The EU should lead by example in diversity management

On 29 September I participated in a debate at PubAffairs Bruxelles about diversity management in European business. The moderator Ruth Grant from Hogan Lovells opened by asking the audience of 40-50 people whether equality and inclusion promote growth. While they all answered yes, one of the speakers, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Brando Benifei rightly noted that such unanimity is not representative of views across Europe; if it was, we would not have the inequality and lack of diversity we do today. I pointed out that perhaps we should be asking ourselves a different question: what can the EU do to promote diversity management?

Anu Ritz from the European Commission’s Directorate-General Justice mentioned the European Commission’s strong support for the implementation of current equality legislation and for the adoption of the pending proposal to fill the gaps in protection against discrimination in access to goods and services. It is worth pointing out, that while both of these laws protect against discrimination, they neither prevent nor promote equal opportunities for people in access to employment, goods and services. The fact that the Equal Treatment Directive has been on the Council’s table for more than seven years illustrates the unwillingness of Member States to adopt further EU legislation, both in general and for the advancement of equality in particular. While the Women on Boards Directive has proven effective as a means to influence Member States to push for national progress, it has yet to be adopted. Furthermore, we are awaiting the Commission’s proposal for an EU Accessibility Act, which has long been promised but has been repeatedly postponed.

The announcement that 67 per cent of Europeans believe that women don’t have the necessary skills to be scientists further illustrates the long way we have left to go to change such prejudice and bias. In order to challenge these attitudes and perceptions in Europe, the EU institutions as well as European civil society must lead by example in diversity management.

Diversity management is not only for the private sector, for the sake of competitiveness & growth. It is equally an issue for the public sector, to reflect and represent the population it serves.

Let’s put it in business terms: the role of EU politicians and officials in the institutions is to sell its product – which is the EU’s added value – tor people living in its 28 Member States. As long as we do not represent the diversity of our “client” we will never be convincing when marketing our product – “the EU”.

What we need is a strategic approach to how we promote diversity in our recruitment processes; this includes how we formulate our job advertisements, our application forms and interviews. In some cases an anonymous procedure may be the best, in other cases one need the opposite to find the specific diversity of competence and experience needed. Sometimes an interview can be more valuable as a pre-selection procedure than a written test. One model does not fit all. We need to evaluate and rethink how to reach the diversity we need.

Let’s face it, we may have different nationalities in the Brussels bubble but besides that we are a pretty homogeneous group. We need to be more relatable and reflect the diversity of people in Europe including in terms of socio-economic background, sexual orientation, religion or belief, ethnicity, disability and age. This I believe is one of the key factors why people find the EU too distant and elitist, which feeds Euroscepticism and populism.

Diversity management is of course not only about the recruitment process and access to employment. It is also about progression in employment, and breaking the proverbial glass ceiling.

As an example, European Youth Forum is calling for quality internships, which are paid. Offering unpaid internships only furthers the selection of the most privileged young people; peers without families that have financial means to support for them are not given the same opportunities. I firmly believe that the reason why President Juncker did not reach gender balance among Commissioners is due to a lack of a suitable recruitment process, rather than a lack of competence among candidates.

The European Network Against Racism has made many valuable recommendations with regards to breaking the glass ceiling for ethnic minorities, including the importance of collecting and analysing reliable and comparable equality data,improving European Qualification Recognition and encouraging Diversity Charters.

Migrants’ entrepreneurship is often used in the EU debate as a success story of integration and inclusion. One should be cautious though of valuing it as a sign of integration, when in some cases it is a symptom of discrimination in access to the labour market.

Finally, besides the Diversity Charters the Commission supports there are more ways to encourage Member States to promote diversity. One way is to encourage their proper transposition of the Public Procurement Directive. It includes Contract Award Criteria (article 67 & recital 97-99), which gives local authorities the choice to consider the social impact of a product or service (such as inclusion and equal opportunities such as balanced composition of the team). They can also use Reserved Contracts (article 20) to encourage the integration of people with disabilities as well as allow for social consideration in technical specifications (article 42 and recital 74) relating to accessibility and design for all.