I’m Sarah Schiller, and I am one of the leaders of co-pride, the global Continental LGBTQIA Diversity Network.
Starting at our Technology Centre in Hanover in 2006, I took leadership responsibility two years later when I was asked to do an expatriate assignment in Slovakia. After my return I lead various research and product development projects, as I love to enable people from across the organization to achieve a common goal. In my role as Head of Trial Molds Replacement I’m directly responsible for an international group of prototype tooling designers in Hanover and Vienna.
Queer people are facing various obstacles in their work life, from wondering what the impact of coming out on their career would be, to matters of how a third legal gender is considered in personnel databases. Many people however simply don’t know such challenges exist. Therefor our network is frequently offering Awareness Workshops, where we invite employees to learn about LGBTQIA topics and reflect on their unconscious biases. I’m always stoked to see how eager people are to really make a difference, and how courageously they join us in exploring how to individually contribute to the cultural change.
My initial decision to join the co-pride LGBTQIA network of Continental can be traced back to a nice summer day a couple of years ago. I went to the Netherlands with some colleagues in order to go trekking, but instead got taught a lesson on my own prejudice. Just hear me out…
The “Internationale Vierdaagse Afstandsmarsen Nijmegen” – “The Walk of the World” is the largest multi-day marching event in the world. Since 1909 every year in July, thousands of outdoor enthusiasts gather in the Dutch city of Nijmegen. On four consecutive days, people are walking up to 50 kilometers each day, depending on age, gender and personal ambition. While it started as a military proof of marching proficiency, nowadays most of the 45000 participants are civilians.
When a colleague at Tires R&D in Hanover approached me with the idea of participating in the “Vierdaagse”, I first thought “what a silly idea, who in their sound mind would volunteer to walk 50k a day in the middle of summer?”. Of course we started preparing immediately, and soon I found it quite enjoyable spending my weekends trekking around Hanover for hours on end.
Came the third week of July, we prepped our gear, loaded the car, and off we went to Nijmegen. What all those long days of walking through the serene Hanover countryside had failed to prepare me for, were one and a half million visitors that turned the city into one massive celebration for four consecutive days and nights alike. While 45000 people were walking, the streets were filled with droves of people partying, cheering and wishing everyone “veel succes”. Popular Dutch carnival tunes, hardstyle techno, marching songs and evergreens like “Sweet Caroline” where all mixing into one. What a surprising backdrop to such a challenge of endurance.
The teachable moment for me then really came on the second day. Marching people are relatively conservative traditionalists, at least that’s what I thought, and that’s what I was expecting to see throughout the event.
On Pink Wednesday however, I learned to my surprise and delight, people in and around the Marches traditionally don something pink to celebrate Pride. You would see elderly ladies dress like flamingos (and still go 30k that day!), boy scouts wore pink neckers, and military uniform code across all nations suddenly had a new, lovely and colourful touch. Spectators chimed in, and the church towers along the way sported rainbow pride flags on that special day. Everyone reached out to the queer community, giving the cause visibility and unagitated acceptance, all while marching, and while the party raged on.
This was the moment when I was inspired to go make a difference also in Continental. My own bias crumbling, I realized how people from all walks of life were coming together for four days, to experience the human condition in all its variety and to see through the adversities of walking the Nijmegen Marches. It didn’t matter where they came from, who they were, who they loved or what age they were. At the end of the fourth day everyone met at the final parade, we got the traditional gladiolas stuck out our backpacks, and marched down towards the finish line to receive the royal medal that comes with such a feat.
Meanwhile I have completed the Vierdaagse twice, and I sincerely hope there are many more to come. Its diversity gives me enriching, new perspectives and I get to meet a variety of people. United by the task at hand, everyone is welcome to be part of the experience. This spirit is what I take into my role as a leader in Continental, and what guides my heart when working with our co-pride LGBTQIA network on making Continental an even better place for everyone.
This article was written by our employee.