Veerle, let's start with your personal motivation. What sparked your interest in the topic of diversity and inclusion?
For about five years, I have resolutely drawn the map of my authentic self and it has positively changed my outlook and world. But, of course, diversity and inclusion within our organization are separate from my personal story. It was just a starting point for me, as through my own story, other colleagues came knocking on my door with their personal stories. My openness apparently created a kind of safe haven. As a matter of fact, their stories were quite diverse. Whether it was colleagues with a different cultural background or orientation, colleagues with disabilities, pregnant colleagues... you name it. Yet there was a very clear common thread, namely being able to be your unique self. Being the social creature that I am, I felt I had to do something with that.
Your outlook and world have changed positively, you say, but what was the impact for you at the work level?
Being fully myself in the workplace has somehow changed the way I work. I no longer operate purely based on my engineering background, or rationally from a 0-and-1 mindset, but with more self-confidence and putting my own emphasis on things. I follow my gut feeling more, which of course is still strongly fueled by reason and experience, but the social element that is also in me is now much more strongly expressed and for the good of the organization. It’s also given my career a new direction, because beside my role in our authenticity story, I have become Team Lead, for example, something that might otherwise not have come my way.
That's a great example of personal growth. How does it benefit our organization?
Well, especially by not letting opportunities go to waste, but by using as much of our human potential as possible. When people are fully in balance with themselves, they stand stronger, are more daring to speak up. They radiate self-confidence and trust and inspire others as well. Customers are also more likely to buy from people they trust and in whom they recognize themselves.
By having a variety of people look at challenges through a different lens, you automatically come up with better ideas and more creative solutions. For example, someone on your development team who is visually impaired will pay more attention to the readability of a website. Through a multitude of lenses, you make your end result richer. Thus, you can build solutions that both benefit and represent today's society.
You're actually talking about authenticity, not so much diversity or inclusion. Is that a conscious choice of words?
The terms diversity and inclusion, however well-intentioned, have become somewhat tainted terms partly due to the actions of the media, and they can come across as activist-sounding, and that’s not what we’re aiming for. In the working group we've talked about this a lot, and whether it's about gender, talents and disabilities, other backgrounds or personalities, orientation or age, etc., it really always comes back to just being able to be yourself in the workplace. It’s a story for everyone, not just for a few. Being inclusive always involves everyone. That’s the message we want to convey, hence the choice of words.
Is Inetum Belgium a model of diversity? No doubt there’s still room for change?
We are certainly not doing badly. Based on my personal experience and role as Team Lead, I find great human support within our company, ranging from the prevention service, confidants, immediate and HR colleagues, other Team Leads and their managers, but certainly also our company management. That’s one of the reasons why I love working here myself.
In addition to the human warmth, there are obviously several initiatives underway in support of our authenticity story. Examples include broadening our acADDemICT pathway for atypical profiles, our open recruitment approach where we want to work with as little bias as possible, connecting with French-speaking schools, actively listening to our employees, a clear leadership vision, and so on.
As long as we stay at the heart of the matter and don't lose the true meaning of authenticity, I personally feel free to talk about it even more, both internally and to the outside world. We are sometimes afraid of going along with the hype too much and thus engaging in window-dressing – or at least of creating that perception, but that may result in incorrect assumptions or biases.
Anyway, the most important thing is to continue to build a safe, open environment where people dare to talk about their concerns. We need to continue to listen to each other, engage in dialogue, be transparent about who we are and what we do. We can certainly grow tremendously that way.
How is the dialogue and collaboration with the multidisciplinary team going?
Well. It’s a team of volunteer ambassadors from all corners of our organization, with great interest in the topic. We meet regularly to discuss things openly and see what steps we should take next. We first worked on the necessary management buy-in by writing out a vision which, by the way, you can see on our website, and we did market research and broadened our own knowledge.
A lot of small interventions have already been made behind the scenes – reviewing job postings, inspiration sessions, etc. – but above all, we want to be particularly relevant to our people by actively listening. Thus, there are no serious problems we know of now, but there are certainly small subtle things that we’re not always aware of. By actively working on that, we want to continue building a more inclusive and authentic company in a targeted way.
Step by step, we're take a closer look at certain topics. For example, we are currently focusing on what it’s like for women to work at Inetum Belgium. In our organization, about 21.5% of colleagues are women, which is slightly higher than the Belgian average, but women are still underrepresented in the IT sector. Now, before we go into more depth on this topic and take concrete steps, as always, we first examine what is going on and whether there is a concrete need. Doing something "for the sake of doing it," without support, makes little sense and actually undoes the real authenticity story. Then it's just flattened out into a trendy term, and we don't want that.
Finally, do you have one more good piece of advice for us? How can we ourselves do our part?
I have two, in fact. First of all, if there's something that makes you feel less than 100% comfortable in your own skin, talk about it. Second, really listen to each other. When a colleague addresses you, listen with your full attention, in an unbiased and respectful way. I think these are the two basic ingredients of a safe and authentic workplace.