STUTTGART - DaimlerChrysler AG's German headquarters here is giving new emphasis to hiring women and promoting minorities. Not because it has to, or because of cultural influence from the US side of the family. The European company simply wants to make itself a more diverse workplace.
'It's not fair to say that this is because of Chrysler. It's us here in Germany,' says Christiane Reim, a personnel manager at the huge Mercedes-Benz car operation in Sindelfingen.
'Out on the lines, you will see workers from many nations. We began to recruit workers from Turkey 30 years ago. But we've never really dealt with the matter properly until now.'
The effort involves encouraging more non-German factory workers into white-collar jobs, seeking engineers from other nations, steering female and immigrant job recruits into professional positions, and opening doors to women who want out of clerical jobs - even to work in the factories.
European nations tend to be more culturally homogeneous than America. Race, nationality and language are less significant employment issues in Europe. German companies typically do not keep statistics on workers' ethnic backgrounds. And unlike their American cousins, European women have not pressed companies in large numbers for the opportunity to work in traditionally male-dominated hard-labor factory and construction jobs.
But DaimlerChrysler sees that changing. At Sindelfingen, women are beginning to show up on final trim lines, installing parts and interior components. They are increasingly seen in the army of temporary workers who step in during the German August vacation period to keep the plants running.
But company officials say women are still not employed in the more brutish and grimy jobs, in the body shop or paint plant. Only about 10 percent of Sindelfingen's 35,000 workers are female, and most are in administrative jobs. By contrast, women account for more than 25 percent of the production workforce at DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz factory in Alabama, USA.
Across the border in Graz, Austria, DaimlerChrysler's outsourced assembly plant at Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG is on the same campaign. 'My personnel department said we must increase our ratio of women in production,' reports Gerhard Stiegler, general production manager at the company. Women already number 15 percent of the workforce in final assembly, where Steyr builds Mercedes cars and sport-utilities, Jeep Grand Cherokees and Chrysler minivans. It used to be about 2 percent, Stiegler says. The company will now raise the level to 20 percent.
'I went to a meeting in Detroit in December with DaimlerChrysler managers from around the country, discussing diversity issues,' Stiegler says. 'For the first time I understood why the issue is important.'
It is important because of the changing face of Europe - especially Germany, Reim believes. Newly opened European borders are allowing people of different nationalities to move among job markets like never before. DaimlerChrysler needs to hire engineers, communications experts and computer science professionals, regardless of where they come from.