The EU Diversity Month has come to an end, and what a month it has been. Over 300 activities were organised across Europe, from LGBTQI+ inclusion sessions to international cuisine workshops. Unfortunately, this year’s celebrations were overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and the recent mass shootings in the U.S. These events make us question the progress we are making towards a truly inclusive society. While our Ukrainian neighbours are fighting for their right to self-determination and our American friends are mourning the victims of racist attacks, we ask ourselves: how is it possible that this is still happening in 2022? Well, sadly, it is happening… and there are many reasons for it, one being education (or lack thereof).
Although education on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) might sound straightforward, it isn’t. In a 2019 report by the European University Association, 85% of Europe’s higher education institutions answered that DEI matters are only addressed at the level of central administration. This percentage dropped to 41% in local departments. The sky is bluer beyond academia. According to a 2021 report by Workday, more and more European organisations are laying the fundamental building blocks of DEI. 75% of participants had a dedicated DEI budget within their organisation and almost 90% carried out at least one related initiative.
In Europe, we are taking big steps towards better DEI in our workplaces. However, must remeber that this is a complex subject that goes beyond simply organising equality workshops. At SEC Newgate EU, we identified seven main subcategories of DEI and did some digging to see the progress made in each of them. As you will see below, the result is not as exciting as the Workday report. Some 60% of people of colour working in the EU have reported that they experience or observe racism, while only 50.6% of disabled people are employed, and 53% of LGBTIQ+ people are not fully open with their identity.
As the numbers show, employers, employees, and fellow citizens still have a long way to go to ensure that we live in an open society. Initiatives like the EU Diversity Month are a plus, but we should really be celebrating diversity throughout the year. Let us remember that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are not a given. It is up to us to decide what society we want to live in.
According to the UN, “three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension. Bridging the gap between cultures is urgent and necessary for peace, stability and development.” While it may seem obvious in places like Brussels that are largely multicultural, exposure to different languages and traditions can create a world that is built on exchange and empathy. Cultures have historically always shifted, evolved, and adapted, despite what some radical nationalist movements might want to make you believe. Today, more and more individuals are visibly at the intersection of various cultures (parents of different nationalities, growing up in different countries or just loving to travel) and of other identity markers that also define them (gender, colour, sexuality). So, in the words of Rodney King: “Can we all just get along?”
The European Commission published its first survey on diversity and inclusion in the institutions. However, as reported in an EUObserver opinion piece, only 22% of the relevant employees took part in the survey (from the EU Commission, EU executive agencies and the European External Action Service). Around 60% of respondents identifying as a person of colour noted they have either observed or experienced discrimination. More than one third said they would not report discrimination for fear of negative consequences or due to expected inaction. In short, the Brussels bubble is predominantly white and inaccessible to ethnic minorities. We must do better.
Unless you work in a place of worship, your job is probably considered a secular space. But is it really? You might not engage in theological discussions with your co-workers, but the annual Christmas parties and Easter breaks are defining moments of most workplace calendars across the West. As employers move to accommodate various forms of religious observance, the tricky nature of sharing versus imposing your beliefs keeps both philosophers and HR specialists up at night. Still, being open about faith and values helps us better understand each other and can lead to higher job satisfaction, studies show.
According to the first Global United Nations Report on Ageism, one in three people in Europe have experienced ageism, a phenomenon that is seemingly more pervasive than racism and sexism. This is reflected in the workplace. When companies fail to offer specialised trainings and education, older adults are disadvantaged at work. But youth is also affected by ageism. In Europe younger people report age-based discrimination across such areas as employment, health, housing, and politics. According to the United Nations Report, the right policies, laws and educational activities help to reduce prejudice. On a positive note, companies are starting to acknowledge that greater age diversity increases productivity and challenges traditional HR practices. After all, an environment where people from all ages can flourish, benefits everyone.
Sex & Gender diversity.
We have all heard of the ‘glass ceiling’, defined by Oxford Lexico as “an unacknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, affecting mostly women and minorities.” In the job market, women struggle to reach positions of power, often being underrepresented in boardrooms and decision-making roles. Although there has been improvement in recent years, on average, women have lower earnings, and their career prospects are worse. Inaccurate gender-biased beliefs or stereotypes could result in women being discriminated in the recruitment process, as suggested by ZBW. However, other studies have not found evidence of discrimination against women during the hiring process, meaning that there is need for further research on the topic to be able to develop effective and tailored policies. The OECD Gender Data Portal shows that gender-based wage gaps vary greatly across EU countries, highlighting the need for both cultural and institutional change in women’s rights.
No one should have to hide who they love for fear of discrimination. Unfortunately, this is still a reality for many in the LGBTIQ+ community. According to the latest report by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, an alarmingly high rate (53 %) of respondents are rarely open about being LGBTIQ+. In 2020, the EU presented its first-ever strategy on LGBTIQ+ equality, setting out several targeted actions for the next 5 years. Besides policymaking, a great place to promote equality is the workplace. Studies prove that LGBTIQ+ employees who feel included are more likely to make positive contributions and show higher life satisfaction. Companies can for instance establish pro-LGBTIQ+ policies, training programmes and awareness-raising activities. Only by taking these concrete steps, can we achieve a more inclusive society.
Disability in the workplace can be difficult to navigate, starting with sending your CV. Some candidates fear their application will be overlooked if they disclose their disability status during the recruitment process. In the EU, the employment rate for people with disabilities is at a mere 50.6% compared to 74.8% of those without. Accessibility is another major issue, with wheelchair-accessible workplaces being just the tip of the iceberg. Many disabilities are also invisible, which may require different accommodations in the workplace. Employers must therefore adopt an approach based on equity rather than equality, or ‘tailor-made’ instead of ‘one-size-fits-all’. That way, diversity can truly become a reality, not just a slogan. With teleworking during the pandemic, workplaces have become more flexible, an issue which disability activists have been pushing for years now. Now that the restrictions are starting to lift, it is important to remember the lessons learned during the pandemic and not leave people with disabilities behind.
This article has been brought to you by SEC Newgate EU’s Diversity Equity & Inclusion Taskforce featuring Emmanuelle Puget, Jarek Oleszczynski, Julia Piwowarska, Lucia de la Riva, Marco Moreno, Mira Kaloshi and Vanessa Terrier.