Workshop Fast Reading in a bookshop

CIMG4206kTonight I followed a workshop Fast Reading in a bookshop: De Nieuwe Boekhandel in Amsterdam Bos en Lommer. This bookshop is a great place, run by the inspiring owner Monique who has given a new meaning to the concept of a bookshop. Her bookshop, and the name nieuw/new is deliberate, is a place to meet. Book presentations, workshops, even your birthday party could take place in that shop. When my Diversity Shop edits new things, like we did this month with De karavaan en de kamelen: teams op het spoor ( we always have a presentation and a drink in De Nieuwe Boekhandel. So we have one on March 26th, please feel wellcome:
I love Monique’s concept, it is vibrant and it has a great effect on the neighbourhood Bos en Lommer that can really do with some good entrepreneurs like Monique who invest in activities and relationships. What I like too is that De Nieuwe Boekhandel sells BoLo products, products that give Bos en Lommer an identity. Look in the left shelve of the picture and you see some of them.
Brandnew was the grey BoLo sweather so I bought one immediately. I wanted to show this sweater to you but first my Kater Aak sat on it (he liked it too) >>>

After a while. he let go and I could make a better picture showing the Amsterdam touch 🙂

Seba culture and diversity workshops in Malawi

  By now I have given 2 workshops on culture and diversity for the management team of the Stephanos Foundation. Beforehand I was wondering whether it would be possible to be of any benefit, as my knowledge about Malawi and Africa in general seemed to be low. Wasn’t it a risk to be too western in my approach, far from ‘the way we do things here’ in Malawi? But after my 2 first workshops here I can say (with some relief) that it worked out very well, also in the context of Malawi.
The awareness about culture and diversity is much bigger here than average in Europe. Most of the management team has the Malawi nationality, but they come from different tribes and have team members from various backgrounds. In workshops in for example The Netherlands, participants sometimes feel compelled to discuss the notion of culture itself: does it really matter? Aren’t we all different so what’s the point? When this occurs, it is always a participant from the ‘dominant’ group and never a member of a minority group who brings up the discussion. There is little awareness of the very existence and influence of culture and diversity – regardless whether dominant individuals find it necessary or not…
Here in Malawi I meet with strong curiosity to learn more and know how it works and what a manager can do to make it work so that diverse talents are used for the job. Exercises from The Champagne Pool (see passed without any problem: be it informal rules of the organisation, what is my culture or the five dimensions of culture from Hofstede – it all suited Malawi and Stephanos reality. Also the Makeda game gave a lot of food for thought.
The fact that the Makeda game bears the name of the Ethiopean Queen of Sheba however did not seem to interest anyone. People are very practical here and not too nationalistic. Does training material come from America, Europe, Asia or Africa? No point as long as it works in the local context. In terms of Hofstede, there is a low uncertainty avoidance (low on ‘what is different is dangerous’, difference did not scare these managers off). And there is a good sense of humour, which is always nice to have. This makes me look forward to the other 2 workshops to come.


Diversity in governance: quality comes first (kwaliteit staat op nummer één)!

  “During every match there are three minutes that really matter“, football icon Johan Cruijff said. I put this quote in my new book about diversity in the governance of public housing corporations. It relates directly to diversity competence at board level.
Diversity does not matter ‘all the time’. It is not about political correctness. It is about being open for it ánd recognizing it ánd the ability to make it work for the board and the organisation in the right moment: those three minutes that particularly matter! That is a specific competence that first of all chairs need, and then also other boardmembers.
Is diversity an issue for public housing corporations? The board members I interviewed in the book agreed on that, but they saw it in a different way. Some would put accent on the board dynamics and decision making process that are richer and more balanced in a diverse board. Others just comment on the fact that there are still few women, younger people or people with a minority background at board level, considered as less favourable for the public image of housing corporations and also less favourable for the necessary knowledge about customer needs, as the customers are much more diverse than the boards are.
The title of the book is ‘Kwaliteit staat op nummer één’, quality comes first. That is what people often say when talking about diversity, as if appointing ‘different’ people would mean bringing in less quality. Football icon Johan Cruijff said: “Quality comes first but quality must serve the entity as a whole“.
Buy my book at,, or in your local bookshop and read all about board principles, actuality in governance and diversity, practical cases and tools and so on… and please send me your feedback or other reactions, I will be happy to hear them!

