Cathrin Hirling | Ostrom
To say Cathrin Hirling knows a thing or two about ED&I would be an understatement as People and Culture Manager at Ostrom - a B Corp certified, digital energy management platform based in Berlin, Cathrin makes it her mission to create an enjoyable, inclusive and psychologically safe environment for everyone that works there. Now you will know if you work within the tech industry in particular - this is often a complex journey and goes beyond ticking boxes and Cathrin has worked hard to build structures and practices within Ostrom to make them the diverse and incredibly supportive organisation they are today.
To avoid any confusion - if you are searching for advice on diversifying your workforce - YOU MUST READ THIS.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO AT OSTROM?
I work as a People and Culture Manager; in summary, I am responsible for co-creating an enjoyable and productive work environment by building structures and practices that support this.
WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO HELP ATTRACT A MORE DIVERSE MIX OF PEOPLE INTO TECH?
As an organisation, you need to actively demonstrate diversity is valued and it is actively supported. To start you need to create an environment that is welcoming and attractive for diversity to be part of. This includes not only transparent internal practices and/or programs such as clear development and career paths but also having diversity within leadership.
Secondly, as individuals have varying needs, there needs to be an element of flexibility. Practices such as offering a hybrid work model and/or flexible hours can create an opportunity to invite more diversity and be attractive to a larger pool of people.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR A QUOTE YOU LIVE/WORK BY?
Clique but: diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice.
WHAT SPECIFIC PRACTICES HAS YOUR BCORP RENEWABLE ENERGY COMPANY IMPLEMENTED TO ENCOURAGE DIVERSITY AT ALL LEVELS, FROM ENTRY-LEVEL POSITIONS TO LEADERSHIP ROLES?
We offer relocation and visa support, which allows us to actively recruit across the globe. This provides us with the opportunity to access a wider pool of candidates and bring on board new ideas and expertise. Across Ostrom but especially within leadership, we have been very conscious from the beginning regarding gender. We want to strive towards having a gender balance within leadership. Currently, we are 50/50 male, female representation.
Learning and development is important at Ostrom, our view is that we are continually learning together and no matter what seniority you are, your ideas are valuable and important. We offer individual learning budgets and continually encourage people to seek learning opportunities whether that be a workshop, conference, or mentoring. We try our best to provide learning and stretch opportunities to all our employees, whether you are just starting as an intern or you are further on in your career. With frequent development conversations, it allows us to understand what each individual’s needs are to grow, be successful, but also have fun.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS YOUR COMPANY PROACTIVELY ADDRESSED UNCONSCIOUS BIAS IN THE RECRUITMENT AND HIRING PROCESS TO ATTRACT CANDIDATES FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS?
To start, we are very clear on the why behind the need to hire for the given role. What skills do we want to bring on board, what does the team require, and what will be the milestones for this role in the first 6-12 months? Further, to minimise bias, we do not read each other’s interview notes until after we have spoken to the given candidate and completed the evaluation. When we make the final decision, we do not mention gender, ethnicity and/or nationality. We actively ensure we are assessing each individual on their given skill set in comparison to the role requirements. We do not mention gender, ethnicity and/or nationality rather again we focus on skill set.
HOW DOES YOUR COMPANY FOSTER AN INCLUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT THAT VALUES AND RESPECTS THE UNIQUE PERSPECTIVES OF INDIVIDUALS FROM VARIOUS ETHNIC AND GENDER BACKGROUNDS?
With Ostrom having over 15 different nationalities, this makes diversity a working reality but we understand this requires inclusion. We actively try to cultivate an environment where people feel understood and valued for who they are. Psychological safety is cultivated through continually seeking perspectives and ideas from across the organisation, no matter your seniority, and openly acknowledging the feedback. The general culture is that feedback is always welcome and sought. All leaders have received training on cross-cultural communication and the importance of learning individuals’ communication styles. Individuals who are softer-spoken, leaders actively seek their perspective to ensure their opinion is heard.
Further, we continually communicate we are an open learning culture and it is okay to make mistakes, it is not only human but also beneficial as it allows us to learn and progress quicker. Through sharing what we have learnt in our monthly company-wide knowledge-sharing sessions it further fosters openly sharing various perspectives. We understand that not everyone feels comfortable voicing their ideas publicly, therefore we have two anonymous feedback initiatives: “Ask Me Anything” questions for the co-founders and our company-wide engagement surveys. We view the workplace as being co-created by everyone who is part of it and therefore value feedback.
WHAT INITIATIVES HAS YOUR COMPANY UNDERTAKEN TO PROVIDE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING FOR ALL EMPLOYEES?
We have clear development pathways with four touch-points per year with your manager to speak solely about your development. Further, we have clear career paths regarding individual contributors and people leaders with it clear both are equally valued. To support this each team has a clear capabilities matrix which provides clarity on role expectations at each level. As already mentioned, we offer individual learning budgets which allow it to be personalised to what the given person wants to learn and what they see fit. Hand-in-hand we ensure a fair remuneration review process with using an external marking tool and having an internal sense check.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS YOUR COMPANY COLLABORATED WITH LOCAL COMMUNITIES AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS TO ENCOURAGE YOUNG WOMEN AND INDIVIDUALS FROM ETHIC MINORITIES TO PURSUE CAREERS IN TECH AND RENEWABLE ENERGY?
We have been present at various university career days/fairs and had a female leader provide a workshop.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE AND TRACK THE PROGRESS OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION EFFORTS WITHIN YOUR COMPANY, AND WHAT LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNED ALONG THE WAY?
As we are small it is relatively easy to keep track of but as Germany has strict regulations around collecting data on diversity there are limitations to what we can do. As already mentioned, we try to keep a balanced gender split across the organisation but also in leadership.
Main lessons would be to ensure it is clear to everyone, no matter your level, that you have a role to play to create a positive work environment. Through ensuring clear guidelines such as having an inclusive language policy to ensure a shared language and relevant for us, and clearly stating your company language as being English. Further, as early as possible setting up processes around the onboarding, development, and promotions to provide an environment that empowers the people within it.
Thanks, Cathrin, you rock! 🤘
Interview by Louis Hampton-Jones