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"What do you need to feel at home?"

In conversation with Roos Beerkens (RB Konnekt) on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in Organisations

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As owner of RB Konnekt, Roos Beerkens has dedicated herself to creating an inclusive society, especially through organisations. From her rich experience (including as a lecturer of the Master Intercultural Communication at Utrecht University), she is committed to diversity, equality and inclusion (DGI) with heart and soul. For her, these values also drive her mission. Derk van der Pol talked to her about it.


Justice and humanity

Rose is often asked where her mission comes from. She says: "I actually identify with a lot of groups, but mainly with what we all have in common: being human. I had a strong sense of justice from an early age. If I saw someone being bullied in my class earlier, I would say something about it. That was in there very early on. I inherited these values of justice and humanity from home. For me, justice is striving for a society that we design in such a way that there is room for equality and in which everyone gets opportunities."


From awareness to self-reflection

With this, Roos also gives an insight into what she tries to bring about in organisations. "I mainly try to make people aware that when it comes to diversity, equality and inclusion, there is much more going on than what we see on the surface. As human beings, we are also programmed in our view of the world and others. Above all, I try to start with awareness. And that awareness leads to self-reflection. Once you know what prejudices you have, you can explore how they sit with you and discover how they influence your behaviour towards others."


Blind spots

In her work, Roos encounters blind spots that she tries to bring to light. She shares an example that she often encounters regarding perceptions of gender. "There seems to be a blind spot in many organisations, especially in management teams, boards and councils, where people are not fully aware of the impact of gender. It plays a big role in the steps you can take within a company. I am now referring specifically to the differences between men and women. As a woman, if you don't have role models in leadership positions, this can have a significant impact on how you shape your own ambitions and what steps you dare to take. So the absence of women in certain positions can be prohibitive. In addition, there still seems to be a strong tendency to associate leadership with masculine qualities, so many women consciously or unconsciously adopt these masculine traits to get ahead in the organisation."


It can lead to women consciously or unconsciously adopting these qualities because it is seen as necessary for advancement in the organisation. This situation constitutes a significant blind spot, according to Roos. "Indeed, the common view of good leadership still seems to be programmed into our thinking, associating masculine qualities with leadership. So there is a world to be gained by nuancing this perception. It is not so much about dividing the world into men and women, but rather rethinking which traits we associate with effective leadership."


Mirroring and bouncing back

So in her work, Roos dives into organisations to research Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DGI). From the findings, she sees the art of mirroring. "Mirroring initially triggers defence mechanisms. That is also totally okay. It also requires quite a lot to dare to be vulnerable. At the same time, I then try to build constructively in the conversation. And sometimes you reach a point in the conversation where there is a lot of resistance and there is no room to look at it differently. In that respect, I cannot change everyone, but I can point out the consequences of patterns I encounter."

Roos outlines an example: "Suppose it is said that people in the company find it difficult to get women into certain positions. Then the first question is, 'What are you doing to get those women in? What kind of environment are they getting into? And how attractive is the corporate culture to a woman?' So when a question like that comes up, I'm mirroring and bouncing the ball back." The result may then be that the penny drops after a while. "Recently, I received a nice response, after a confrontational conversation. In it, I asked critical questions, based on my analysis. Eventually, two weeks later, I received a message from a board member. He told me: 'Well, I slept on it for a few nights, but I am very grateful for what you showed us and pointed out.' I really like that."


The three first steps you can take in the context of DGI

Roos emphasises awareness and makes a case for breaking taboos when it comes to diversity and inclusion within organisations. We come up with a number of ingredients that help make this a reality and take steps towards DGI.

1. Breaking taboos: creating a safe space
Rose: "It's about creating a safe environment where employees can talk freely about various aspects of their identity. This includes personal experiences, background, and even issues that are often considered taboo, such as health problems or family challenges." So this is about creating a place where you can step into your organisation with all your being. After all, you are more than just your work.


2. What do you need to feel at home?

Rose: "When you have made this setting with each other, there is a basis for having conversations, without then having to use the word diversity or inclusion. An essential question you can then ask is: 'What do you need to feel at home here?' This can be done through anonymous surveys, one-to-one conversations or in other appropriate ways."

3. Actively involve (new) employees in shaping DGI.

Roos emphasises: "An organisational culture is also a culture, and within a culture you have conscious and unconscious rules, norms and values about how things happen. A culture is never static, always changing. That is why it is also important to sometimes let go of the frenetic thinking around DGI. Because when it comes to diversity, the average person thinks: 'We need to bring in someone of colour. We need to bring in someone who is a practising Muslim, for example, because that looks different. We need to bring in someone who might be queer... etc.' So then you only look at the outside, and worse; you immediately portray that new 'diverse' employee as 'the other'. That hinders feeling at home, of course.


So create an inclusive culture first. And make room for diversity within the people who are already there. Isn't there already more diversity there than you might think? This also requires harnessing the fresh eyes of new employees in your organisation. Especially the questions that deal with, "Why do you do it this way?" are important. Companies hire consultants to look in with an 'outside view'. While you can also see your new employee as a consultant who mirrors and bounces balls back."


Be aware of the water you are swimming in

Rose: "If you are somewhere long enough, at some point you become unaware of the culture you are in, and you often start conforming more and more to the norm. I think that is why it is necessary from time to time to become aware of the water you are swimming in. To add fresh water sometimes." You could argue that when you consciously pay attention to this, breakthroughs in DGI actually occur. "If you really want to do something with it, it mainly requires going very much back to your intrinsic motivation, and self-reflection!"

Listen to the conversation (in dutch) in the Derk van der Polcast on Spotify or Apple Podcast.

Want to know more about Roos Beerkens' work? Check out her profile on LinkedIn or email