Refugees at work: best practices

tandwielen1 For two years my company Seba ( and the Dutch Foundation for Refugee Students UAF ( ran a project for refugees at work. Yesterday we presented many best practices to utilize 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: UAF

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.
dobbelsteen1a Want to order this die on the photograph (Dutch only)? Available for free from

Read here my blog about 500.000 Syrian refugees in Gaziantep (Turkey’s south)
And here about Dheepan: an outstanding movie about refugees

The social skills of Gen Y

bike accident  “The social skills of Gen Y members are exceptional”, I answered. We were having a drink with a group of Mensans in Amsterdam, celebrating the New Year and discussing everything and more as we always do. Someone asked me if I saw differences between generations within Mensa. So I was praising the social skills of our younger members. While among the elderly Mensans we see particularly high intelligence and general understanding, among the members of the youngest generation the skills to bond, to cooperate and to form a community seem to be distinctive.
I biked home later that night. There are more bikes in Amsterdam than people but usually we do fine. We are acrobats with a just-in-time system that helps us survive in a gigantic network of bikes and other traffic going in all directions in the same time without ever stepping down from our bikes. The rules are hidden but clear. However this night, one bike went between all the others in a completely illogical route. He was almost run over by a taxi that went full in his brakes causing bikes to react to that unexpected move by going in all directions, one of them being my front wheel so I fell.
This is quite an event, since I bike during so many years already and I think I maybe fell two times in total. What the guy did was something that you just don’t do in Amsterdam… So people made comments on his behaviour, including that he made me fall which in bikers’ terms is a criminal act. He was a Gen Y guy and not giving in: ‘why would I have to stop?’ he commented suggesting all the world was wrong but not him.
When I continued my way home with a thick and blue knee I realised that generalisations always miss their point, be it the differences between generations or those between men and women. As soon as one pronounces a distinctive characteristic of a group, one meets with a person proving the assumption wrong. I like that. I think the little bike accident was a correction to my answer giving during the Mensa drink 🙂

Other blogs you might like:
Social safety at work for gays and lesbians
High gifted people at work: potential not fully used (yet)
Left Handers day and high giftedness
Politics and diversity in your organisation


Who tells your history? and other questions

  “Who tells your history?”, says another intruiging exhibition in the Stockholm National Historical Museum / Historiska Museet ( ). I don’t know what musea are like in your country. My experience is that they are usually knowledgeable on the subject they talk about and also a bit arrogant: they are the experts, the way they present things is right. The Stockholm National Historical Museum is a pleasant surprise, unique in its kind. Here is a museum that questions its own assumptions.
For example the way an archaeologist looks at a prehistoric grave is not just defined by ‘objective’ knowledge but also by his concept of the world he knows. So when he tries to find out whether a prehistoric grave belongs to a man or a woman, he might follow rules like: ‘ah this is a needle, so it was a woman’ and ‘ah this is a weapon, so it was a man’. How can we be sure that this is prehistoric reality and not the archaeologist’s concept of the world, projected on prehistoric times? We can’t, the Stockholm National Historical Museum simply says. This museum does something more courageous than I even saw a museum do: contest its own authority, expertise and knowledge. Isn’t that a great example for the 21st century where certainties have diminished anyway!
It is not just a non-issue that they are talking about, as you can read in a previous blog of my hand, april 2011:
The Stockholm National Historic Museum makes this matter personal (see the photograph above). Many people define their identity by the (national) history; be it viking, be it VOC mentality, be it slavery, be it the Ottoman empire. But as the museum says, it matters who defined that history with what concept. This museum questions the possibility to define your identity through history, as it might be a construct rather than a truth or reality. I loved it – I found it very intriguing. If you prefer questions to answers, don’t forget to pass by this museum when you are in Stockholm. Enjoy!

Another blog about this museum: Vikings, did they really exist?

Another museum that you might like: Heimatmuseum Borkum: variety, wealth, surprise

Vikings: did they really exist?

vikings   “The Vikings is a created identity that everybody uses for its own purposes”, says an intruiging exhibition in the Stockholm National Historical Museum / Historiska Museet ( ). They have a complete collection of every possible antique Viking asset, but they also contest the very existence of a Viking identity and I have to say, they do that quite convincingly. It really made me smile.