Commercial diversity management (2)

  In the first blog about commercial diversity management I mentioned that quite some organisations tend to go back to ‘single characteristic’ diversity, summarized in customer feedback like: ‘we want a more specific approach, not just diversity’.  This asks a lot from our conceptual patience…
Another ‘after crisis trend’, merely found in large national government organisations, is the hope that we are now finally done with diversity. I was talking with a responsible person a short while ago and he was telling me this: ‘We are now doing inclusiveness. Nobody likes diversity any more, the word itself is unpopular. So we are now working on inclusion in the organisation’.
When I hear this kind of wording, I am so surprised. It is difficult to understand that a highly educated professional does not see the contradiction in his words. Many companies all over the world work on ‘Diversity & Inclusion’, also called D&I: it is like a twin set, one can’t be there without the other and they strengthen each other.  
So I asked the guy: ‘OK, so what exactly is it what your organisation wants to include?’ He looked at me blankly, then started to explain that our government is supported by a political party that is against diversity, so no national government organisation can work on organisational diversity any more because it would be undemocratic to do so. Didn’t I understand that? But that was not my question, and I repeated it: ‘Ok I see but then what do you include?’ I then heard many words but no answer. It was clear what he didn’t want, but not clear what he did want…
Of course every organisation has its own responsabilities. If this is how a national government organisation wants to prepare for the future, so be it. In my company Seba we see that in most organisations diversity in one way or the other is still on the agenda. Although the crisis continues, most organisations expect a war for talent in the very near future and they see diversity as a future theme that might make the difference. We support those organisations. Commercial diversity management means that we go where the opportunities are.
However, as a Dutch citizen, I like my government organisations to be the best. The challenge they face for the future is enormous and they will need the best talents to perform. What a pity to do that in ‘inclusive’ organisations where diversity is taboo…

Commercial diversity management

  One of the problems I experience in this crisis for my company is the fact that the concept of diversity seems to fall back to the situation of 15 years ago, when I started my company. In that time, the world was divided in consultants working for man-woman issues (gender), or intercultural issues, or gay-straight issues. There were several so-called target groups handling their own limited business and nobody seemed to understand yet that all there is is this: people are different and we have to learn to recognize that, face the consequences and try to create synergy, to do better than in the past when we thought everybody would be and expect the same in organisations. So we came up with a fundamentally new way of approaching differences in organisations.
Since then, I thought we made a great conceptual progress; the idea not to just think in terms of man-woman, gay-straight or black-white but in the benefit of differences in organisations. A friend predicted that it would take me 20 years to introduce the concept in the market since that is the time conceptual innovations need to be fully accepted. After 12 years, I started to think: yes eventually we will be there.
However, in 2011 a new trend came up, customers asking for specific target groups again: offers we made were refused because, as customer feedback said, ‘we want a more specific approach, not just diversity’. My analysis is that the crisis is bringing many organisations back to original basics, on a spot where they think they will have immediate success with the tools offered by us or a competitor as externe company by reducing the subject to a single difference-subject.
A hiring company should always have the lead, of course. However, it is not so easy for a commercial company like ours to just leave its truthful concept behind and adapt to concepts risen in times of crisis; because we do not believe in the effect and success that those customers hope for. We do not just work for money, we also want to realize ideas. It is a dilemma, because we also think that we should always listen to our customers, and we really lost assignments on this basis in 2011.
Considering it all, I think we will just stick to our concept in 2012 and see where it ends. One can loose everything but not one’s truth! We’ll hope for the best in 2012, and I do wish you all the best for 2012 too, with your personal truth becoming true…

My new book about diversity at work

  In the Netherlands managers often feel confused about cultural differences. The main confusion derives from the question: does this person act ‘like that’ because of his cultural background or is he ‘like that’ as a personality? Apparently managers seem to consider culture as a source of behaviour that they have to take into account, while personality as the source of behaviour means that they will not accept the behaviour they see. As they cannot decide ‘is it culture or personality’ they are facing a dilemma in how to deal with ineffective behaviours at work – let alone the question how to deal with customer behaviour that is perceived as probably culturally different.

Last week I published a new book Diversiteit op de Werkvloer (available in Dutch at that shows how culture works out in daily business life. One chapter of the book proves that culture exists, another chapter that it doesn’t exist. There is no way managers will solve their business issues by analyzing culture as an objective fact. In line with that way of thinking, diversity is much larger than just culture.
The perception of difference matters at work (and also in other situations): when you see somebody, do you see a person that looks like you or that is different from you? And how does that influence your acts, your decision making? The perception of difference includes not just culture but also gender, sexual orientation, age and many things that cannot be seen directly but can still be perceived like education, class or intelligence. Those who develop insight in the mechanisms of perceptions and skills in handling them, will be most succesfull at work.

