She is the first woman on the Zalando board: Astrid Arndt will be the head of HR at the online fashion retailer from April. The Berlin-based company announced this on Tuesday at the presentation of its annual report for 2020. After a board dominated by white men for 13 years, Zalando is now taking a step towards a more balanced gender ratio in management positions. A new role was created for the 49-year-old on the committee: As Chief People Officer, she will be responsible for shaping corporate culture and personnel management at Zalando.
Little is known to the public about the manager. She has been with Zalando since February 2018 and has since made a steep climb: She started as Vice President People Experience and worked her way up through various Vice President positions in HR. The trained linguist has headed the People & Organization department as Senior Vice President since February 2020.
In this position she implemented new concepts for the future of work and employee development programs. Arndt was also committed to promoting a diverse and inclusive culture. As Co-CEO Robert Gentz said at the press conference on Tuesday, Arndt should also drive efforts for more inclusion.
Focus on corporate culture
In mid-2020, Zalando came under fire for internal racism allegations – NewsABC.net uncovered the allegations at the time. The company then commissioned an internal and external investigation, which came to the conclusion that Zalando had no problems with racism, it was just isolated cases of “careless” language. This should also have led to the fact that, with Arndt as the new Chief People Officer, greater attention should be paid to corporate culture.
Before Arndt came to Zalando, she headed the human resources department at the Berlin law firm Hengeler Mueller for seven and a half years. In this position, she also appeared as a speaker at conferences and contributed to publications in the legal industry. Previously, she was a consultant at McKinsey & Company for six years.
Until 2003 she did her doctorate in modern French literature at the elite Sorbonne University in Paris and at the Christian Albrechts University in Kiel. She then held a postdoctoral position at the Center for Postgraduate Studies at Christian Albrechts University in Kiel.
In business circles she is described as authentic and nice
Wherever you ask, there are initially only positive words about the new Zalando board member. From industry circles it is said that Arndt is very approachable, nice and professional. A pleasant person to hang out with at official dinners. Only positive things can also be heard from the corporate environment. Arndt is very “apolitical”, authentic and does not use tactics, it is said. To colleagues, it seems as if they have a sincere interest in people and employees. A good sign for a HR manager.
Nevertheless, Arndt himself is not looking for the big stage and is not pushing himself forward, according to company circles. Therefore, many employees seem genuinely happy for her and for her appointment. “I’ve never heard anything negative about her,” says a former colleague.
Zalando Co-CEO Robert Gentz also praised Arndt when she announced her appointment: “Astrid has proven that she has a deep understanding of the employee culture.” This is particularly important in the pandemic, as the past year has shown that the The role of work is changing in society, said Co-CEO Robert Gentz at the presentation of the 2020 annual results in Berlin on Tuesday. “In order for our company to continue growing, we need to retain our key talent and continue to attract good employees on a large scale,” says Gentz. Therefore, the new position on the board is immensely important. Her position of Chief People Officer was newly created in the course of the planned departure of Co-CEO Rubin Ritter and the associated restructuring of the Board of Management. It is only logical that a woman has now been brought to the board for this new role.
A diversity report and gender-sensitive language
In 2019, the DAX candidate set himself the goal of creating a more balanced gender ratio in management positions and a quota of 40 to 60 percent women within the six management levels by the end of 2023. The goal of having a board member was also explicitly formulated. After sharp criticism of Zalando’s long-term strategy of a zero percent women quota, according to which the company wrote in its annual report for years that it did not intend to bring a woman to the top management level, the fashion retailer has now reacted.
“Diverse and inclusive teams are a decisive success factor in order to become the starting point for fashion for our diverse customers and partners,” said Arndt himself at the end of 2020 on the occasion of the first publication of a diversity report. Was Arndt behind the report as the responsible HR manager? At least such a study was first published in the year shortly after Arndt took office. In the course of the publication, Zalando also announced that it would gradually introduce gender-sensitive language in the company with immediate effect. Arndt also implements this in your statements: “We made important progress in the past year and will continue to work hard to build a diverse and inclusive culture within our organization and for our customers and partners.”