They explain that in 1864 Germany attacked Denmark and Denmark lost Southern Jutland. So the Nordic countries felt threatened. Their reaction was to create the Viking myth so that others would feel frightened to attack them. Ain’t that a marvellous story!
Apparently the creation of the myth was successful so it became a habit. When universal male voting rights were introduced in 1910, the Vikings served as example: ‘all free men had a vote in the Viking time’. During the second World War, the Germans used Viking dresses and symbols to convince Norvegian men to join them, as if the Vikings were some kind of prehistoric SS-men. Then after the war, everybody was longing for peace so the peaceful side of Vikings as peasants was emphasized.

When Sweden was discussing EU-membership in the years ’80 and ’90, the Viking identity was presented in favour of EU-membership expressing how actively they were trading in many places in Europe. And isn’t the EU about trade most of all!
And now the most funny part comes. Actually gender and diversity have become an important theme in life. So what happens to the Viking identity? In the presentation of Viking history, the prominent place of women in Viking society is shown. And the Vikings have now become people who were very open for other cultures and ideas.

So the Viking identity can serve many goals. Applause for a Historical Museum that is splendid in its normal exhibition of historical artefacts and in the meantime so creative in the reflections about the interpretation of what they exhibit. Very worth a visit!

Another blog about this museum: Who tells your history?

Another blog about Stockholm; Diversity in hotels, it exists in Stockholm!

Maybe you like to read also about this museum: Archaeological museum Haarlem

Malawi Fever Tree: what do you see?

Malawi Fever Tree




The Malawi Fever Tree was during some time suspected to be the cause of malaria, as this tree was found particularly in areas where malarial fever often occured. It is a very beautiful tree with a shiny, almost glowing bright green-yellow bark but of course nobody can like it when it is supposed to bring disease.

Later on, people found out that the malaria mosquito who is the real cause of malaria likes the same swampy areas as the Fever Tree does. So the Fever Tree was blamed not for what it was, but for what it looked like…

Ever heard or maybe even been the victim of this kind of mechanism? Ever drawn conclusions yourself just on the basis of that first impression?

Fortunately this particular situation was resolved and we can now enjoy the Fever Tree for what it is: an special and unique kind of Acacia!

Other blogs you might like:
Rewarding managers
Creative use of waterpipes in Zomba
Mulanji Massif in Malawi: again unknown beauty

Women in top positions: we need a Dutch Spring!

  women in top positions   

Women in top positions: only few women have top positions in the Netherlands, Mercer reveals today based on data on 264,000 senior management and executives in 5,321 companies across 41 European countries.
Eastern countries like Lithuania, Bulgaria, Russia, Kazakhstan and Estonia lead the list with percentages like 44 – 37% women in top positions; somewhere down the list, still better than Saudi Arabia (0%), Qatar (7%), Egypt (16%) and United Arab Emirates (17%) we find The Netherlands: 19% ! Wow.
Read this for yourselves at:
I quote the Mercer site where Sophie Black, Principal in Mercer’s Executive Remuneration team says: “For a gender comprising over half the global population, women’s representation in senior corporate roles is woeful. The cause is complicated. It’s cultural, social, in some cases it is intentional discrimination but it can also be unconscious – the desire to recruit people like you. This unconscious bias is hard to eradicate. The end result of all these issues is a creation of a ‘pyramid of invisibility’ for women in corporate life.”
However, when it comes to an explanation about the Netherlands, she finds excuses like these: “The Netherlands is a progressive nation but, like the UK, has very high levels of women working part-time”. However the UK still has a score of 28%, much higher than The Netherlands. Like child care, parttime work is often used as an excuse for the lack of Dutch women in top positions. But half of the high educated women in the Netherlands do not have children and do not work part time… so that can’t explain the figures.
Countries like Turkey and Morocco where women are supposed to have a more traditional role (at least in the eyes of many Dutch), beat the Netherlands (19%) with scores like 26% resp. 23%. With a score in between the score of the group of Middle Eastern countries, I think there is only one way to go for the Dutch. They had their Arab Spring last year, now it is our turn: we need a Dutch Spring!

