We talk a lot in business about the importance of innovation and have a massive need for talent and innovative perspectives. But if that's really the case, why are we often so predictable and one-sided in choosing the people we work with? Change maker Ruth Nahumury-van de Poll explains why all companies have blind spots when it comes to inclusion and diversity.
'Great that there is more attention than ever within organizations for diversity policy,' says Ruth, who is making inroads nationwide with her expertise bureau No Labels. She does add an important note to her enthusiasm: "What many companies overlook is that there is only real room for diversity if you are an inclusive organization. By that I mean an open atmosphere, with room for different perspectives. An atmosphere in which all employees dare to speak out and are actually heard.'
Our brain wants easy
Anyone who lets this statement by Ruth sink in realizes that even a homogeneous group of white men is not obviously inclusive. And that diversity encompasses more than origin or gender. What good is hiring a colleague who is very different in the world - in any way - if you are not going to listen to new perspectives anyway? 'When we collaborate with others, our brain prefers to choose someone who looks like us,' Ruth explains. 'That's easy and quick, then we can carry on as we were used to.
But if we want to innovate and innovate, it is precisely necessary to rub shoulders. And then you need people with different experiences; people who have a - for you - different view.' Investing in inclusion and diversity pays off "Yes, it takes time and effort to work with people who are different from ourselves," Ruth knows from experience. 'Especially if there are cultural differences to bridge. But in the long run, it's an investment that pays off. Numerous studies show that teams that score high on inclusion and diversity perform better. Together you literally have a broader view and that contributes to the creative and innovative capacity. Besides these gains, with an inclusive organization you also run less risk of loss. Because: exclusion makes people sick, and when people are not truly heard, frustration, absenteeism and turnover occur. That's why inclusion is essential to a successful diversity policy.'
Everyone is needed
Diversity, according to Ruth, includes everything in which people differ from each other. Inclusion is about how you deal with those differences. That is why diversity policy is not a matter of ticking boxes, but of permanent awareness in how we work together. We need to think about who can and cannot participate. Unfortunately, there are too many people who, because of - often unconscious - prejudice, are given fewer opportunities and possibilities. It is my personal motivation to change this with No Labels. Because it is necessary for the people who are not yet fully allowed to participate, but also because in these challenging times we need everyone to move forward as a society.
'Most companies do want to, they just don't really know how,' notes Ruth. 'Moreover, prejudices are stubborn. We all have them and it remains a lifelong process to remain aware of them. I too have a predominantly white perspective, even though I am married to a Moluccan man and work with a very diverse team at No Labels. As a recruiter, I always thought I was neutral, yet I was not. Our brains automatically stick labels and we choose - sometimes consciously, but much more often unconsciously - people who look like us. And that tendency always remains, but the good news is: we can indeed learn to take breaks and question ourselves critically.'
How inclusive does & thinks NOM
With an online white paper on diversity and inclusion, NOM encourages companies to take concrete steps. In order to set a good example, NOM signed the diversity statement #FundRight in 2020: a promise to invest - within three years - only in start-ups of which at least 35% of the management team consists of women. And, of course, to achieve that 35% also within its own team of investment managers.
'Self-reflection remains important, which is why within NOM we are working with No Labels to create awareness around this theme,' says Annemarie Atema (NOM). 'We have formulated a preliminary vision and are still looking for answers in practice. For: what if a white man really is the best candidate? And: do we still want to invest in companies without women? These are questions that sometimes chafe, but that is necessary to achieve renewal.'