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Driving Innovation with Diversity at Zalando

Zalando’s belief in diversity has given birth to a dynamic company culture, built on transparency and inclusiveness.
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BERLIN, Germany — Zalando was founded in 2008 by Robert Gentz and David Schneider, two friends from university. With backing from Rocket Gentz, the e-tailer began by selling affordable footwear to the German market. By 2009, the company had expanded its product offering to include ready-to-wear and sportswear, and had launched international delivery. The e-tailer now operates in 15 European markets and was publicly listed in 2014. In fiscal 2015, it generated approximately €3 billion in revenue.

Today, Zalando is evolving its business model to become a platform with the broad mission of connecting consumers to fashion across markets, devices and categories. To accelerate this shift, Zalando has recruited talent from all over the globe — its workforce now encompasses 117 nationalities. From real time Q&As with senior leadership to working environments equipped to allow hearing and non-hearing employees to interact, Zalando is driving its business forward by leveraging the diversity of its team. BoF learns more from Ty Jernstedt, senior contributor to culture and engagement.

BoF: How would you define Zalando's DNA?

It’s a very young, dynamic and vibrant company with a very inclusive culture. We have over 117 different nationalities with differing forms of ability in our work force. We work hard to ensure that our employees understand that they’re not just part of the business, but also that their diversity is a part of shaping it.

We are focused on consistently adapting and revising how we do things and the diversity of our culture informs everything we do.

It definitely has the “anything is possible” mentality — it’s not about employees doing the same things they did yesterday, it’s about always adapting and changing what we do and how we do it for the better.

There have been few companies that have grown so quickly in so short a period of time, but we always look at maintaining the best attitudes we held as a start-up: being open to taking risks, open to failing, open to learning and open to challenging ourselves.

Those are the qualities we want to maintain as we mature. Though Zalando is really huge and we have more than 10,000 employees, it really does still feel like a start-up in many ways.

BoF: How does Zalando leverage diversity for the benefit of its business?

Different nationalities bring different insights and different ways of looking at things, so that definitely helps us to continuously grow as a company and grow within our culture.

We believe employees should be encouraged to use their brains to think of new and different ideas and be part of the business’ journey. When we have diverse talent sitting around the table together, creating an intersection of all their different ways of perceiving and approaching a problem or a possibility, that’s when we’re driving innovation into the company and its activities.

BoF: How does Zalando maintain its culture as the business grows?

As we’re getting bigger and bigger and more and more complex, we have a greater need to organise and share information directly, as well as engage our employees in our culture.

In 2014, we heard from employees that they didn’t feel heard, and that they didn’t feel like they could get the information that they needed, so we created zTalk: a platform for the management board to discuss topics relevant to our business with all employees, no matter where they sit in the company.

Crucially, it also enables employees to ask their own questions and the management board commits to answering the most popular questions. If people like a question they vote for it, and the management board commit to answering those that are voted to the top — in the moment, unrehearsed and

We have also implemented two other systems, zLive, an interactive or even “social” intranet that connects us all, and zBeat, which is our way to take a pulse of the organisation, when every six weeks we send out a survey to all employees to ask them about the time they spend at Zalando.

BoF: What attributes do you look for in your employees?

They need to be open, creative, innovative and risk takers. We want our employees to be passionate and to love working here — bringing their outside interests and their personal perspectives in to the company. As a company we are focused on innovation, so we’re constantly looking for people who are open to fresh ideas and capable of coming up with them.

There’s a lot to do and a lot of collaboration — but people have a lot of fun together. We know that if we’re not having fun together it’s not going to be a very inspiring place to work.

BoF: What kind of talent needs currently exist at Zalando?

What makes it so exiting to work for Zalando at the moment is the company’s shift from an ordinary e tailer to an online fashion platform. We now have the opportunity to create new products and solutions — connecting the various players and fields within fashion — and new tools to manage those businesses and relationships.

Currently, we need engineers to seamlessly connect our partners and consumers into the platform. We also need talent to build and manage new operational systems and processes, which will allow us to successfully deliver on our brand and consumer promises throughout the platform.

For example, brand-partners can create their own brand pages on our online e-commerce platform — a functionality that requires a new team to conceptualise, create and manage. The company’s continuing growth and our shift in business model has created a broad range of talent needs, but there is a higher proportion of opportunities within our tech team — which is a great place to work because of the autonomy it enjoys within our business and the scope of the company’s platform ambition.

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. For more information about fashion industry roles at Zalando, visit BoF Careers.

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