After the introduction of women’s right to vote in the Netherlands one hundred years ago, (in)equality between men and women in the workplace is still an ongoing debate. The scope of the debate even moved from a binary understanding of diversity to a much broader notion of the concept. The ‘right’ balance between male and female employees was the original goal. Now, a diverse workforce is ideally made up of employees having various ethnic, cultural and religious heritages and different study backgrounds, alongside a balanced distribution of genders.
Although the debate on diversity has been going on for quite some time now, new developments still occur. One of the most recent developments is the recommendation the Dutch Social and Economic Council (SER) made in September 2019, which had the purpose of bringing more diversity into boardrooms. The recommendation follows the target figure set in 2013, which had the intention of getting company boards and supervisory boards to be made up of thirty per cent of female members.
The share of women in the boardrooms did actually increase and some employers, such as Deloitte, are already taking action themselves. Nonetheless, the set-out goal was not achieved. Remarkable in this latest SER recommendation is its obligatory nature in comparison to the ‘voluntary’ approach in 2013. In hindsight, this may be a watershed moment in the diversity debate.
Shift in attitude
Another remarkable development is the changed attitude in the industry. Employers and employer organisations traditionally rejected any form of a binding measure, such as quota, and considered diversity a government matter. The government should set an example by having a diverse workforce, but diversity should not be enforced upon companies. At the start of 2020, industry leaders admit they need the quota to fundamentally change the way seats in the boardrooms are allocated.
However, this does not imply there are no companies that take their responsibility on this matter and have already prioritised diversity in their recruitment. Across the board, company leaders seem divided on the matter. Some reject the binding nature of any such recommendation but fully embrace the goal it set out to achieve. They find external, negative and positive incentives unwanted infringements on their business doing.
Taking the lead
Big-4 firm Deloitte is a great example of a company that takes the many dimensions of diversity seriously. They prioritise this from the start of the recruitment process, even before the first application. Experienced recruiter Donja Huidar takes on the challenge to bring more women to IT functions at Deloitte. Moreover, she highly values the skills of HBO candidates in the IT sector and therefore accepts applications from this group as well, whilst Deloitte normally offers positions to applicants with a university degree only. Together with Magnet.me, Deloitte regularly organises events, aimed at bringing together a diverse and promising group of high potential students.
Donja explains that men and women generally have different ways of thinking, which can be optimally used only in cooperation with each other. Men tend to think more practically, whereas women tend to approach a problem more holistically. So men may act quicker, but women’s solutions are more complete. At the intersection of these two -generalised- tendencies, a company finds most value. A similar distinction can be found between students having a university degree and those having a HBO degree. While the former is more occupied with the why of a problem, the latter is concerned with the how.
Finding the right balance marries a more abstract with a more practical approach, again leading to new approaches and more creativity, achieving new heights in productivity. With this approach, Deloitte shows it understands that differences work complementary rather than contradictory.
The true value of diversity
The realisation that diversity is not merely an ethic, but an economic or strategic decision is paramount to the normalisation of a diverse workforce. As such, the added value of diversity within companies should be emphasised, as it truly is a competitive advantage. The recent recommendation of the SER is important in the sense that it shows a broader acknowledgement of the value of diversity and the willingness of decision-makers to act accordingly, but no more than that.
Real change is more sustainable when it is achieved bottom-up, rather than imposed top-down. Until then, companies with a recruitment policy such as Deloitte have an edge at the expense of other companies. This message should be repeated way more often. More diverse teams lead to more creative approaches to problem-solving and higher quality solutions. Simply put: diverse teams are just smarter.