Scientific research shows that results improve in a diverse and inclusive organizational culture. What measures are companies taking to promote diversity & inclusiveness? And does this affect leadership style?
Esmeralda van Boon
Program Manager of Diversity & Inclusion at Noorderpoort.
Noorderpoort is a regional training center with several locations in Groningen and Drenthe.
What makes you so qualified for the position of diversity & inclusion program manager?
I asked myself the same thing when Noorderpoort approached me. My best friend indicated that she knows me as someone who dares to facilitate and engage in the difficult conversation. And that is also true. My own background is diverse. I studied Arabic, lived and worked in the Middle East and have been in conflict and war zones many times as a journalist for Dutch television and radio. Back in the Netherlands, I worked at COA and as an integration advisor at the municipality of Groningen. For myself, it is the most normal thing in the world that everyone should be allowed to participate and be given a chance. But unfortunately this is not yet the case everywhere in reality. I would like to talk to an awful lot of people about that. That is exactly what I am doing now. I am there for everyone at Noorderpoort.
How do you develop diverse and inclusive policies at Noorderpoort?
In Noorderpoort's vision, everyone should be able to take the next step. I am investigating whether we can make that happen and, if not, whether we can improve it. Developing a diverse and inclusive policy is something you do together. It starts by holding up a mirror to yourself. We sat down with employees from different departments and functions to come up with the basic principles of the policy. In that session, questions arose. Are we really open to everyone, also in our recruitment and selection? How do we shape citizenship classes? How do we communicate internally and externally, with students? And do we show the diversity we have in house? In the meantime, during my tour of all the locations, I also enter the conversation.
My program consists of parallel processes that hook into each other and at some point ensure that there is more diversity and inclusion in the DNA of Noorderpoort. At least, that is my goal. A broad assignment, which was given even more weight after I took office by the media storm about transgressive behavior and then the war in Ukraine.
How do you deal with such topics in school?
I talk to students a lot. The war causes unrest at school I have noticed in those conversations. So the idea arose to give guest lectures in which we explain and provide context on topics that are important to students, such as the war, refugees, the media. In the guest lectures, we establish a dialogue. We asked the schools to mix courses and levels so that students meet and get to know each other. Because that's what you want, unknown makes unloved. Every guest lesson we face a group of about 40 to 60 students. Meanwhile, 1,000 students have already participated and we are going even further.
What does inclusive communication entail?
Inclusive communication requires an environment that is safe, where people participating in a conversation feel respected and heard, and where they can speak openly, even if they have a different opinion. To achieve that, it is important to agree and implement a new norm with each other. Unfortunately, too often you still see conversations hardening because people disagree with each other. But there is usually something in the other person's story that we can agree on.
How are you as a leader?
I'm a connector and always trying to get everyone on board. I am working to find people to work with on every part of the program we have put together. I am under no illusion that I have all the knowledge to do this job on my own; most of the knowledge is already in our organization. Working together, we will get to work on this and make it a success.
What would you like to give other leaders?
Attention to diversity and inclusion is a bit of hype, but much needed. And that, of course, is a shame. It's not a matter of ticking a few boxes and then the job is done. When Noorderpoort approached me for this position, I suggested to them not to hire me as an external employee but to make me internal. If you want diverse and inclusive dealings with each other to be common sense, it is important to keep paying constant attention to it. At least that is my view.
Do you have a role model?
Not really no. I do have a book that really inspires me and that I can recommend to anyone concerned with this topic. The Inclusion Marathon by Kauthar Bouchallikht and Zoe Papaikonomou is about diversity and equality in the workplace. The authors talked to 41 diversity professionals and researchers about their knowledge and experience in the workplace. Really a cool book.
Who would you like to read about next time in this column?
I would like to give the floor to Cissy Gressmann, project coordinator of the cultural event Bittersweet Heritage.
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- How do you arrange more diversity and inclusion?
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