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By Impulse4Women on January 25, 2023

Diversity has no impact without inclusion. An interview with diversity and inclusion expert Wendy Broersen


Wendy Broersen has been an entrepreneur for almost two decades. Her most recent enterprise is Superpeople Company which she founded to help organisations become more diverse and inclusive.

Among her clients are Vinci Energies (Axians, Actemium, Omexom in the EU), tv/media firm KRO NCRV, the University of Amsterdam, the Dutch bank ABN AMRO and the Erasmus University Hospital in Rotterdam. 

202211 RRSS Expert talk (Blog Banner) (1)


Impulse4Women: Wendy, what’s the story behind SuperPeople Company? 

It started when I was organizing events for female entrepreneurs and female professionals. These events had sponsors and sent their female staff to these events. Those female employees went back to their companies and were inspired and activated. One of the event sponsors came to me and said, "Hey, can you do what you're doing at those events in our company?" That was the start of Superwomen Academy. And I've done a lot around gender diversity. Recently, we changed the name to Superpeople Company because we are not only focused on gender diversity or training anymore. Now we support, advise and activate organisations to become more diverse and inclusive. We ensure that the diverse people they employ will stay and can develop just as fast and as quickly as the majority there.

I4W: So your mission is to bring diversity into companies? 

Our mission is to get diversity in organisations and create an inclusive organisational culture! 

I4W: What is the difference between diversity and inclusion? 

Diversity means that you get people into teams, into your company, who are diverse. That diversity can be anything. For example, people with and without children, people of different ages, different gender, people with or without disabilities, or multicultural people with a multicultural background. Diversity is a very broad definition. It could also be about factual people, focused on numbers and creating a more diverse workforce by bringing in creative people. 

Diverse teams do better, but they only do better if you have inclusion as well. Inclusion means that you are valued for the diversity you bring to that team or the organisation and can state a different opinion and be complimented for it. Because you do that, you can bring your authentic self, as they call it. So just bringing in diversity in an organisation is not cutting it. You will not get the revenue of just having a diverse team. If you only have diversity and no inclusion, more diversity can mean more discussions, chaos, and dysfunction. So you need inclusion to get the revenue of diversity. Creating an inclusive culture where people feel like they belong.

I4W: How do you find out a company's diversity and inclusion level?

You can look at processes. That's my favourite place to start. Take talent recruiting, for example: if you have an inclusive selection process, when you recruit, you will make sure that the diversity that applies to that job will also get the job. But when you have diverse people there, you want them to thrive and make a career within your organisation. So if you don't have an inclusive selection process for talents or succession, the diversity that you bring in will stagnate at a certain level. You can see that at certain companies or organisations with, for instance, 70% of starters are women. And after ten years, there are still 70% starters in the first layer, but you don't see them advancing up in the hierarchy. That's when you know you have to work on inclusion. 

I4W: What's a typical call you get from a client? 

Usually, they call me when they see a lot of valued people leaving. Or when they see a lot of female talents leave the company, they get worried. Or when many young people leave the company within two years, which is cause for action. And they're thinking, "oh, maybe there's something wrong". But often, it's too late to react and change things. Change takes time. 

So my best tip is to look at the data and stay ahead. If you look at the data and you don't see an evenly distributed age and gender throughout the teams and the hierarchy in your organisation, that's a red warning sign. If you look at learning & development, especially courses and personal development, and you see only a specific group of a certain age or gender taking those courses, that's another red flag. Either they are not asked to do those training or workshops, or they deem themselves not eligible. Like "I'm too old to learn" or "I'm too young to do a management course".

I4W: You work with international companies across Europe. What diversity pattern do you currently observe? 

Let me first make a distinction between Eastern Europe and Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, for instance, it's typical for women to work full-time or almost full-time. In Western Europe, that's not the case. That has to do with mostly the background of communism, where everybody was working full time and still are. 

