen last year was attributed to major culture problems at the company, and led to several rounds of management shakeups, including the resignation of its head of US operations, in an effort to detoxify its culture—though lawsuits filed earlier this year claimed the toxicity went all the way to the top. The shakeup at the German automaker is still ongoing; this week, the company announced several steps it was taking to change the way it does business in the hope of preventing the ethical lapses that led to the costly and embarrassing scandal, the Associated Press reported:

Volkswagen says it’s going to speak more English and help more women reach for top positions as it shakes up its corporate culture in the wake of a diesel emissions scandal. Personnel chief Karlheinz Blessing says that diversity and international experience would help build a culture of “discussion” and “entrepreneurial thinking.” He said in a statement Wednesday that “in the future, English is to be the group language.”

The company says that means English would replace German at management conferences with dozens of people by 2021 — not in informal management conversations or among workers on the assembly line. … The company said Thursday it is changing how it develops managers, putting more emphasis on foreign assignments and knowledge gained in different areas and brands. Female managers are to get the experience they need for appointment to upper management positions later in their careers.

It’s encouraging to see Volkswagen commit to advancing more women into leadership roles as a means of achieving better business outcomes, especially as research has shown a correlation between women’s representation in senior management and an organization’s reputation.

For many organizations, achieving diversity and inclusion outcomes means a change, and many of the same culture change rules apply. Linking their D&I goals with other business goals may be a great way to ensure that they are managed and achieved; it’s certainly a much better approach than having D&I be a footnote, afterthought, or separate project.

For a German company, the shift towards making English the group language is an even bigger step. It’s a very unsubtle way of discriminating against global talent if German is the language of choice at management get-togethers, so this will open up new opportunities to break into formerly closed silos. However, it will also cause anxiety among German employees who aren’t comfortable speaking English. They will feel that this is now required to rise up in the organization; VW will have to manage those fears.