“European countries should be more cooperative and find win-win solutions for European issues. If we show to be able to manage our own issues and adopt inclusion as a core value, we will be more capable to contribute to the rest of the world.”
Wouke Lam believes in Diversity & Inclusion, not only in the workplace but everywhere in society. For her that is the way forward. Currently she is Strategic Diversity Advisor for the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (seconded from Shell International) to give a “boost” to government wide Diversity & Inclusion policy and implementation.
Besides the Netherlands, what is your dream for Europe?
“I actually have a dream for the world. I dream of an inclusive society, a world in which everyone – no matter how different – can fully realize their potential and participate. My ambition is to create these inclusive environments, not just in the workplace, but everywhere: in my family, at my sports club, in my town/nation/Europe and in the world at large. Particularly multinationals realize it is becoming more and more important and give it a high priority.”
What is the policy of these multinationals?
“Diversity & Inclusion merely originated in the United States, which has a lot of experience as a typical immigration country. Diversity Management is a profession there. They are further ahead of us in creating a ‘we’ while, at the same, respecting everybody’s cultural background and ethnicity. This does not mean the U.S. is the most inclusive country in the world though.”
How comparable are the U.S. and Europe?
“Europe has another diversity history that goes much farther back in history; we have trade relations with countries with the rest of the world since centuries ago. These trading activities facilitated not only the transmission of goods, but also of ideas and cultures. The Netherlands has always been known for its tolerance and, despite the current climate, I believe that in essence we still have those characteristics. We need to go one step further though. While the Dutch might have learned to set aside differences for a greater purpose (safety and welfare), what the different groups did not do, besides tolerate each other, was really adapt to and learn from each other.”
How can the Dutch way of organizing society be useful for Europe?
“The way we are dealing with the euro crisis makes clear how divided Europe is internally (North vs. South). It should be more a dialogue in which we have win-win as a common end and where no one regards oneself as better than the other. We are not living in isolation anymore; everything and everyone is connected. Dialogue has become crucial. It’s about ‘give and take’ and striving for optimal solutions, where none of the parties loses face. Collaboration is needed instead of competition, I believe we need to get back to a value-based society. We can achieve this by making the development of responsible citizenship a primary goal of the early childhood educational system. Secondly, we should redefine GDP (gross domestic product). It should also include measures that reflect quality of life or happiness (measures of well-being).”
What would you describe as the strengths and weaknesses of the Netherlands?
“We have two strengths: our economic potential and our happiness. We are a small country and we still play an important role. It is amazing how much influence we have in Europe. In potential we have world-class ‘doing and thinking’ power. We also belong to the happiest people in the world; and we have a business spirit. It is said that, from a historical perspective, we are a country of traders, ministers and rebels – and are a country where government, employers and employees cooperate. I think this is a beautiful and powerful starting point. Our weaknesses lay in our extreme egalitarian attitude (‘'Be normal, that’s silly enough’) and our directness, which can be regarded as rudeness by others. These two characteristics make us come across as narrow-minded. It brought us far, this mentality, but we can achieve more if we would not look down upon ambition and we dare to stand out.”
Samira Abbadi, Program Director (firstname.lastname@example.org)