Meet me at lunch!
Want to know more about this? Inscribe for an interesting lunch meeting and meet me in Amsterdam at 6th December or The Hague at 14th December, more info at

social safety at work for gays and lesbians

  A new scientific report was published yesterday about social safety in the workplace for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Netherlands under the title ‘Gewoon aan de slag’, see also:
The report written by professor Saskia Keuzenkamp and Ans Oudejans sketches a work environment where 14% of gay and 5% of lesbian colleagues are confronted with unfavourable reactions to their sexual identity. This might be a lot less than in many other countries, it is way too much for the Netherlands where homosexuality is equal on all legal levels to heterosexuality. Unfavourable reactions are things like nasty jokes, openly disapproval and bothersome curious questions.
Gays and lesbians who are not open at work about their sexual identity give roughly two major explanations for that: half of them consider it as private information, the other half are afraid of possible disagreeable, inconvenient reactions.
What is very good about this report is that we finally have scientific facts about social safety at work for this specific group. A lot can be assumed, it is better to know: that allows targeted measures and I really hope that companies will actively work on that! Social safety, a strong basis for talent management, will not just come by itself, it needs an effort.

What is food for thought is what I said before in a blog: that in our policies in the Netherlands we seem to pay attention to a different ‘group’ every four years. One period it’s women, then it is migrants, then it is age, now it is gays: apparently we are unable to find the right way to inclusiveness and diversity, calling it ‘too complicated’ to include all differences and sticking to group identities rather than individual identities.
The effect is that ‘groups’ interact negatively in the workplace to get the attention that they all want, and that the outcome of measures rarely is inclusiveness for all but attention, financial means and appreciation for one group versus jealousy and frustration with others. Nobody is only gay, only woman, only migrant, only young or old or whatever; the focus on group identity in workplace measures creates stereotypes rather than inclusiveness.


Company Pride in Amsterdam

 On an Amsterdam conference in July the Company Pride Platform presented the Declaration of Amsterdam ‘Call to Action’ (see also: The Company Pride Platform wants a free and safe workplace for employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – ‘pink’ I’d say but most professionals say LGBT employees so I will do that too. Four focus points are essential in Company Pride:
– inclusive corporate cultures
– working environment beyond legal minimum requirements
– active leadership from ‘straight’ allies and LGBT role models
– collaboration between ‘straight’ and LGBT for mutually beneficial improvements
The Company Pride Platform’s conference in July was a mixture of raising awareness, story telling and a call for active leadership. It was meaningful and moving to be there. The urgency for active leadership in Company Pride is clear on all levels of the organisation. Especially safety is an issue to be taken into account: socially, physically and mentally.
A note on the side of this all is that quite some questions arose to which answers already exist. Diversity is not that recent an issue; some aspects may be particular for LGBT, but most aspects are common regardless of the subject being gender, age, handicap, etnicity, religion or LGBT.  LBGT is relatively ‘new’ in this area, it certainly is a taboo in many places and not free in quite some countries. That however is an extra argument not to approach LGBT in a too isolated way, don’t loose energy by reinventing the wheel again and prevent that subgroups have to fight against each other to get leadership attention.
My experience is that every subgroup is afraid that it’s particular interests will disappear when cooperating with others; in this light, the focus point of inclusive corporate culture is the only road along which the diverse employees of the 21st century can and will ‘feel valued, can be their authentic selves and realize their full potential’ as the Declaration of Amsterdam says.

Diversity Works 2011

 Today my company Seba was present at the 4th edition of Diversity Works in the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam: and we will be tomorrow, May 11th!
We have been partners in this fair from the very beginning and it has become a yearly event to meet customers and enlarge our network. We are also very active in the production of workshops.
Today we showed Makeda, our game about diversity competence to the participants and our new card box De Champagne Pool about (organisational) culture (see more in our Makeda is about the 5th and De Champagne Pool is about the 2nd critical success factor for diversity management as described in my book Making the Difference. We think many people don’t read…! So we are developing innovative materials for a different and interactive approach to the same ideas.
It was very nice to hear that the participants were very interested and also enthusiast about the possibilities of Makeda and De Champagne Pool. You are welcome to join us in our stand tomorrow, or in one of the workshop we will give at the fair: see you tomorrow!

