As the new global head of the HR department at Symrise, Katharina Dürbaum explains in an interview how she intends to direct the Group’s HR strategy in the coming years. The company is committed to diversity, con­sistent succession planning and new ways of supporting its employees worldwide.


Ms. Dürbaum, you started at Symrise in May 2021, and in September the company’s shares were added to the DAX®. Has this inclusion changed the demands being placed on HR work at Symrise?

Overall, the challenges of HR work have grown significantly. For listed companies, what is known as the social footprint is also becoming increasingly important, especially our ESG (economic, social, governance) goals: both within the company and in relation to suppliers and customers. Our inclusion in the DAX® also brings with it heightened interest from investors, proxy advisors (i.e., the voting advisors of investors), journalists and NGOs in human resources issues. They want to know which goals we are pursuing and implementing as part of our corporate strategy. Our focus as a globally active and dynamically growing company is on diversity, equal opportunity and sustainability.

How do you define the term diversity for your work – and where do you want to take it?

For me, diversity is based on many aspects. One obvious and important aspect is gender diversity. For us, recruiting, developing and promoting women, including in management positions, is a key issue. Another aspect that is just as important for our corporate success, which comes from working together in diverse teams, is having employees from different cultures and nationalities. I also see the exchange between generations as an outstanding opportunity to work together, from different perspectives, on our current and future challenges. For me, making diversity into a value we embody at Symrise is a success factor that enables creative, innovative and sustainable solutions while also allowing us to work together in a constructive, lively spirit of togetherness.

How do you experience diversity at Symrise and how do you foster it?

Symrise has an open, entrepreneurial corporate culture characterized by team spirit, cross-border co­operation and the will to succeed. Our dynamic working environment allows employees to contribute individually with their different experiences, ways of thinking and skill sets. Currently, we are developing a comprehensive plan to promote our diversity in even more precise ways – in all the aspects mentioned above.

The topic of diversity is always a matter of equal opportunity. How do you make sure this is achieved?

It is important to us to give all employees equal opportunities, for example when it comes to their career and development prospects. We also want to offer our employees fair compensation. This not only motivates employees but is also in line with our corporate values. Only recently, we saw this confirmed for our German sites: Symrise was recognized for its fair pay with an award, the Universal Fair Pay Check, by the NGO Fair Pay Innovation Lab under the patronage of German Labor Minister ­Hubertus Heil. This certification also takes into account various diversity characteristics such as gender or age.

We want to remain attractive as an em­ployer in all countries of the world – also in comparison with other companies in our industry.Katharina Dürbaum, Corporate Vice President Group Human Resources



of our more than 11,000 employees do not work in Germany.

You mentioned the age factor. What are the challenges that you see here?

On the one hand, it’s about fostering inspiring and constructive collaboration in and with teams in which all age groups and generations are represented in our company. I see this as a particular strength of Symrise, because mutual recognition and sharing knowledge and experience play a major role – in Germany, in other countries and across borders.

And on the other hand, it is important to have a strategic succession planning that takes into account the dynamics in our company along with changing job profiles and ­areas of responsibility in the future. Our career development process “Grow” plays an important role here. We also consistently foster talent within the Company regardless of heritage, gender or age. The establishment and expansion of cross-segment and international programs, targeted international assignments or the assumption of new or expanded areas of responsibility are examples of how we successfully support our employees person­ally and professionally. We are especially pleased with the success of our very high quality e-learning tool that was launched globally this year. It offers employees worldwide training opportunities in 30 languages. Interest is par­ticularly high in specific seminars for managers focused on women in management positions, the management of hybrid teams (working at home and in the office) or international teams with different nationalities.

What role does training at Symrise play here?

It has a very high priority for us, as shown by multiple awards in company comparisons over the past four years. On the one hand, we recruit qualified young people who we train to meet our needs. And on the other hand, we also fulfill a social mission by offering a wide range of trainee positions. 40 trainees starting with us in Germany alone, mainly in chemical-technical professions and technical professions as well as commercial careers. Many of our employees are also in work-study programs.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many ­employees have been working from home, some ­permanently and some occasionally. How do you see this development, also with a view to the future?

This is a challenging, complex and, above all, global issue. Since 7,000 of our more than 11,000 employees do not work in Germany, it is very important to coordinate with the many countries in which we operate. In Germany, the situation looks like this: Two-thirds of all employees at the headquarters in Holzminden, as well as in Braunschweig and Nördlingen, have to be on site every day – mainly employees in production or in the laboratory. Here, as at our production sites around the world, it is important to strike a balance between work­ing from home or remotely and working in our offices, laboratories and production facilities. We don’t want to create what might seem like a “two-tier society.” Here, we need solutions for the Group overall. It is also important that personal contact between a manager and their team, or among team members and with other departments, not get lost as a result of working from home. Personal conversations, seeing colleagues face-to-face, chatting about news and developments are very important for building and maintaining personal ties. The last few years of the pandemic have shown that “alienation” can also lead employees to feel that they are replacable in their work for a company. That’s why we are working to develop a solution that allows us to bring all these aspects together.

What issues are important to you for the coming years up to 2030?

Particularly in the Western European countries of the EU and especially Germany, we need to actively address the demographic shift – both now and in the coming years. How can we counter the extreme labor and executive shortages that will occur as entire generations retire? In all countries of the world, we have to ask ourselves how we can remain attractive as an employer – even as we compete with other companies. We want to show what makes us unique. In addition to appropriate pay, this includes a fair and constructive corporate culture, exciting tasks and opportunities for development, and having a good reputation as a company. Which is why we were delighted to be ranked among Germany’s best employers in 2021 in a nationwide survey of the population conducted by the rating and ranking agency ServiceValue in cooperation with the well-known newspaper WELT. We want to continue to foster a lively spirit of cooperation and diversity. And last but not least, to achieve parity between genders and many nationalities in our global leader­ship positions. My hope is that by 2030 this won’t be much of a talking point anymore because it has become part of the standard way we do business.