Sarah O’Hare of Freudenberg: 5 Steps We Must Take to Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative…

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Sarah O’Hare of Freudenberg: 5 Steps We Must Take to Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society

Identify your goal — When it comes to building a better society, we have to set goals and establish a baseline. It’s not enough to just recognize growth areas, but let’s put some thought into tangible outcomes.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Sarah O’Hare.

Sarah O’Hare serves as Global Head of Human Resources at Freudenberg Group. Equipped with over 25 years of progressive experience, Sarah has seen tangible results in all facets of HR and business, including: talent management and acquisition, training, employee relations, among others — working diligently to ensure employee success on a global scale.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Simply put, I am a product of growing up in America in the 1970s and 80s―but what was unique for me was the opportunity to travel internationally as a child because my parents valued a global perspective. I did not know anyone else my age who did that at the time; it was a privileged situation that deeply impacted my worldview and understanding of people and culture.

Germany was the first country we went to―such a beautiful place with stunning castles and landscapes. Some of my fondest memories involve watching my mom learn basic German. There were no cellphones, no GPS systems―you had to pull out a map. Unfortunately, my mom has passed away, and although I certainly appreciated it then, I really value her creating that memory for me today.

So, I paint this picture of an average kid living an American lifestyle, but visiting Europe piqued my interest in the German lifestyle―from learning the language to studying in Germany for three months in college―those are special experiences, and perhaps that is why I now work for a German company. I didn’t initially seek it out, but when the opportunity came, Freudenberg had a special pull not only being a German based brand, but also having a global handprint and footprint.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I learned I love historical fiction because of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier. It’s impactful and the storyline is fabulous. Tracy is an author who showed me you can seamlessly combine good writing and content.

In fact, up until recently, I had a beautiful gallery painting of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in my home that was gifted to me by my mother, painted by Jan Vermeer―the master of light from the Netherlands.

Outside of that, my favorite author is Margaret George. The first book I ever read by her was “Memoirs of Cleopatra.” It tells a compelling story while weaving in information about a time, place, and the way people lived and incidents in history. Her books are all about 750 pages and you never want them to end.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

The first thing that comes to mind is “never turn back.” Both in my private life and professional life, this serves me well. It probably came from something mundane―maybe we left something at a hotel or missed a turn, but it comes down to navigating around what may have been an issue, a mistake or something we could’ve improved. Never turning back gives you energy to move forward without dwelling on what was.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

In its simplest form, leadership is idea generation, which I like to call vision. Then, at least for me personally, it comes down to execution. A leader―whether you lead a project, people or an idea―must also cultivate the optimal atmosphere to design and implement a concept all the way through the pipeline, focusing on collaboration, team, spirit, passion and inclusion.

Inclusion is something Freudenberg values. We believe diverse people and a diverse purpose are key pillars to success and development. Through global initiatives for gender and racial equality, training, talent development and management―we focus on growth and learning opportunities.

Everyone has a voice at the table and keeping them as part of that process is as crucial as the ultimate outcome. In whatever I’m doing as a leader, I want an effective team that feels included and wants to belong as much as they want to deliver results.

As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

When I think about a high stakes meeting, being prepared and knowing the topic is the foundation. I personally don’t work scripted in an effort to maintain authenticity, but on the same token, want to ensure I don’t miss any key points―so I cycle through my message beforehand.

Another tip: join the room as soon as possible. Allow yourself time to absorb the energy, hop in on discussions and take note of the existing dynamic. When I feel like I’m part of the room, my stress level naturally dissipates because I’m settled into the session.

Primarily, though―remember to breathe. A pinnacle point in my career was when I was asked to deliver a presentation to couple hundred company executives. I had my topic (one I was not overly familiar with), created a slide deck and then my boss made his imprint. Presenting information I was not locked into, on a slide that wasn’t mine, put me at a disadvantage. I bombed it―it was the longest 20 minutes of my life.

Although I was mortified, it was a defining moment for me. Because of it, I changed my personal protocol and vowed I would never let that happen to me again―either the material will be 99.9% mine, or I’ll have a deep grasp of it.

In the summer of 2020, the United States faced a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on what made the events of 2020 different from racial reckonings in the past?

In 2020 there were advocates and allies beyond any particular racial group who were horrified, saw the need for change and wanted to make an impact. In addition to that, social media propelled news, information and resources forward at lightning speed. And, that is what’s different: the speed of the cry, and perhaps even the volume of the cry.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

As a company going on 175 years, it’s no secret Freudenberg cares genuinely and deeply about people. We are equipped with the tools to make DEI great but recognize this is an evolving process, and our work will never be done. As a global company, we want to set an example and keep a pulse on recruitment efforts for a diverse pool of top talent, from our boardroom down to our entry level positions.

