Best practices refugees at work

tandwielen1 Yesterday my company Seba ( and the Dutch Foundation for Refugee Students UAF ( 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:

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

Black Peter in full debate

zwarte piet in parool19-10-2013  It is not even December yet and the discussion of Black Peter is more alive than ever. Here you see the newspaper Parool that spent 4 pages to the subject last Saturday! This means, I guess, that we are now leaving the theoretical discussion and coming to the period where some people really want change. On the other hand, others are very much opposed to that and see it as a threat to the Dutch culture. This is just one of the pictures I saw passing on Facebook:
black peter on facebook1  Personally I do not see why we cannot have a multi coloured group of Peters helping Sinterklaas, maybe because I do not think it is so easy to threaten my culture just by changing some symbols. I am not against Black Peter either. The discussion itself is most interesting though: what do people come up with to make their point? Today I found this youtube that is showing how Sinterklaas and many Black Peters arrive in Paramaribo, Suriname: it is sent around social media to prove that black people can like Black Peter. Don’t ask me what else it proves….
See for yourself at


Black Peter heating minds again

black peter  As ‘Sinterklaas’ (5th December) approaches here in the Netherlands, the discussion about Black Peter (Zwarte Piet) comes to life again: should we forbid Black Peter as a racist expression, or maintain him as an authentic Dutch – or whatever – tradition?
Living in an international city with many expats, Amsterdam, I know that especially  foreigners are surprised about the Sinterklaas tradition: they see an old white man, a bishop, entering the city/different events, followed by black servants who give sweets to nice kids and have a whip to punish those who did not behave well. They judge it as racist and are usually shocked about  it.
Today the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool shows new visions on Sinterklaas and Black Peter. I have followed this discussion now during several years (see below my former blogs) and I notice that proves of history ‘nothing wrong with Black Peter, nothing to do with racism’ become stronger as well as the resistance against it.

Journalist Arnold-Jan Scheer says he studied Sinterklaas-like events in many countries and ‘blackening the face at the end of the year happens from Cornwall to Macedonia, I discovered‘. He says that in Persia since 5000 years the venue of New Year was celebrated with men in black acting foolishly, dancing during a week in Black Peter like clothing. They were followed by an old man with a long beard who brings presents like seeds and nuts. Iranian Islam does not allow this tradition he says, but in the Iranian country side and among Dutch Iranian immigrants this feast still exists.
On the other hand Machiel Keestra and Mercedes Zandwijken also refer to history and claim that Black Peter was added to the Sinterklaas tradition by an Amsterdam school teacher in 1850 who considered (black) slavery as a normal state of life (the Netherlands abolished slavery only in 1863). They claim that the historical roots of the Sinterklaas feast are irrelevant, and so are the intentions of the most probably good willing people playing the role of Black Peter. ‘Only relevant is whether this tradition is humiliating or painful for a part of our population, or that it provokes humiliating or painful behaviour in children or grownups. In a decent society the majority follows no concepts or customs that hurt or humiliate a weaker minority‘. And they see as an even more important reason: ‘who wants to celebrate a children’s feast where part of the parents and children are not happy‘?

We see 2 sides of the same medal here. One side is going back all the way to Persia and other locations (see former blogs below, explanations were usually more close) to prove that Black Peter is a valuable tradition more than 5000 years old. Maybe his documentation is good, but his argumentation in the newpaper itself is rather week.
The other side is talking in terms of a ‘weaker minority’ and you think of your black friends and whether they should be included into their ‘weaker minority’ concept? Their core argument that people cannot celebrate because others are unhappy about the celebration remembers me my orthodox education: we were never allowed to do anything because always someone more orthodox would get unhappy with what we did: whatever a person did, a more strict interpretation was possible and prevented others/us from being happy.
In the midst of this discussion – that matters – we should not forget to live and let live.

Former blogs about this subject:

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 to 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 🙂


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!

Vikings: did they really exist?

   “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!

What do you see? (2)

  The Malawian 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!

What do you see?

It was a great eyeopener for many attendants in the room when professor Halleh Gorashi explained what influenced her career. Gorashi arrived in The Netherlands as a refugee many years ago and was often confronted with people focussed on what she could do less than others: for example her ability of the Dutch language is not the same level as a native speaker has. What really made the difference in her career was the fact that a professor – when she was still a teacher at university – focussed on her specific talents.
Do we see a person who is shortcoming or a person who has unique added value? Daily reality shows all too often, specifically for refugees, that the ‘shortcoming’ part is accentuated and the unique added value is passing unnoticed. What a waste of talent for our organisations and for our country!
Please watch the (Dutch spoken) movie UAF made about a meeting with employers (VNO-NCW) – you can also see me in an interview for a few seconds: http://
If you like, join the project ‘Sustainable and Diverse’ that our company Seba has with UAF, to employ refugees and create  high-profile refugy-friendly organisations: let’s focus on talents together!

Wicked – my first musical experience

   Wicked is a musical that can be seen in Dutch now in the beautiful Circustheater in Scheveningen, very close to the seaside.  It was a non-stop involving and surprising show when I visited it. I never saw a musical before, except school-musicals, well, this is something else. Every detail was taken care of, the scenery and the costumes are spectacular.
I was particularly impressed and also moved by a scene where the green witch in the story is going up into the sky surrounded by choirs and extremely beautiful lightning techniques. The message that there are no boundaries, that the sky is the limit for those who dare to be different was entering right into my body by sound, view, feeling all together.
I did not choose this musical myself so I can not be blamed for the fact that even when I go out I end up in a diversity thing 🙂 It was coincidence but as a diversity freak, it made me happy! The story is about two witches, one of them beautiful and one of them green of skin. The green witch has special talents that might benefit all of the community if normally accepted: but of course it wasn’t, otherwise there would be no story. The musical has some quite scary parts, at moments where it becomes very clear how group pressure can silence the voice and destroy the efforts of the individual – and how difficult it is in practice to resist against this pressure.
Looking for a show to go, try this one…  It made me think of the Efteling (that I adore) but it might be interesting for many more people than just Efteling lovers!

Few Dutch women in top positions; we need a Dutch Spring!

  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! 





The Iron Lady – too soft a movie

  The 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.

Powerful photographs for women

   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 pictures 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 was photographed 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 pictures express the real, more or less powerful position you are in!