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The Melting Pot(ential) Forum

On International Diversity Policy: A Summary of the first OECD-COPE Diversity Forum


On January 22, 2018, the OECD pioneered the first international forum on Diversity and Inclusion of disadvantaged groups (women, immigrants, LGBTQ, seniors and the disabled) under the auspices of its Centre for Opportunity and Equality (COPE).  The purpose was to provide “a platform for promoting and conducting policy-oriented research on the trends, causes and consequences of inequalities in society and the economy…” and to inform and influence the international policy debate that inclusive growth policies encourage shared prosperity.

The purpose of this summary is to share its valuable content with DHRs, CSR managers, recruiters, and policy makers and to help people of diversity get on The Right Career Path in the Right Company in the Right Country.


In his opening words, the OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, a Mexican national and former minister of finance for his country, reminded us that with regard to diversity we need to “look forward, not back”; to strive for a time when everyone will have the same opportunities without discrimination; and where the general population realizes that inclusion can bring benefits and faster problem-solving, as has been proven in many multicultural countries.

He explained that in 2016, OECD country statistics revealed that nearly 15 percent of the working population claimed a disability; that was one person in ten was foreign born; that 59 percent of seniors, aged 55 to 64, were employed; that the self-identified LGBT community in the U.S. reached 4.1 percent; that women have entered the work place in large numbers. Yet women earned 50 percent less than men combined in those countries.  Likewise, the handicapped population was 27 percent less employed than other fully employed people. Statistics also indicate that children from immigration populations are on average at least one year behind native born populations in school (OECD Program, 2018). (The OECD integration statistics for 2017 will be available in September 2018.)

To ignore these trends is to encourage conflict and increase cost, for companies and countries. Solutions require new government approaches and the implication of corporations in the change process.  There is no way to change culture unless that culture accepts change, and to have change accepted, we need greater and better integration.

As Maya Angelou said, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength”(Angelou, n.d.) but we also need education.

Ahmed Hussen, Canadian Minister

Ahmed Hussen, minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in Canada, explained how to make the most of diversity, according to the Canadian model.

Somalian born, Hussen knows first-hand how to find his way in a foreign country without forgetting for a minute where he and others have come from. Fully 50 percent of Toronto’s population is foreign born. His constituency alone speaks 100 different languages, and in turn maintains links around the world, adding a distinctly international aspect to his job. Canada understands that diversity is one of its greatest forces: it strengthens Canada by supporting its labour force, boosting innovation, and opening new markets.

Canada has a strong immigration policy that supports its growth. For instance, it predicts that the ratio of employees to retirees (the number of active workers to the number of retiree pensions that require financing), which is now 6:1, will drop to 2:1 in 2036, making retirement unsustainable, unless concrete measures are taken now.

In response and anticipation, Canada looks to immigration and diversity to solve this retirement demographic problem. Consequently, it has a three-year immigration plan for one million immigrants of whom 60 percent are in Canada for mainly economic reasons, 20 percent for family reunification, 14 percent as refugees and six percent for humanitarian reasons. The Canadian government – on the basis of a simple decision – has successfully speeded up the immigration process from seven months to two weeks.

Hussen clarified that all immigration policy must be win-win – positive for the host country as well as for the immigrant.

In Canada, immigrants spend 120 days the first year in a Global Work Program, during which time they do not need a work permit. After that period, they are offered a path to permanent residency and the citizenship process is facilitated, all of which is intended to insure that Canada has only one class of citizenship. Speaking French adds points for obtaining citizenship.

Private Canadian citizens – groups or families – who commit to paying an immigrant for one year may sponsor immigration. Thanks to this, immigrants are highly motivated and do better faster than when left to their own devices.

The government has also created and funded “Settlement and Integration Services”, offering a program that requires local support and actions. One of the results has been higher immigrant university attendance.

Overall, Canada, like Australia, considers these partnership-based community actions as a competitive advantage for their respective countries.

France, with its current Unity in Diversity (“unité dans la diversité”) philosophy, still seems to be resistant to any policy supporting multiculturalism and has a long way to go in making progress on inclusion (Ouaissi, 2018).

Qualifying France as “assimilationiste”, Hakim El Karoui of the Club XXIe Siècle, one of the OECD forum’s parners, pointed out that there are many ways in which discrimination happens in France, such as in access to information, or lack thereof to certain populations; discriminatory workplace practices; and a general absence of opportunity for people with differences to share experience in France’s segregated, hierarchical social structure (El Karoui, 2018).

El Karoui spoke about the failed model of integration in France as being a “French paradox”:

  • There are many mixed marriages in France despite strongly held rejection of integration;
  • Historically, France claims to be Galois, forgetting the Frankish and other tribes that make it a melting pot genetically;
  • French Roman Catholicism’s sense of charity, which underlies France’s humanistic social system, may not extend to foreigners and immigrants;
  • France’s humanitarian intellectual tradition, the philosophy of Les Lumières, is ironically fraught with me-first-ism – a foe of inclusion.
  • Politically, successive presidencies of the 21st century have muddied the waters of inclusion by parsing the very notion of “citizenship”, refusing discussion on integration and multiculturalism, and inventing say-nothing slogans like “Unity in Diversity” (El Karoui, 2018).