To remain agile and adapt to the latest cultural dynamics, it is important to have a baseline of goals for recruitment in diversity and inclusion. At Freudenberg, we are in this for the long-haul and committed to setting a baseline that is achievable and adaptable for our business groups.

We analyzed the makeup of our workforce, found out where we could improve, then gave our business groups the support they needed to make plans. It was also imperative that executives were locked in and prepared to set goals for themselves considering Freudenberg’s global footprint.

Organically improving gender equality internally was and continues to be a big goal for Freudenberg―and by 2025, we’re looking for top executives to be 20% women, improved from 5%―which we’re on track to do. I take immense pride in being part of the initial foundation of this benchmark. And in order to have the roof of the house strong, we have to ensure a strong bench and create opportunities for growth down the entire pipeline.

Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Providing role models for the organization is important, and it presents itself in many different forms. When you hear employees talk about women in leadership, or leaders from varying countries — that is valuable. Especially in a global environment, it’s vital to represent the globe.

Mirroring the communities companies operate in, from a business perspective, is instrumental to success. It starts with an accessible recruitment process that is open to not only diversity in culture and gender but also skillsets, leadership styles, and education.

Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

Identify your goal

When it comes to building a better society, we have to set goals and establish a baseline. It’s not enough to just recognize growth areas, but let’s put some thought into tangible outcomes. At Freudenberg, we have worked with each of our business groups to help them set individualized goals that enable the business groups to visualize and improve their DEI initiatives.

Have inclusive leaders

Operate with a tone of value. To achieve a thriving culture, executives must help bring that to the table. For me personally, it is imperative to foster a culture in which everyone feels valued, respected and heard. The numbers are foundational, but if the company doesn’t allow employees to thrive — you aren’t optimizing the atmosphere.


It’s critical to work together toward a shared ambition and guide one another on what that path might look like.

Once a year, Freudenberg holds a global talent management conference. One item we cover is succession planning: our obligation to ensure long-term orientation and development. I embedded a diversity and inclusion chapter, where goal setting is discussed, and we’re able to outline implementation strategy collaboratively.

Prevent barriers to access

It’s all about sourcing differently. You can’t mandate who to hire, but you can ensure everyone is getting a fair chance. For example, measure the number of women your company is interviewing, support those with disabilities and strengthen racial diversity. Initiatives should not be self-serving — they should get people in the door.

Make your community better

We have an opportunity to make the communities in which we operate better in some way. It may result in finding new talent for the company, but ultimately that work is to better the people and world around us.

Purdue University has an Engineering Academic Boot Camp to help incoming underrepresented students. We mentor, work with and fund part of that program — delivering resources to those individuals.

This involvement was spearheaded by Josephine Casely-Hayford, Freudenberg’s Director of Sales. That’s what is thrilling about community involvement — so many great ideas don’t come from HR, they come from dedicated employees going above their typical duties.

What makes you optimistic about the future of the US? Can you please explain?

I’m hopeful we will stay on a journey of change and our country will move in a progressive direction.

I’m fortunate to have two amazing children in their twenties. I really believe our children are fundamentally different as a generation―they see the world and use its tools in a unique way. Moreover, they have a distinct sensitivity and desire for equality, inclusion and social justice.

Furthermore, international brands are reflecting this sentiment. Freudenberg fortunately has been a leader in this space. We are community oriented and we understand the global responsibility we have as a brand. We prioritize clean energy, sustainability and philanthropy. We strive to act quickly and provide help where we can. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, we started a global program through which we provided funds to food banks around the word and donated masks to schools and senior centers, and in 2022, Freudenberg donated more than $3 million in immediate humanitarian aid to those affected by the war in Ukraine.

It is uplifting to know companies are taking a closer look at how they can leave the world better than they found it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

I believe the most compelling people are those in our personal lives, so I’d spend time with my late brother.

Outside of my personal relationships — Elizabeth the First. When you look at what she overcame to sit on the throne of a very divided country, she’d have a lot to offer us in terms of how to navigate complicated waters. She was certainly ruthless, but there’s a lot to learn from her. Especially in light of the current state of our country and the divisions we are seeing — the lack of discourse weighs on me deeply. Elizabeth is just an extraordinary individual and woman who had an opportunity to influence.

How can our readers follow you online?

Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn at, and stay up to date on Freudenberg at or via LinkedIn at

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Sarah O’Hare of Freudenberg: 5 Steps We Must Take to Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.