In Western European companies, it is still considered a woman's job to raise children. But childcare and daycare are a problem in certain countries because it's very expensive or unavailable. Also, the perception that when you're pregnant, you're not returning or only part-time is common. You don't know that unless you ask. Another issue is not being paid equally. In Europe, on average, women get paid 14% less for the same job. In Eastern Europe, that % is even a bit higher.

I4W: What about age diversity and inclusion?

Looking at the EU demographics, there are just not enough young people to do the work. People live longer, and that comes with a cost. So we are pushing people to work longer, which creates an interesting dilemma. Now we have four generations in the workforce, and the differences between those generations are significant. Just think of the digital divide, for example. But also work ethos. People from older generations are working because they want to improve their lives, have a bigger car, go a lot on vacation, or have a bigger house. But the young people, say the millennials and Gen Z, they're not living to work. They work to live. They are more into flexible working hours, hybrid or even remote, 4-days working weeks, etc. So there's a gap between how people look at work and life balance. 

We tend to look at how different we are from others. But if you want to work and live together, we should all focus on what we have in common. It is an easy way to start being more inclusive.

When we look at people with a disability, I am really happy to say that in most countries, companies realise that a lot of people with disabilities, like colourblindness, dyslexia, autism, a physical or psychological illness due to burnout or trauma, make up a large portion of the workforce. So we need to accommodate these people because if we can involve them in work and participate in society, society will become a better place. 

I4W: How diverse and inclusive are European startups? 

You would think startups would be more diverse and inclusive, especially when young people start them. So they are not hindered by company background or history, or we always do things this way. But unfortunately, that is not the case! When you start with a small group of people, usually one or two, and then maybe a couple more, you look for people with the same mindset and perhaps the same skills you need to grow your company. Unfortunately, there are many of the same people in your company then. But if you want to stay innovative and reach bigger markets and other markets, you have to be diverse. A McKinsey research report over 30 years has shown that diverse companies do better. 

This also means that you have to become an inclusive leader instead of just a leader. And that is usually not easy, especially when you're starting. 

Investment companies also recognise diverse teams, and inclusive companies do better than those not. I know the case of a startup that was planning an IPO. But they had no diversity and inclusion strategy - just a homogeneous group working for them. As a result, they would have gotten killed by the press. So their investors asked them to pause everything for a year to get things right.

I4W: So, what's your advice if you want to start up diverse? 

Getting more diverse people to join your workforce means lowering your demands. That sounds a bit weird. Think of it like this: only ask for a degree if it is essential for the job. If there's no necessity for a degree of any kind, don't ask. When people apply for that job, you anonymous the CVs. You take out the names of the universities that they went to, you take out the names, their gender and their age. By doing so, it will be much easier to select people because of what they can bring to the organisation and not be influenced by their age, their background, their name or gender or whatever.

I4W: It's almost like a blind date.

Well, there are many companies out there who are doing this already, and that number is growing. They hire anybody that says I want to do that job. I would instead hire somebody who maybe doesn't tick all the boxes but is very enthusiastic about working for me than somebody who ticks the boxes. And there's another reason to start being more diverse and inclusive as an employer.

I4W: What challenges have you faced as a female entrepreneur, and is there any advice you can share with our community?

That is a long list. I get very annoyed, for example, when people ask me questions about my work-life balance, my kids, and my relationship, which has nothing to do with whether I'm a good entrepreneur. I usually don't answer those questions. My advice is one: find some male sponsors because they can open doors you cannot open. Advice number two: don't doubt yourself. It's not you that needs to change. The perception of the person in front of you has to change, and correct them politely but firmly.

And since you're asking: a big shout-out to all the women out there to display more sisterhood. There is this old boy's network, and it's still there, functioning well if you're a guy, but unfortunately, not for us women. So it would be great if we promote the hell out of other women! 

I4W: Thank you for the interview, Wendy! 

Published by Impulse4Women January 25, 2023