The European Union has proven itself to be one of the most welcoming places for migrants and refugees. Now it is ready to move from diversity to inclusion of all in economic opportunities, and businesses will be key players in the effort.
— By Jill Motley
The European Union (EU) has been a standard bearer the last decade for welcoming people in need from around the world. It becomes more diverse each year based on characteristics like religion, race and ethnicity.
As the group of countries take stock of where they stand now, there are growing calls for the group of countries to move from a focus on diversity to a focus on inclusion. Governments and businesses are on a similar path followed by the U.S. and Canada, both of which encourage diversity but continue to struggle with true inclusion of various groups of people.
The EU is now facing the challenge of overcoming racism in particular. The governments of the EU member states need to show leadership in inclusion to embed the principle in society's cultural foundation. However, it is businesses that can make the inclusion principle mainstream.
Facts Indicate Much Work Remains to be Done
In the past five years, the European Union experienced one of the largest influx of refugees and migrants seen since WW II. Most were from Africa and the Middle East. This would suggest the EU is one of the most unbiased group of countries in the world, so why is it now regularly accused of racism?
This question goes to the heart of diversity and inclusion principles. Accepting diverse people into a country does not mean they are fully included in society or given equal opportunities to succeed.
The challenges in EU are complex, and there is a long way to go before the EU can say it has reached the pinnacle of D&I. Getting to that pinnacle requires the support of businesses because it is only businesses that can ensure people are given equal economic opportunities.
Government is supposed to be a role model, and that is what the EU was during the migrant and refugee crisis. Now people are looking closer, through the inclusion lens, at the EU's claim it is "united in diversity."
The fact is that only three out of 751 EU members of the European Parliament (MEP) are black. Another fact is that all 28 European commissioners are white. Yet another fact is that ethnic minorities make up approximately 2 percent of high-level positions in EU agencies in Brussels.
The numbers are likely to get worse without direct action. The United Kingdom is the most inclusive country among the EU's member states. After Brexit, UK's diverse people will no longer attend the government sessions in Brussels, and there is likely to be an outflow of UK diverse people from agency jobs.
The EU has many directives addressing discrimination against Jews, Roma, religious groups, LGBT, women, seniors and people with disabilities. There is no specific directive addressing Afrophobia, despite the fact there are an estimated 15 million people of African descent living in the member states. People working to end racism in Europe believe a specific EU directive is needed before member state governments will address racism as a serious issue.
Sending the Wrong Message
When Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH organization publicly and loudly called for the publication of diversity numbers for the largest U.S. tech companies, it was to shine a public light on the lack of D&I. The people who are publicly discussing the EU's lack of inclusion of diverse people in its organizations, and its seemingly blind eye to rampant racism, have the same goal. The push for change is coming from below, and that is where businesses can play a large role.
EU's businesses, domestic and international, can have a major influence on policy-making and make the business case for inclusion. People of African descent who have a degree are twice as likely to work in low-skill jobs compared to the general population. At the government level, the European Commission recruits employees based mostly on meritocracy, but more points are assigned to people who have international experience through opportunities like unpaid internships. Migrants and refugees have not had the same opportunities, so they are excluded from consideration.
Businesses can choose among many approaches to work toward ending racism and other forms of discrimination. One is lobbying the EU to develop a framework for integration of people of African descent, similar to the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. Among the many goals of the Roma Framework is producing greater Roma participation in the labor market, which will in turn contributes to social cohesion and improves general respect for the rights of all people.
Businesses Speak Up
In Germany, some outdoor brands developed an innovative approach. Joining forces, they aligned as a group with a German entrepreneurial initiative. The initiative's goals are to provide refugees with permanent jobs and residence. Antje von Dewitz, managing director of Vaude Sport, one of 120 companies supporting the initiative, believes that "integration works best over work."
Companies that are members of the European Outdoor Group are acting in various ways to integrate people who are excluded from economic and social participation. The actions include workforce bias training, teaching refugees German, and finding accommodations. Complicating the effort is the fact Germany is now asking many of the outdoor workers to leave the country, many of whom are black. Dewitz sees businesses as integration service providers and not just an employer.
These are just a couple of ways that businesses can work to improve the status of people of African descent and black Europeans. Discrimination is rampant, but it is a good sign that people and organizations are bringing the discussion into the public venue.
Change will apparently have to start from below. The general agreement is that the EU Commission is not interested at this point in specifically addressing racism, but that will change should they continue to be pressured by businesses, the public, and the few minority MEPs.
Ignoring lack of inclusion of groups of people does not serve any good purpose, and in fact, harms society and the economy.