Although diversity is a top priority for businesses in the Netherlands, at management level white men in blue suits still dominate. What steps do companies need to take to change this?

Ilze Lamers, Human Resource Director for Northern Europe at PageGroup, focuses a great deal of attention on the diversity policy within the organisation. She has seen how diversity has become an increasingly important theme in the workplace in recent years. “And that’s not surprising”, Ilze Lamers explains. “Both the labour market and society as a whole have become more diverse. As a company you want your workplace to reflect that. Your employees and customers need to be able to identify with your organisation. That’s only possible if your organisation pursues a good diversity policy.”

How can we see that diversity has become an important theme for companies?

“You just have to look at the huge rise in the number of companies that have signed the Diversity Charter. That makes clear that the will is there. The survey conducted by PageGroup confirms that picture.”

“At the same time, however, you also need to recognise that good intentions alone aren’t enough. It’s no secret that the vast majority of senior management roles at companies are still pretty much always held by white men in blue suits. If someone wears a pair of red socks instead of grey ones, that’s about as “diverse” as it gets.  However, the will to change that is certainly there. Companies in the Netherlands have clearly expressed their desire to increase diversity at management level.”

What is the main obstacle to increasing diversity?

“You could divide companies up into four groups.  The first group selects candidates exclusively, or almost exclusively, on the basis of their specialist knowledge. A second group gives preference to certain groups of applicants, such as women or ethnic minorities, if two candidates are equally suitable for a role: we refer to this as positive discrimination. During the selection process neither of these two groups considers whether a person will fit in with the corporate culture. It is therefore possible that a candidate will not feel at home within the organisation.”

“The third group does think about whether the individual will fit in with the corporate culture. Is it someone you’d be happy to go for a beer with, so to speak? With this approach you soon end up choosing the same kind of candidates: namely, people who are similar to the employees you already have. That means you will never achieve a diverse organisation in this way. The fourth group of companies therefore pursues an active policy to create a diverse organisation within which everyone can feel at home.”

How do these companies go about this? What do they do differently in their recruitment and selection process to make the workplace more diverse, but without people feeling excluded?

“The first step is to select candidates based on their skills, while at the same time ensuring that these are linked to your corporate culture.  At PageGroup we have defined a number of values on the basis of our “Purpose” – what we stand for as an organisation. One of these values is “Teamwork, One Page”, for example. The skills that candidates need to demonstrate are a translation of these values. The value “Teamwork”, for example, is associated with skills such as “being able to adapt easily to different styles of working” and “being able to contribute positively to harmony within the team”. The advantage of this approach is that we have an objective benchmark that allows us to assess whether a suitable candidate will also fit in with our corporate culture. It makes no difference what a person’s background is.”

 How do you then ensure that all these different people also feel comfortable within the organisation?

“That is indeed the next step: you can put together a highly diverse team, but that does not necessarily mean that everyone will get on with each other. To achieve that, you need to create an “inclusive” culture within the company. Someone once gave me a nice example that illustrates this: diversity means that you invite lots of very different people to a party; inclusivity means that all these people also dance with each other. That’s the big challenge. I believe that you start by cultivating an understanding of each other’s differences. At PageGroup, for example, we organise a “diversity lunch” every year, to which everyone brings along a typical dish from his or her own country. That may seem like a simple example, but food and eating habits are an accessible way to get to know and appreciate someone else’s culture.”

“What’s more, greater diversity automatically results in greater inclusivity. It has a self-perpetuating effect: the more diverse the organisation, the more different people you attract who are keen to work for you and are therefore also open to working with colleagues with a different background or different preferences. This is a process you can already see happening at many large companies. As they operate globally, their employees come from all parts of the world. Diversity is the future.”

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