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Diversity is not a chore

Reading the piece ‘Board chairmen meeting on more color in the board room’ in the Dutch Financial Times left me bewildered. The article reports that the white top of Dutch business and the SER (Social and Economic Counsel) are joining efforts to get more people with a migration background into the board room. Instead of ‘get’ I almost wrote ‘order’. Because of the emphasis on skin tone and the underestimation of other aspects, like coaching and cultural identity, I felt their view on diversity is very limited and unproductive. As I could hardly believe what I had just read, I reread the article. And again reached the same conclusion: the white top in The Netherlands hardly talks to but all the time about people with a migration background. Like they are pieces of furniture that with hasty regulations can be shoved into the photo of the board.

The most alarming part of this article is that a bureaucratic truth of statistics and reports is driving the new initiative rather than a heart felt need for change, for multiple perspectives in the board room. Only because the numbers don’t look good, they feel the need to push forward and gear up an extra apparatus. ‘The board room should mirror society,’ says SER chairwoman Mariëtte Hamer. As logical and sympathetic as that may seem, essentially it is a license to pick through candidates without giving their individual talents any thought, and only based on color and ethnicity hire or reject them. This to correct the numbers on paper so that Mrs Hamer can have her mirror of society. Bureaucracy at its worst: numbers matter more than people.

De vraag moet volgens mij niet zijn: hoe dresseren, stimuleren of positioneren we mensen met een migratieachtergrond zó dat ze op de directiefoto terechtkomen? Maar: hoe kunnen we onze bedrijfscultuur zodanig inrichten dat allen, ook degenen met een migratieachtergrond, zich meer dan welkom voelen? En hoe scheppen we een klimaat waarin ieders meerwaarde – blank, gekleurd, jong, oud, alfa, beta – tot volle bloei komt? Zou het kunnen dat deze vragen amper gesteld worden, omdat ze te bedreigend zijn voor de blanke top aan de vergadertafel?

With this ‘How do we train, stimulate or position people with a migration background in such a way that they show up on that photo of the board?’ we are asking the wrong question. We should think about how we can craft our business culture in a way that everyone, including people with a migration background, feels more than welcome. How do we create a climate in which everyone’s potential – regardless of skin tone, age or aptitude – can be fulfilled? Could it be that no one is asking these questions, because they are too threatening to the white business top?

The diverse country that we are en will become even more, deserves so much more that the top down directing of ideal pictures.

Diversity is not a chore, it is a formidable chance.