As part of our Role Model Campaign, centred around International Women’s Day 2023, we interviewed companies that are making an effort to ensure diversity and inclusion within their organisation. For this article, we interviewed two company representatives of TNO: the largest independent research, development and consultancy organisation in the Netherlands, focusing on applied science. Their mission? “To connect people and knowledge to create innovations.” Helma van den Berg, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, and Frieda Agema, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, make it their job to improve diversity and inclusion within TNO, and are here to tell us everything about the company’s equality initiatives.
Fair and smart
There are many reasons to strive for gender equality, says Helma, but two stand out: “it’s the fair thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do”. It is fair because everyone should be included in society, and it is smart because it improves business. Research has found that including multiple perspectives in an organisation’s decision making enables innovation on a higher level. With innovation being a core part of TNO’s mission, creating this mix of perspectives not only makes employees feel safe -the fair thing to do- but also improves their creativity– the smart thing to do. Helma emphasises that it is not only gender diversity that is necessary. To really be representative, a company should promote diversity in all aspects of individuals, such as nationality, age, or physical ability.
This considered, TNO strives for a more equal gender balance in all sectors of the organisation. Besides portraying their own role models, TNO also implements other measures to achieve a more equal workforce. Gender statistics and well-being levels are constantly measured, including an equal pay study to investigate inter-gender pay differences for people in similar functions. This was conducted by Dagmar Beudeker, one of TNO’s role models. TNO has used the knowledge they have gained to facilitate an employee resource group for women, implement a cross-mentoring program where women can connect, and a leadership course for their women employees to take part in.
Inclusion at the base
It is a well-known mantra amongst D&I specialists: first inclusion, then diversity. Inclusion is of paramount importance at TNO, but how do they attract a diverse workforce? This has everything to do with representation, says Frieda. “If you want to attract more female employees, you should showcase your female employees.” It’s all about communicating your message in a way that includes everyone. This can be seen in details such as the way in which vacancies are written. TNO ensures texts are written in a neutral tone of voice, and pictures represent their diverse workforce truthfully. Upon entering the workforce, women support and enable each other. TNO aspires to make their female workforce feel seen and acknowledged this way. With referral programs, they hope to get women who already work at TNO to attract even more women.
D&I in each department
The fact that some companies have an overall equal gender balance, does not mean that every department is balanced. For this reason, TNO focuses on increasing the representation of women in higher positions such as the scientific research top and higher management: “representation is not only important for women within TNO to feel celebrated, but also important for girls at high school who are deciding what to study”. In their D&I strategy 2022-2025, concrete goals such as improving D&I policies on recruitment, advancement and retention (measured by the Netherlands InclusivityMonitor) are established. Inclusion will continue to be a crucial focal point. Not only through aforementioned measurements, but also by considering D&I in many decisions made within the organisation.
For other companies looking to expand their D&I initiatives, Helma comes with a 3-step plan. “Psychological safety comes first”, so before taking any concrete steps, everyone should feel safe to express their ideas and be themselves in their team. “Talk to underrepresented and overrepresented groups within your company and try to immerse yourself in their perspective. Dig deeper by taking note of how different groups understand the topic of inclusion: what is necessary for each individual to feel included?” The last step before taking concrete action is to facilitate conversations that address difficulties that people have, making them feel comfortable enough to open up and provide space to others. When there’s a sufficient understanding of the D&I issues within your company, it’s time to take real action in the form of a new strategy, courses, support groups, etcetera.
Any piece of advice?
“There are endless opportunities for your company to thrive in D&I” says Frieda. Support from higher management is key, but also inviting internal guests to your D&I board can assist your company in the continuous learning process that D&I is all about. Look at representation at all the different levels, and don’t fail to take each and everyone’s perspective. And lastly: be transparent. Do you conduct employee surveys? Release the information you gathered from them, even if the results are not as positive as you had hoped for. Being transparent about this will let your employees know that you want to include them in the process of improving, to becoming a more equal organisation. Your employees are what matters, and making them feel safe at work is critical to their wellbeing and company performance. Soon enough, your organisation will reap the benefits, on all levels. And then, it’s time to show your role models to the world, just like TNO does for this year’s Role Model campaign. They will have a great number of six of their employees from The Hague, from different positions in the organisation, showcased through The Hague.
Want to read more stories? Visit this page to find our other blogs.