We Should Act More Like Children: A Reflection on Diversity and Inclusion
When I started my advertising agency in Amsterdam in 1996, the world looked very different when it came to diversity and inclusion. We knew that all employees, old and young, could be gay, lesbian or hetero and that was fine. Employees could also have a colour. For example, some of them were descendants of parents that came to the Netherlands as migrant workers and were most likely Turkish or Moroccan with a darker skin tone. But also very dark-skinned people from Suriname and other parts of the world were called negros and that was fine too. That was still allowed to be said in those days and was not considered racist or offensive, a bit blunt at most but still very human.
When hiring employees, you didn’t have to count heads to know if you employed enough women, men, gays, lesbians or foreigners. You looked at the resume and asked the person about his or her qualities. If the person was suitable, they were hired.
We were also frugal in terms of energy, and since plastic items were usually of poor Chinese quality, we bought more sustainable alternatives. We ourselves once spent an entire afternoon discussing whether it was better for the environment to drink beer from cans or bottles. Thinking about your so-called “footprint” was something we thought was very normal and human, because after all, we do leave a world behind for our offspring.
In terms of working hours and workplace, we also looked at what was best for both the company and the employee. If the babysitter was too expensive or had cancelled, then working from home was usually the best option. In those days, you went into dialogue as person to person and together looked for the most appropriate solution.
All in all, you wanted to do good for your colleagues, the company, the customers and the world. We believed that this is what human nature is all about. That it is genuinely in human nature to do good.
But nowadays that is just not possible. At least in the Netherlands and many other Western countries. A person of color can no longer be called a Negro, a woman or man must be called a human being, a company must employ enough women and ethnic minorities, and don’t get it into your head to buy a gasoline-powered car, because if you don’t drive electric you are an egoist.
So is that human? Is it human not to hire the best candidate, but to hire someone based on gender or ethnicity? Is it human to enforce maximum contribution to reducing waste and energy consumption? Is it human to make rules about how, where and when you can or must work somewhere instead of coming out of it together? Is this really progress? Is this how you do good for your fellow man and the world?
I don’t think so.
Human beings are much smarter and more aware than many managers and policymakers think. We naturally know what is right and wrong. We don’t need rules for that. But if you do start making those rules and forcing us to follow them, we stop thinking and slowly lose the sense of right and wrong. Then we become slavish followers of a devised system.
Even as a child, I knew not to throw that piece of paper from my candy into the street. Occasionally I did it anyway, but always with a bad feeling afterwards. As a child, I knew not to leave the water tap open. Except in a water fight, because sometimes you have to get out of line. As children, we know what is right and wrong. As adults, we still know this.
As a child I played with Dutch kids, including Negroes, Turks, Chinese (or maybe they were Vietnamese) and whether someone was a boy or a girl didn’t matter to me. I played with everyone who was nice. Sexual orientation was of no concern to me. Once when my buddy wanted to try on a dress at the costume party, I just laughed really hard. I thought it was genuinely funny and certainly didn’t dwell on whether he would rather have been born a girl.
As adults, maybe we should act a little more like children. Not paying so much attention to who someone is, or what someone is called and paying more attention to whether someone is nice and does good for others. Isn’t that what being human is all about? Or is it more about how you choose to call the animal by its name?
I would like to go back to 1996. A time when a company – mine at least – consisted of people who respected each other. Were there for each other and where we weren’t so quick to take offence at anything. I want to go back to a time when I received respect from the government because they knew that I and my employees had each other and the world’s best interests at heart. Today that respect is gone and they want me to dance to their tune, use their words and follow their rules on hiring.
Disrespectful I call that, because I want and do good from within myself. Not because a few pencil pushers figure out for me what is or is not doing good.