At Avans, we strive to treat everyone equally and with full respect. Statistics reveal that students and staff members see our institution as a safe and inclusive environment, a place where you can be yourself. And yet there are gains still to be made in this area. That’s why on June 9th Avans became a signatory to the Diversity Charter of the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands’ (SER) Diversity at Work project.
Jacomine Ravensbergen, Vice-Chair, signed on behalf of Avans. In addition to Avans, Mondriaan Regional Training Centre, Nyenrode Business University, Netherlands Association of Senior Secondary Vocational Schools (MBO Raad), and ICM Opleidingen & Trainingen also signed the charter in the Dr Albert Heijn Building on the Nyenrode campus. The aim is to promote and stimulate diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
One important reason for Avans signing the charter is to increase our visibility and show that we are actively engaged with this issue. “It is not just empty words”, Jacomine explains. “By signing you are committing to something. You have to submit an action plan and monitor the entire process. The SER will be regularly asking us for updates and following our progress. That gives us an extra push to stay focused on our goals.”
She admits that the institution has neglected to promote diversity and inclusion for too long and therefore wants to take giant steps to catch up. “We want to go fast, but not at the expense of exercising due care. Especially not with a subject like this. That’s why we want to complete the process step-by-step, and get students and staff involved.”
Plan of action
In six months, Avans has to submit a plan of action to the SER setting out how we are going to create a more diverse and inclusive environment. According to Jacomine, change has to be lead from the top, but with input from students and staff members. “Action research forms an important part of this. We want to sit down and talk with students and staff about what’s going well, what they would like to see changed, and what they find problematic. It’s only then that broad terms like diversity and inclusion have meaning.”
Along with the action research that will be launched soon, input has recently been sought from current and new projects. The pink help desk, for example, is a growing initiative of Paula Contreras Carballada that has been up and running for a while. With the support of the Executive Board and the school, the help desk has been rolled out Avans-wide, even for future students. There is also the pilot for gender-neutral toilets that recently started up. “We are learning a lot from the input we have received from these and other projects”, Jacomine says.
The Executive Board has devised a number of tangible goals that will make Avans a more diverse and inclusive environment. Such as further spotlighting and upscaling existing projects, and setting up new initiatives. In addition, in the fall it is expected an action researcher and chief diversity officer will be appointed. They will concentrate on development and implementation of plans in day-to-day operations.
Focus on inclusion
“We want inclusion to be given a central place in our policy. We have to avoid becoming fixated on recruiting a certain number of people with a certain background or age. To me, that’s not the goal. The goal is to be inclusive for everyone who works or studies at Avans.” A quote that was mentioned during the signing ceremony is a good illustration of the way Avans wants to roll out its diversity policy, according to Jacomine: ‘Diversity is no virtue unless you know how to achieve inclusion.’
A year after signing the charter there will be an evaluation and Avans can weigh things up. Jacomine: “Personally, I hope by that time there are more communities. We see that the pink help desk has really created a community, which is also true of the international students and staff at Avans. I hope that this will emerge for more diversity themes.”
Jacomine knows that a learning process involves trial and error. Therefore it’s important that everyone participating in the process approaches it as a learning curve, and doesn’t expect to get everything right the first time. “When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Avans is still at an early stage. We still have to mature and that won’t be possible without bumps in the road. Show respect, learn and develop – that’s our motto.”
Signatories of the charter
Photos by Sander Foederer