Christl Kvam, state secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, mentioned the importance of talking about integration, for which the government needs to develop a national labour force skills policy by which to measure all workers, be they immigrants or nationals, on the same scale and to develop laws ensuring equality in safety and opportunity. Despite Norway’s “Upskill-Reskill” policy, there remains progress to be made, for instance, in employing immigrants: While 73 percent of Norwegian woman are integrated into the workforce, only 46 percent of immigrants are (Kvam, 2018).

Jennifer Brown, LGBT activist

American and out-of-the-closet gay consultant Jennifer Brown stated that there is a trend in the U.S. called “covering”, meaning that LGBTQ people may downplay their feelings of being stigmatized by their differences and that there is still an onus on the LGBTQ community in the workplace. She referred to it as a “tax on being different” in the U.S. that shows up in micro-inequalities (Brown, 2018).

Michael O’Flaherty, director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, deals with legal compliance of human rights law in the EU, and he says there are “lots of problems”, that at least one in three immigrants is victim of harassment in the work place. He insists that the EU must give more attention to socio-economic rights when dealing with people who “don’t get diversity” (O’Flaherty, 2018).

On the topic of age, Anne Thevenet-Abitbol, new concepts vice president at the Danone Group, is concerned that even though women represent slightly over 50 percent of the population, they are still at the bottom of the proverbial ladder professionally. “As of age 45, woman are considered old,” she states firmly, implying that this is not the case for men. This reveals pernicous prejudices such as the notion that women don’t need as much money as men do, so it’s okay to pay them less and keep them at the bottom of the pay scale; and that women lose their looks with age, thus reducing their desirability…professionally too (Thevenet-Abitbol, 2018).

Anilore Banon, Artist

Artist Anilore Banon, conceptor of the Vitae project working with the Dassault Systèmes scientific team to send a monumental sculpture to the moon, offered the audience a unique opportunity to send our hand prints to the moon (yes, I participated!). She also gave us glimpses of Reza’s “One World One Tribe” and Rémi Hostekind’s “Parisiens du monde”, to demonstrate how art contributes positively to promoting diversity. She excerpted a passage from a Persian poem that says, “If we do not care about human suffering, we cannot consider ourselves human”. She encouraged us to plant trees for the next generation, both literally and metaphorically (Banon, 2018).

Representing a major French company, Engie, DHR in Charge of Social Affairs Olivier Hérout confirmed that his company was faced with the necessity to adapt and accept becoming “diverse”, despite considerable resistance. He and the company learned as they went how important the topic of diversity is. He explained that, once identified as inevitable, diversity was also seen as a distinct advantage, helping the company to reach its full customer base – a key to the company’s success (Hérout, 2018)

Hérout emphasized that while there cannot be a universal management approach to diversity, he feels that the Engie value model is worth retaining and integrating into HR practices across the boards:

  1. Everywhere, recruit in the image of the local population;
  2. Integrate and trade new skills; and
  3. Implement gender equality.

Further, HR can offer e-learning courses and develop in-house communities to discuss discrimination. Boards can be “feminized” (Hérout, 2018).

According to Denise Hottmann, head of diversity and inclusion at Boehringer Ingelheim Deutschland, Germany has had a Diversity Charter since 2006, to foster diversity, inclusion, and awareness at work. They encourage Diversity Days where people tell stories, the purpose of which is to bring everyone to hold a favourable common attitude toward diversity (Hottmann, 2018)

In Finland, diversity has had a positive effect on productivity but not on individual motivation (Ilmakunnas, 2018).

William Spriggs, senior economist to the AFL-CIO in the USA, emphasized that it isn’t enough to put forth the business case for diversity. He believes that diversity policy needs to go deeper and appeal to the moral fibre of everyone in order to bring about change. He insists that diversity is essentially a discussion of power and privilege – a basically tribal sense of privilege. There is, he feels, a tendency of people to assume the inferiority of whole communities that are at the bottom of the work force or left out of the labour market altogether (Spriggs, 2018).

Nevertheless, the Italian Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Stefano Scarpetta drew attention to the fact that in Italy, immigration has had an important positive impact on GDP, between one and four percent per year (Scarpetta, 2018)
A cold lunch, consisting of a tasty vegetarian sandwich and tangy rice pudding prepared by refugee cooks “Les Cuistots Migrateurs”, was served to all participants.

