"This is an essential issue of humanity"

Liliane Meyer Pitton was appointed SEM's Diversity & Inclusion Officer on 1 August 2022. But what do diversity and inclusion mean in the daily working environment, where does SEM’s focus lie and what are its long-term goals in this area?

Bringing movement to the topic of diversity and inclusion: Liliane Meyer Pitton

Ms Meyer Pitton, (how) can you do justice to all people and employees at SEM?
We must try to create a working environment where people feel safe and can develop, regardless of social categories or the job they do. It is all a question of dignity, respect and integrity. However, creating equal opportunities is always an ongoing process.

What do you mean exactly?
None of this happens by itself. It involves a lot work, and requires us to rethink. Absolute justice is an ideal end state that we will never quite reach. But we can question and change the balance of power. There will always be new tasks and categories.

Why is this topic so important and why is it currently receiving so much attention?
People are different – that’s a fact. It is also a fact that people live in different ways. There will always be discussions about whose way of being different is considered the norm, who belongs and who is allowed to have a say. Power relations are built on real or ascribed differences. It is an essential issue of humanity. It’s just that nowadays more people than in the past can have their say and get involved.

That sounds like hard work. Can you explain it to us?
The issue of equal opportunities, diversity & inclusion requires us to show a great deal of frustration tolerance. Progress is only made gradually, and sometimes, unfortunately, we take a step or two backwards. Yes, it requires strength and resources, but it also reveals much that is diverse and fascinating.

Fascinating, but complex too, no doubt. How can you make this issue more accessible to people?
Essentially, we are all human beings; there is no reason for anyone to be considered any less or more worth because of outward appearances or abilities. Looked at like that, it’s not that complex. We just have to respect each other's limits. It is also important to talk about the issue and to try to put ourselves in other people's shoes.

Liliane Meyer Pitton is convinced: "There is a great deal of awareness at SEM for this issue."

What is your strategy in dealing with the issue?
We are currently drawing up a specific D&I strategy. This has arisen from a study conducted in 2020/21 into the issues of gender equality, sexism and sexual harassment, and how the situation regarding these issues can be improved. The creation of my post is one of eleven measures now gradually being introduced.

Are there any specific requirements imposed by the Confederation?
Key action areas of the personnel strategy and diversity management in the Federal Administration are gender equality, multilingualism, age/generation, integration of persons with disabilities and multiculturalism. Targets apply in some areas.

Where is SEM currently with regard to equal opportunities?
It differs greatly depending on the issue. A lot is happening, and people are willing and open to discussion. Now we have to put ideas into effect.

"It's all a question of human diversity."

Speaking of which, how is this topic received within the organisation?
"Of course, we have met with some resistance and indifference. But at the same time there is fortunately a great deal of awareness of the issue among colleagues and partners."

What have you already set up and achieved?
"Most of the measures are only now being implemented. A compulsory online course on sexual harassment has been rolled out, and now we are developing more workshops on the topic. What is more, a D&I committee will be set up in 2023 and a mentoring programme rolled out. A monitoring system will also be put in place."

What has the reaction been so far?
“Extremely positive on the whole. I have met many people here who are very enthusiastic and proactive about the topic. I know how important it is to talk and listen to people. It is also clear that a lot still needs to be done to break down prejudices.

Last but not least: What fascinates you personally about D&I?
"I always look at situations from different angles and like to question things. Besides, it is exciting to always learn something new. Human diversity has always interested and fascinated me, just like the question of justice."

Liliane Meyer Pitton studied linguistics, ethnology and sociology at the University of Neuchâtel and completed her PhD at the University of Bern. She has been working on the topic of gender equality for several years and is now employed 50% as SEM’s Diversity & Inclusion Officer.