Today I was at the fairversity in Vienna, as board member of idm (the international society for diversity management for those speaking German 🙂 and it was very interesting. Most people I spoke to think diversity is quite a new subject to most Austrians, especially when looking at the advantages diversity can bring to organisations and the economy. That concept found a fertile ground in Austria a few years ago and these visitors were happy about that development. Many of them were looking for more indepth information about diversity & inclusion. It was no surprise for them that competence is needed to profit from diversity. They were eager to know more about that competence. Maybe this sounds logical to you, my dear reader, but it is certainly not a generally accepted idea – in Germany and the Netherlands the approach of diversity can be more moralistic which means that having a good heart and an open mind is seen as the key asset, rather than competence.
There was another interesting experience. I had to do a 30-minutes presentation at the fairversity. Presentations were ongoing so I decided to make it interactive to prevent being boring, as number 9 in a row of presentations. That was a new approach. All presenters just said what they had to say and that was it. No questions asked, no comments given, no information provided by the public. If we think that the benefits of diversity come with a learning organisation – and I saw an Austrian publisher on fairversity who had books about it – we need more interaction and dialogue. The first fifteen minutes my public was staring at me in surprise but after that they started to enjoy it and came up with real good ideas. Austrians have a good sense of humour, also in diversity. They have a special word for that: Schmäh. I love it!
Yesterday my company Seba (www.seba.nl) and the Dutch Foundation for Refugee Students UAF (www.uaf.nl) presented best practices to use refugee talent at work. One would say, why is that necessary at all? But it appears that employers and recruiters do not automatically recognize the talents of refugees, also the high educated with Dutch diplomas. To develop these best practices, we cooperated with organisations like Dubois&Co, Hogeschool Leiden, NS, Van Houtum, Vluchtelingenwerk and VUmc so the background of our findings is real life! See for more info (Dutch only) at: http://www.uaf.nl/dend
We did do research about findings elsewhere in the world, but there was not a lot of specific information. Some was about migrants in general, other was about the coaching of refugees. Hardly any material was found to study how organisations can and will use refugee talents, what is necessary for that at organisational level. If you have such material about organisations in your country, we are very interested to hear from you. Refugees are often entrepreneurial as they face the need to set up and establish themselves in a new environment so why do they not get more involved in organisations and instead colour the ranks of unemployment figures – not just in the Netherlands?
Migration and the intake of refugees can diversify and enhance the skill level of the population, increase economies of scale and foster innovation and flexibility. One interesting detail: we found that five of Australia’s eight billionaires were people whose families had originally come to the country as refugees.
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Latvia has particular archeaological beauties but the presentation of them could be better. For example, in the national museum in Riga all signs are in the Latvian language only. How many people in the world speak Latvian – and especially, how many tourists? It’s a bit weird to walk around in a museum with fantastic ancient pieces and no explanation at all. I speak six languages but that was not enough to understand what I was looking at; I deeply regret that because as shown above there are some masterpieces in the museum – just haven’t got a clue what they are…
The entrance of the museum is also intriguing, starting with a mysterious painting above a coffin with a real old skeleton in it:
It attracts immediate attention, but the scenery remains a secret. Is someone mourning or did he just kill someone? The Latvian national museum proves that language is an essential tool in the 21st century. If we want to know and understand each others culture, showing our historic items is not enough. Neither are intuition or imagination – those strongly add to our quality of life, but not to understanding reality. Language, words that can be interpreted are essential in intercultural exchange.
Still, I enjoyed the Latvian ancient objects and recommend a museum visit to everyone!
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…
New York Times introduces a Spanish speaking business man who has turned his poor street business of selling tortillas into an international 19 million dollar business. He arrived in the USA from Mexico more than 40 years ago and still hardly speaks English, yet he did realize the American dream.
See also http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/09/nyregion/immigrant-entrepreneurs-succeed-without-english.html?_r=2&hp where he says: “The entire market is Hispanic, you don’t need English. A deal is only a cheap long-distance phone call or a few key strokes on the computer away. All in Spanish”. In the USA, 35.000 people who speak English ‘not well’ or ‘not at all’ realize an income of more than $200,000 a year.
It would be interesting to find out what the figures for this are in the Netherlands. As the main explanation for success with poor knowledge of a country’s main language is the use of possibilities technology offers, this phenomenon could occur in any country. Business people find markets around the world among those who share their own language. A new principle for wealth development is thus coming up. New York Times suggests that the case is still rare but “an entrepreneur can do just fine without English — especially with the aid of modern technology, not to mention determination and ingenuity“.