Refugee Chefs’ leader

During lunch, there was also a projection of Frédérique Bedos’s  excellent, must-see documentary film, “Women and Men”, which has also been screened at the UN.  (It will be available for purchase on DVD on March 4, 2018.) In the film, such prestigious people as Dr Rama Mani of the World Future Council and Dr Scilla Elworthy of the Oxford Research Group discuss the traditional roles of men and women.  From the film we learned, with regard to women’s roles in China and most of Asia, that Confucius dedicated all of two sentences to women, saying that women and children can be “ignored because they are complicated”.  The film also discusses the Fall of Man Myth, that started about 800 B.C. and progressively affected (infected?) Occidental religions and societies.  These myths are still at play now in Islam, which partially explains its current crisis of ethics and intellect.  In conclusion after the screening,  Bedos reassured us that gender equality – like decolonization – will happen one day. (“C’est comme la décolonisation; cela va arriver.“) (Bedos, 2018)

Some Solutions and Recommendations

Positive Diversity and Inclusion solutions were proposed and discussed throughout the afternoon.

Alexandra Kalev, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Tel Aviv University, said that it’s important to engage leaders in the process of change without pointing fingers at how badly they may have been doing things to date. Managers can best be engaged through mentoring in order to get buy-in and commitment to diversity programs and that they need to become aware of social accountability. Research indicates that diversity training per se does not work and may be counter-productive because it appeals to biases. Just having contact with diverse populations is more effective in improving integration (Kalev, 2018).

Isabelle Michel-Magyar, program leader for the HeForShe movement and former vice-president of employee engagement and diversity at Schneider Electric, presented the HeForShe movement, which is based on the following principles:

  • Everyone needs to stop saying “It will take time”. It’s just the decisions that are missing.
  • Everyone needs to stop viewing diversity from the view point of a business case. We need to talk about people, human beings, ethic and the actions that make us stand tall (“qui nous rendent grands“).
  • It is the conglomerate of actions that will make a difference. So it’s about implementing change management everywhere. It’s about Emma Watson taking an emotional public stand on feminism and about the Malawi government cancelling throughout the country all child-bride marriages in order to send little girls back to school (Michel-Magyar, 2018)

Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, added that there are two things everyone needs to do:

  1. unlearn the past, and
  2. create and implement policies to change behaviour.

He described equality as a journey and not a destination. He also said that identity is not set in stone and that “integrating” should not be experienced as diminishing oneself: a loss of perceived privilege is not a loss of rights. “Rights are something that need to be earned by all”. (Wardlow, 2018).

Mansour Zoberi, president of the French Association of Diversity Managers (AFMD) and director of diversity at the Group Casino, presented his professional network of managers that attempts to put diversity operations into place. Their goal is to implement a totally integrated approach at the heart of all companies, with the right tone and image being set by top management.

There is still debate about whether the best approach is through the creation of laws or through education. Required study about diversity often has the adverse effect of creating resistance. It is probable that such studies should be offered but followed only on a voluntary basis in order to get buy-in of the principles from participants.

The more appropriate terminology in the future, rather than integration and diversity, would be the word “inclusion” used as a global vision. (Zoberi, 2018)

The Future

Serguei Guriev, chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and professor of economics at Sciences Po Paris, thinks that the challenges of diversity are very different in different countries. Technological progress, notably in communications, can help with disseminating information and supporting education, just as it helps older people’s mental health.

Nevertheless, vigilance will be necessary so that the opposite phenomenon and negative effects won’t happen. Guriev identifies three areas that will require vigilance:

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI):  It must be made free of stereotypes. More and deeper analysis of Big Data may actually worsen the diversity problem by identifying differences that are not even in the picture now.
  2. Meritocracy:  There is a possibility that only the rich and better educated will get better opportunities.
  3. Politics: There is a growing risk that emerging oligarchies will upset the educational systems, thus creating new exclusions (Guriev, 2018).

BNP Paribas’ Global Head of Diversity and HR CSR Barbara Levéel told us that all HR analytics, though absolutely essential, are based on historical data that is biased. All data needs to be seen through historical lenses. For instance, it is known that women consistently rate themselves lower that men do, so there needs to be an algorithm to compensate for that tendency or it will result in HR submitting wrong offers to the wrong people. Further, companies need to diversify their IT work force in order not to pass on their biases, even unwittingly (Levéel, 2018).

To avoid the effects of prejudice and emotions in the selection process, many companies, including BNP Paribas, use autistics for this as they are less affected by personal biases at work (Levéel, 2018).

Irena Moozovà, director for Equality and Union Citizenship at the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, related that they use the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) digital selection of candidates.  She believes that the future of recruitment will include:

  1. life-long e-learning,
  2. education that is well adapted to the digital era, and
  3. academic curricula that include subjects like core values and diversity (Moozovà, 2018).

Annabelle Pinel, Big Data and HR Analytics business developer at Capgemini, expressed her opinion that in the future, many IT systems will routinely include video CVs for dynamic profiles. She feels that HR analytics today are biased because they looks for keywords in a candidate’s profile – keywords that only reflect the bias of the HR manager who selected the keywords. She believes that in the future it is possible that IT will be able to offer more objective analysis than is available currently (Pinel, 2018).