Diversity in Youtube format

It was really not an easy thing to develop: our first video about diversity. The point is that my book, originally edited in Dutch, was now translated in English but I do spend most of my time in the Netherlands: so how to sell an English book like that? I asked for advice on linkedin and was not disappointed. Many ideas came up, among which the idea of this blog in English and, as said, a Youtube video.
Talking about diversity in Youtube style means that it can not be like anything that I usually present in front of public or groups who are waiting for a enthusiast, funny, but also serious or thorough story. Or is that thoroughness just something that I particularly value myself?
My book is about the ten critical success factors of diversity management… way too boring for Youtube! Who will have the patience to watch ten factors…??? So to create the video we went back to the essence of diversity and tried to find symbols to express that essence.
Please tell us whether we were yes or no successful in that ambition; you can leave your comments on the Youtube site under our video, we are curious to hear from you!

bridge to the top

 Yesterday I chaired the ‘bridge to the top’  ( meeting organised by and at De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek lawyers in cooperation with the Council for the Judiciary and the Public Prosecution Service. 200 visitors were present, both juridical professionals and a great diversity of students from different universities. It is very good to see how succesfull diversity initiatives can be. One of the reasons for success was the fact that not the cultural background of the visitors was in the center of everybody’s attention, but the career opportunities of the students. Some thought their cultural background would make it more difficult to get entrance into big, important organisations, others thought it would make no difference and others again saw it as an opportunity (‘we are cultural pioneers’). During this meeting, mutual perceptions were tested and maybe changed, perceptions about:
– the car a judge would drive in
– the identity of students, professionals seeing them as ‘diverse’ while they see themselves as ‘normal’
– the insecurity of ‘belonging’ (being part of the group and being valued) shared by all and not just by students or professionals who are ‘different’
– the identity of professionals, students finding out that prosecutors are not just ‘grey men doing a grey job’
The meeting matched students with professionals. During the coming months they will meet again on a one-to-one basis to learn more and maybe find common career paths in the future: ‘bridge to the top’ is a great initiative!

Diversity as a business case?

 Hereby a case from chapter 1 of my book, describing managers’ struggle to see diversity as a business case:
I do have a Moroccan secretary myself, the business manager said to the project leader of diversity. They had an appointment to talk about the development of a diversity vision for the organisation. It had been quite difficult for the project leader to get this appointment as the business manager was very busy. Of course the top of the organisation wanted to have a clear vision regarding diversity, but they also wanted the business manager to meet his targets. Thus the business manager had cancelled the appointment already twice due to other priorities. Now that they finally sat together, the conversation was complicated. Instead of talking diversity and strategic development for this business managers part of the organisation that employed hundreds of people, the business manager kept talking about his personal experiences and contacts with migrants. The key of the message seemed to be: look, I don’t discriminate, I am open to all kinds of people: I am OK! Only 30 minutes were given to the project leader and that was not enough time for him to (re)turn diversity into a business issue. It was clear that this business manager, responsible for services in a increasingly diverse region of the country, saw no relationship at all between the services his employees worked on for many customers every day and the region becoming more and more diverse. The simple fact that he had to talk to a project leader about a vision regarding diversity meant for him that he felt involved as a person. Therefore he tried to convince the project leader that his  intercultural attitude was OK… The implicit assumption was: when the moral attitude of managers and employees is OK, then diversity in the organisation will automatically go well.”
This case is not an exception, it is a symptom of a more common trend that diversity managers and consultants often meet with. Diversity is so far away for business managers that it won’t play any role in their business considerations. Their first association when confronted with diversity initiatives in the organisation lies on a personal, moral level. They usually think that it is an interesting discussion from a societal point of view but it has no relation whatsoever with their aims or results.
>>> The challenge is to match diversity with what managers see as their ambition. It is of vital importance that (top)managers have a clear and unequivocal vision on diversity policy concerning their business goals. Diversity policy is usually a long term strategy and moreover demands a certain investment. Probably this subject will disappear from the agenda slowly and unnoticed, or it will be overshadowed by other priorities. Therefore organisations need a clear phrasing of the need for a diversity policy. To develop a vision for your own organisation you must be fully aware what interests are related to diversity initiatives and what reactions, like the one in our case above, will be met with. If you want to start a discussion in your organisation to develop a vision for diversity that can be implemented, you better know what are the trends in the way organisations deal with diversity, including the consequences. That will save you a lot of time, because you can lay your finger more easily on the different assumptions that lie underneath the discussions. Is it about justice or about business interests?

Chapter 1 of my book elaborates these different approaches of diversity worldwide while showing concrete examples from different countries. It gives tools how to handle a case like above and a format for the steps to be taken to turn diversity into a business case. Good luck while reading it and if you have any comments: they are welcome, let me know!