What is diversity?

Diversity refers to differences in values, standards, attitudes, culture, gender, conviction, physical characteristics etc. in a society, a community, an organisation, a company.
Diversity refers to interpersonal differences without underestimating the importance of a common background (it is not a glorification of individualism).

What is meant by a diversity policy?

It is a policy which bears in mind the differences between individuals. After all, they contribute to the creation of a more productive and creative environment. It helps an organisation or company to select and recruit people from minority groups and to make them stay in order to benefit from their talents as much as possible to achieve the company goals.

A diversity policy is meant to trigger a structural as well as a mentality change:
So that all clients and/or employees of an organisation/company provide the same quality service and/or are served in the same way
So that an organisation/company reflects the diversity of our society
So that diversity becomes an indispensable part of the organisation’s or company’s culture
So that the management actually does something to stimulate diversity

A company’s/organisation’s diversity policy is all-embracing:
First of all, it is the policy of an organisation/company
Embracing the organisation’s or company’s product
Involving the organisation’s or company’s staff
Encompassing the organisation’s or company’s communication policy
The importance of these four factors may vary.

What is a diversity manager?

A diversity manager initiates, co-ordinates and implements an organisation’s diversity policy. The policy incites us to take initiatives in a proactive way to attract a diverse group of potential employees, to make them stay and to ensure a swift co-operation. Nowadays, organisations have broadened the definition of diversity; our target group consists of immigrants, people over 45, women (when it comes to executive positions), disabled people, young people, low-skilled workers, homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals, ex-convicts and so on. The ultimate goal is to make diversity an integral part of an organisation’s values, vision and policy.

A diversity manager possesses a good dose of managerial, communicative and problem-solving skills and a great deal of patience. He is able to see things in perspective and has a thorough knowledge of the various minority groups he has to work with. He knows their culture as well as their expectations and is aware of their value to the company/organisation. His most important tasks are dealing with prejudice and situations of resistance, communication, group dynamics and the process of developing and implementing a diversity policy (from job@).

A diversity manager is indeed the person who analyses –initially with the manager/director– what needs to be done. What is the aim? Where do we want to go? The diversity manager is not an external expert telling you what to do. Diversity results from the people who work for the company: together they have to undergo a mentality change. The diversity manager’s job is to give hints and information when needed.

The diversity manager has to have an eye for similarities between groups, yet he may not deny the differences. We must indeed be on our guard not to bury the existing differences under an avalanche of good intentions. Working with a deaf colleague for instance is different from working with one without hearing problems. But it doesn’t say anything about his productivity or attitude. A different approach will be needed, yet the interaction will not necessarily be less pleasant.

Why diversity?

Since the Age of Enlightenment, we have the opportunity to pay more attention to our personal needs. Ever since, the individualisation of society has become an irreversible fact, which creates obstacles as well as numerous possibilities. New markets are explored, we try different strategies to sell our products.

Employers are well aware that their employees remain the most essential instrument in the production line. In Flanders, human capital is the most crucial of all raw materials. And every employee has his own personal needs. It is not easy to respect everyone’s wishes or to anticipate them, yet it is a crucial focal point for every manager, for it is common knowledge that a satisfied employee performs better and is more loyal to the organisation/company.

Every company/organisation is strongly tied to society, for it works through, for and with society. Quite evidently –or so it ought to be– the composition of its staff reflects that of its environment. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case for many Flemish companies and organisations.

According to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2001 discrimination remains one of Belgium’s greatest obstacles to compete with other companies in the international market. Some companies know the implications of an intolerant attitude in an open, export-oriented region such as Flanders, with its important transit function in international traffic. On a social scale, companies are aware of the advantages of a diverse workforce when it comes to social cohesion. When concrete actions are linked to strategic or operational goals, everyone will benefit from it and, at the end of the day, all stakeholders will be satisfied.

The main advantages of diversity (from the agenda of the Vlaams Economisch Verbond (Flemish Economic Union)):

Employer of choice
One of the most important advantages is that an enterprise with a diverse workforce has a better chance to present itself as an employer of choice.
“By consciously managing diversity we are able to fulfil the needs of our employees, which may contribute to an increased job satisfaction and for example a lower level of absenteeism.”
A better working environment
A higher tolerance level amongst employees reduces tensions on the work floor and increases job satisfaction and efficiency. When mutual comprehension transcends company borders, employees contribute to a higher tolerance level in society.
More creativity
For many companies diversity catalyses creativity and problem-solving thinking. These companies point out that a heterogeneous group sees things form different points of view and easily comes to various insights.
A higher reputation capital
A company which fights against discrimination actively solidifies its reputation capital. Some enterprises have adopted a diversity management programme to clearly state their ‘company values’, which results into a higher level of loyalty amongst their employees and very often a more constructive relationship with the unions and authorities.
Marketing opportunities
When an enterprise starts paying more attention to diversity beyond company walls –thanks to its diversity management– this may lead to the discovery of new markets, which, in combination with a positive image, may offer interesting lucrative opportunities.
"We find it very important that our customers identify with our company. Therefore, we carefully watch demographic changes as well as mentality changes.”
A greater interest in internationalisation
Given the continuing internationalisation of the trade and job market, companies are focusing more explicitly on workers of foreign origin. By encouraging cultural diversity as well as intercultural communication, we facilitate their integration and stimulate their achievements. Moreover, the knowledge of and the openness to cultural differences may have a positive impact on a company’s relations with its commercial partners.

