Diversity is a watchword of European policy, but while the word sounds wonderful, and looks great in the titles of posters and pamphlets, it can be tough to make it a reality. The city of Ghent is well ahead of the game in creating a cutting edge, far reaching diversity policy. Last week, in a study visit organised by EUROCITIES, Gdansk, a city enthusiastic to become a frontrunner in diversity, paid a visit to Ghent for inspiration in kickstarting this process.
Over two days of meetings and presentations in the bright and airy attic of Ghent’s town hall, municipal representatives of Ghent and Gdansk sat, along with EUROCITIES staff from the CITIES GROW project, and a representative of the Commission from DG Home, to formulate concrete ways for Gdansk move forward with its commitment to diversify its labour force.
What’s in a name?
What is the most important thing on your CV? Your experience? Perhaps your education? Of course, these are the employer’s primary concern, but the make-or-break factor that decides whether you get asked for an interview could simply be your name. Come on in, Montague; better luck next time, Capulet.
The city of Ghent tested this thesis by sending out pairs of fake CVs to businesses. Both CVs had equivalent levels of experience and education: the fictional candidates were of Belgian nationality, both born and educated in Flanders; but one had a typical Flemish-sounding name, while the other name was distinctly foreign.
The responses came in and sure enough, the Flemish names had a better positive response rate than the foreign-sounding ones. What was the aim of this elaborate hoax? “You have got to have the data” Luc Vanden Berge explained, in order to understand the size, scope and nature of the problem. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea whether you’ve solved it. The bedrock of good policy is good data.
Ghent emphasised the importance of statistics in discovering the extent of the challenge, setting targets for change, and gauging success. As 30% of Ghent’s population are currently first, second, or third generation migrants, the city hall has set itself the target of ensuring that 30% of new employees between now and 2030 will be of foreign lineage. This will also mean that by 2030, a total of 13% of the city’s employees will be of non-Belgian heritage. It is enormously important that the city be both director and actor, and if city hall is to encourage diversity amongst employers, it must begin by embodying that change.
In the USA, a policy called ‘affirmative action’ compels employers to collect ethnic data on job candidates, and to ensure that their employment pattern reflects the diversity within the society. Such a policy is, however, impossible to implement in many European cities, where, in order to prevent discrimination, it is forbidden to collect ethnic data from applicants.
Ghent has taken this up as a challenge to ameliorate the recruitment system itself, to make it more open and friendly to people of diverse backgrounds: Among other steps, they have pared back the language in their psychological entry test, replacing it with videos and pictures themed around scenarios that might be familiar to all kinds of people; they also actively recruit in areas of the city with higher rates of diversity.
Making it work
Every city is embedded in its own context, and an important part of EUROCITIES study visits is the challenge of adapting best practices so that they can be replicated successfully. In Gdansk, the administration has access to different sets of data from those available in Ghent. While Belgian residents are required to register with the municipality of any city they move to, in Poland registration is handled on a national level. This means that access to information on local demographics is much easier in Ghent than in Gdansk.
In Ghent, only work in the police and fire department is restricted to Belgian citizens alone, with the rest of municipal departments being open to Belgian residents of other nationalities. In Gdansk, the current policy requires all municipal employees to be of Polish nationality. This obviously places a hurdle in the way of fostering diversity, despite Gdansk’s determination to strengthen its labour market by tapping into migrant potential.
Notwithstanding this and other hurdles, Gdansk will be moving ahead in developing an action plan to implement lessons learned in Ghent with a sensitivity to its own context. Both cities share an enthusiasm for removing the limits upon workers who want to strengthen the labour market with their diverse backgrounds and sets of skills. Indeed, the very skill sharing project bringing them together is proof that when diverse capacities are pooled a stronger, more inclusive Europe can emerge.