Other blogs you might like:
Women entrepreneurship
Women, be the leader you want to be!
Diversiteit in Marokko en Tunesié

Iron Lady – too soft a movie

iron lady

Iron Lady is a surprising, rather disappointing movie. Years ago, I read Margaret Thatcher’s biographie. I found it very interesting to read about her own views on what she stood for and how she wanted to achieve her goals. She was one of the first women at the international stage. In the Netherlands, until now, we never even had a female Prime Minister. So Margaret Thatcher is a woman we can learn something from.

In the movie The Iron Lady, however, we learn little about her views; the movie doesn’t even explain or pay any attention to the question how she could achieve at all to become Prime Minister as a woman in an ‘all men’ environment. On the contrary, we see most of the time an old woman who is having memories about her past life in short parts and sketches. She is already confused in a starting dementia, imagining her deceased husband around her most of the time and talking to him, sometimes even thinking that she is still Prime Minister.

In the various scenes about her life we see in the first place a woman who is Prime Minister, rather than a Prime Minister who is a woman. The focus is on her style much more than on her ideas, policies, views. Especially for a Prime Minister who lead a country through many changes, this is a surprising and also disappointing focus.

Research has shown that this treatment is reserved especially for female ministers. Journalists for example ask them two to three times more often about their private life and children than they do to their male colleagues. When they report about women in government positions, they report first of all about their style; however for their male colleagues, the main attention is paid to the content of their politics.

Nobody can say that Meryl Streep did not do a good job, because she was brilliant as ever. But she is not responsible for the script that chose to show one of the most influential Prime Ministers of the 20th century from a vulnerable side that is at least partly based on phantasy of the maker rather than as a strong and powerful person with ideas and the competence to realize them. Let’s hope another, more visionary movie maker will stand up and do the work that the Iron Lady movie has neglected to do.

Other blogs you may like:
Turist and the myth of heroism
Lore movie that silences the public
Simone Veil: une vie

Powerful photographs for women

photographs   Press photographs make men look more powerfull than women, new research findings show: (in Dutch). It seems to be a new finding, but I remember that I learned it in a course about 14 years ago. The course was given by Maaike Meijer (and others), who were working on the book Effectief Beeldvormen that is now free downloadable from Maaike’s website (in Dutch again):
The course and also the book afterwards were great. I remember how they analyzed commercial messages, for example the campaign to make people drink more milk: the boys and men introduced in the campaign drank milk to become strong or famous, the women were encouraged to drink it to become beautiful women and lovely grandmothers. It opened my eyes for the way the world around us pushed men and women in different roles.
They also showed how men were usually photographed from a position down under, so that the observer would look up to them; the position would be an affirmation of their power. Women were usually photographed from a position where the photographer was up: women would look smaller and less powerfull, just by the way they were portrayed. I found that kind of research outcomes amazing. It seemed that not just men and rules and the way power was shared was against us women, but also the way media shaped images in our world. It was surprising and also fun: because image and photographs were created to amuse mankind, and changing them looked like a game of joy!
And yet, in 2012, the original findings are re-affirmed by new scientists. A nice advice that an editor gave with it is: women, just don’t allow photographers to take pictures from above 🙂 Do-able and very practical because any woman can be aware of this in all circumstances.
Two years ago I had photographs taken for the front page of an employers’ magazine, in the midst of balloons. I thought it was a great idea. I think for the front page (see on top of this blog) the picture was taken from the position that makes women powerful, but on the inside (see below) it was not, but isn’t the effect neutralized by the idea of the balloons? I leave this to you to decide, but I like to re-affirm the general advice: take care that photographs express the real, more or less powerful position you are in!