A few figures from the Vlaams Economisch Verbond

5% or 293000 inhabitants of the Flemish Region are not of Belgian nationality.
16% of all non-working job seekers are not of EU origin, compared to 9% in 1995.
11% of all non-working job seekers are registered with the VDAB (the Flemish Public Employment Service) as ‘disabled workers’.
Over the past 20 years, the female working population in the Flemish Region increased with 230000 people, whereas the male working population decreased with 45000 people.
According to estimations, the total group of those under 50 will continue to decrease from 2.9 million in 2000 to 2.75 million in 2010 and finally to 2.5 million in 2020.

In a nutshell

A successful diversity management allows companies to anticipate demographic changes across the world as well as the globalisation of world trade more easily. Thanks to an appropriate diversity policy a company is able to improve its financial state as well as the productivity and job satisfaction of its employees. A good company policy has an impact on staff turnover, the organisation’s vulnerability when it comes to legal obligations and its reputation. Diversity can also stimulate innovation, e.g. with regard to the development of new products.

If this isn’t convincing, what is ?

How to implement a diversity policy ?

A different approach will be needed for every organisation/company, depending on the existing culture and objectives.

A few generalities:

Both the staff and the management may take initiatives to launch a diversity policy. When, however, the initiative is not supported by the top of the company it is bound to fail.

In general, a working group with representatives from the management and the various departments is appointed. They are assisted by the diversity manager.

At first, they think about what needs to be done: they study the causes of the problems and how they will tackle them. Finally, a solution strategy is transformed into an action plan with a clear timing.

To begin with, the entire organisational culture has to be made explicit: no secrets are allowed. Afterwards, we reflect upon the organisation as a whole ¬–not just a number of people or groups¬– playing a role in the diversity policy. The entire process is led by the diversity manager.

The next step is to enthuse the entire staff about the diversity process, since everyone will benefit from it. Once again, the diversity manager will steer the process.

Sometimes, the diversity manager calls upon external experts (specialised in various fields) or on minority groups to obtain certain information. He will use the gathered information and his expertise when assisting organisations/companies.

Needless to say that to trigger a mentality change –which is after all our main objective– a series of lectures and study days will not suffice. A diversity policy is a never ending story with highs and lows and ups and downs. As long as the concept is not internalised, there will always have to be a diversity manager to guide the process.

Developing a diversity policy has structural and financial implications. Fortunately the Flemish government supports organisations/companies by granting subsidies. For further details check out the page ‘cost price’.

Cost price ?

When the Pact of Vilvoorde was sealed on 22 November 2001, the Flemish government and social partners set a number of targets to be achieved by 2010. The fifth target of the pact is to catch up on the backlog of women and disadvantaged groups (such as foreigners, disabled workers, low-skilled workers) regarding their participation in the labour market. By 2010, they will no longer be overrepresented in unemployment statistics.

The government’s approach is both inclusive and integrated. The legislator makes every direct or indirect discrimination or intimidation as to descent, sex or handicap liable to penalty.

The Flemish government indeed wishes to promote diversity in Flemish companies and organisations. It is not just a hollow phrase, for the government organises study days and offers subsidies.

From this year on, companies are offered more chances/subsidies to develop diversity plans. Over the past six years, approximately 1100 enterprises in Flanders have established a diversity plan and every year, the Flemish government invests little over 5 million euros.

This is an overview of the different types of diversity plans:
• Entry-level diversity plans (instapdiversiteitsplannen): allow companies to get acquainted with diversity plans without far-reaching engagement or a serious administrative burden.
• Classic diversity plans: when an entire diversity policy is worked out and implemented in the enterprise.
• Growth diversity plans (groeidiversiteitsplannen): they are a further elaboration of a classic diversity plan.
• Cluster diversity plans (clusterdiversiteitsplannen): are a way to maximise the involvement of groups of SMBs when it comes to developing a diversity policy. The fact that only one applicant is responsible for the administrative handling and follow-up makes it more accessible.
Source: web site Flanders

For further information (in Dutch) check out the following web site: http//www2.vlaanderen.be/ned/sites/werk/diversiteit_plannen.htm

If you are interested, submit your application form (see http://www2.vlaanderen.be/ned/sites/werk/documenten/div_pl.doc) and a recommendation from the SERR of your region or the BNCTO (Brussels Dutch-speaking Committee for Employment and Training) for the region of Brussels, to the department for Employment Policy (Werkgelegenheidsbeleid). If you have any questions when filling out this form, please contact the project developers of the RESOC/SERR of your region. They will help you with your application form and the development of a diversity plan. To find out who is the RESOC/SERR representative of your region check out the following page:

The price I charge depends on what you ask as well as on the situation of your company/organisation. Quite evidently, the cost price will depend on the assignment.
One option is that I charge a price per day part, i.e. when certain topics are dealt with during an information session.
Mostly, a price per hour per group is charged. A supplement will be charged when the maximum number of participants is exceeded.
Since I work freelance, you may at all times put an end to our collaboration.
When you receive subsidies from the Flemish government, you can of course mention my fee in your list of expenses.

Here’s what to do: first contact the project developer of the RESOC/SERR of your region to prepare your file. Afterwards, you may contact me so that we can discuss our strategy.