Other blogs you may like:
Neelie Kroes saves us
The daughter also rises
Women, be the leader you want to be
Women entrepreneurship: trade mission to Turkey

Veil or economy? Queen’s visit to Oman and UAE


Veil or economy? Queen’s visit to Oman and UAE

The discussion about the veil has re-entered the Dutch political scene on the event of a visit and trade mission of our Queen Beatrix, Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima to the United Arab Emirates and to Oman. This is a very succesfull visit with warm relationships between our countries and very good business contracts being signed these days (see also:
However, the Dutch political PVV-leader Wilders has drawn the attention of the public to the great debate of the VEIL again, by criticising Queen Beatrix and indirectly Princess Máxima for wearing a veil when entering mosques as he thinks the veil is a means of women oppression and our Queen should never wear it, not even in a mosque.
At the moment of this debate, the Netherlands like many countries are still in the midst of a severe economic crisis. Nevertheless journalists follow massively the discussion about the VEIL much more than the economic results of the trade mission. During the last years, the quality level of journalism has gone down in the Netherlands. They have chosen to report about easy-to-report riots and disputes like the one mentioned above rather than giving an indepth insight in more complex subjects. They have their own concept of the notion ‘news’ and like this they create their own truth and it has empoverished journalistic approaches in the Netherlands.
As for the debate about the veil itself, I have published a blog about it some time ago. Women were known to wear veils already in Assyria in the 7th century BC and they should choose themselves if and when they want to wear them. And for the rest, we still have an economic crisis to solve…

Other blogs you may like:
Hôtel Saint George: I understood
Portrait du décolonisé

Diversity at work: my new book

diversity at workDiversity at work – diversiteit op de werkvloer

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 about diversity at work: Diversiteit op de Werkvloer (available in Dutch at It 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 at work 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 when confronted with diversity 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

Other blogs about my books you may like:
Diversity in governance: quality comes first
Investeer in jouw inclusief leiderschap

Other blogs about diversity and perceptions:
Women, be the leader you want to be
Rewarding managers

social safety at work for gays and lesbians

social safety at workSocial 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 for social safety at work 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 for social safety at work 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.

social safety at workAvailable in, toolbox The Pink Champagne Pool for gay-friendly organisational culture at work. With LGBTI-examples and exercises. See also the YouTube about it.



You might also like these blogs :
Company Pride in Amsterdam
Gay Pride Canal Parade 2014
Are pink chairs unprofessional?

Mavi Kösk Blue House – Northern Cyprus heritage (6)

mavi kösk blue house    Mavi Kösk Blue House

There are several sites describing the beauty of the Mavi Kösk Blue House between Camlibell and Sadrazam Köy. Although it is recent heritage (built in 1956) and most probably some army propaganda (see:, worth a visit everybody said. Info sites mention large opening hours so what could go wrong? But when I arrived, I was not rewarded by an entrance ticket but by learning more about car diversity.

The Mavi Kösk Blue House lies in a military camp so you pass along a soldiers barrier before approaching it. It is close to the monastery Agios Pandeleimon that I also visited. But I couldn’t pass, the guy said, because my car was a rental car from the South of Cyprus. First I thought he made a joke, but he was serious. Here I am, a Dutch person speaking quite some Turkish and visiting Northern Cyprus since many years and I was left out while others entered because I had the wrong car. Being discriminated because of your car only, I really never heard about that kind of ‘ayrimcilik’ before. Neither is it mentioned on any site about the Blue House, but the guy seriously told me ‘go change your car’, these were the rules. My offer to park the car and walk to the Mavi Kösk Blue House (only 500-1000 meters) was fiercely rejected because civilians can’t walk on a military site. Could have known that, Turks never walk anyway.

They didn’t offer me a hike to make the bridge between these few meters, they really sent me off. I think it was my first time in thirty years meeting with Turks that hospitality was denied. My experience so far was: they always find a solution, especially when you speak the language and know the culture. So they left me in shock.

It made me think of Germany some time ago. In the Netherlands, we used to drive the car we want. One could see a millionaire in a Fiat (a former Prime Minister was known for that) and a poor man in a BMW. In Germany this was not possible at that time. Every class had its car and everybody sticked with the rules and that made the world orderly and predictable. Germany changed, and so will hopefully one day the Turkish army. It is not the car that is the enemy, but the person inside it. The next spy might show up in a Turkish car….or in a car rented in the North of Cyprus. Hope Turkish soldiers will learn to see the difference 🙂

Other blogs you may like:
Elections in Turkey
A kastel is not a castle in Gaziantep
Museum of the history of Cypriot coinage
Alaniçi: moving memories of 1955 – 1974 (5)