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Episode 8: Raïssa Peeters and Fatmagül Dinç on how inclusion is no rocket science, the role of education and connection in times of polarisation

"There is little room for the ordinary person with a migration background, a member of society, who tries to do his best, a flesh-and-blood human being who also has his flaws and who also has his confrontations with what he can or cannot do, but who tries his best."

"We're going to hose it down first because it's all on fire - education. But I think professionalisation within education, that's the first thing. [Explain?] The reality of a teacher now is: you're in an education system that is totally out of sync with the changing world around you. You have to prepare young people, children for a labour market that has certain demands but you can't deliver that - those demands. You are with a diverse group but your education has really only given you tools to teach in a monoculture. You need to start professionalising to pull that up as quickly as possible so that you can give those kids the right tools to start in their lives."

[general intro]

>>> You are listening to Let's Talk, a podcast where the talking points consist out of impactful initiatives, strong support offerings, and participation as a catalyst for innovation. Your host is Bart Wuyts, CEO of the group Blenders and WEB, the incubator of inclusive workplaces and innovative strategies concerning entrepreneurship, sustainability and job placement, among others.

[intro speaker]

>>> In this episode, we have Raïssa Peeters as our guest, known as Lady Blaxx on stage and expert in education; and Fatmagül Dinç also joins us around the table - Fatmagül is an expert in media and image creation and a mommy blogger known for the blog 'lost with kids' with which she inspires with kid-friendly activities near and far. We invited Fatmagül and Raïssa because they are founders of NON.VLAANDEREN - an initiative that was born out of a lived urgency to make inclusion and diversity a transparent, no-bullshit and working reality. Stay tuned and find out how the 90s mentality still too often plays tricks on us, how breast cancer, poorly constructed footpaths and lack of affordable childcare connect us and why it is disturbing that we think about 'the other' in terms of hero or victim.

And now we turn to NON. And to Raïssa and Fatmagül. Welcome.

Thank you.

You are guests here with us now because you are also fully bitten by the theme of diversity and inclusion. You then work professionally in an environment - at LEVL, I understand, both of you, in addition, in your spare time set up your own company and it's called NON.

What does NON stand for?

For 'Now Or Never' diversity.

We are like two nuns, but not with the Catholic trappings.

You are bringing the glad tidings?


And then what do you do with Non? What is your offer?

With NON, we are going to work with companies, with organisations, who are stuck with the issue of inclusion and diversity, 'how can we see society reflected within our organisation or within our company?' And we're going to hear first and foremost what the state of current affairs is and what the needs are. And then we are going to see if NON can start offering its tailor-made services to that company.

That is actually a bit like what we are doing with I-Diverso.

Yes, it is.

You guys are still very early starters, early this year if I understand correctly? Can you tell anything about that? Of types of assignments you are doing? Or was there is already a fine opportunity?

We recently gave a workshop to directors and HR managers of the KU Leuven, on the topic of inclusion, diversity, imaging, inclusive imagery. But also: racism and discrimination and the barriers that people with a migrant background experience when looking for a job, when applying for it. And also: once in the workplace, why do you stay with a particular employer or not? What factors influence that? How can organisations respond to them?

I want to dwell on that for a moment. The thresholds that are experienced, we have also worked on that a lot. What do you think are the most important thresholds that remain in the Flemish labour market today?

I think, firstly, the recognition and acknowledgement of people with a migration background in Flanders, Brussels, Wallonia - you name it, as capital of society, that that is not yet really reflected or included within certain policies and within certain organisations. Which means that inclusion and diversity is always an external factor, which requires an extra effort to bring in certain people, to keep them, to let them grow. And I think that vision - that it's about capital, that they are Belgians huh, or people with migration background who want to work very hard here - that you have to look at those people that way, and your strategy to bring those people in and welcome them, that you have to shift your point of view based on that. If you have that desire to pull society in. That's one of the big thresholds: the way people look at that particular target group, which is often seen as 'a lot of work', or 'I don't know that much about that', or still: 'I need to check something off' - because the government also sometimes lays out certain lines for certain companies or sectors, and also 'how should I get started with this'. Which makes the person who wants to apply, that they feel that - he / she / x is not a dummy....

And secondly, once you get to that job ... - there are some thresholds already on the way to that job - that you are then employed in an environment that is not really adapted or made for your type of 'being', to function well within this type of company or organisation.

Can you give examples of that in terms of what is missing when you say it is not suitable for your type of being?

For example, in terms of professionalising your other team members. Often, HR managers, boards, etc. experience resistance from certain team members who are actually not really open to diversity in their attitudes, so you as a person face micro-aggressions and sometimes just plain out racism. But also, in certain things in policy, you see that too. Fatma said in training recently - that was towards schools when we were giving training - it's infused into all the holidays here in Belgium: Easter! Christmas! St Nicholas! But if you see someone from a migration background, who is part of the capital of our society, how come for those holidays you don't also get a mail 'hi, wishing you a fine Ramadan...'. That is then something that is seen as 'Ah, we have to think about that too...'. These are the little things that people feel, and then you think 'I'm not being seen' or 'I'm not being appreciated', 'I'm not being valued', which makes people think, yes, I'm wasting my time here.

And that's a shame because those are things that employers can really work on.

OK, that's already a major barrier. Just last week, one of the colleagues said, when we were also talking about inclusion here in the organisation but also more broadly, 'we should actually celebrate diversity instead of it being an imposed criterion'... How can you make a mindshift so that you really start to appreciate the power of diversity? And just let it be there as something to celebrate instead of seeing that as a problem?

Yes. Celebrating diversity. I think that's about recognising and acknowledging the differences and 'celebrate' the differences?

But on the other hand, I think. The image we have, how we look at diversity: if you read the newspapers or in the media, we often see either victims or heroes - people with migration backgrounds. There is little room for the ordinary person with a migration background, a member of society, who tries to do his best, a flesh-and-blood human being who also has his flaws and who also has his confrontations with what he can or cannot do, but who tries his best. Very often we are like 'ok, a victim, we have to help that one', or 'hero!' - [or a perpetrator]. So you have two extremes of a spectrum and you get tossed back and forth in the perception and in the way you look at those people. And that's a bit of 1990s mentality in my opinion. We need to move away from that. We need to just look at the numbers. Look at the big cities – the reality of which is now spreading to the rest of the country as well - diversity is just a fact of life. There are people from migrant backgrounds, and it's not just in Flanders, it's the same in the rest of the world. The world has changed, it has become a village. It has become so easy for people to blend with other cultures, smells, colours, nationalities, but also gender,... you name it. Society has changed. And how we stand in it and how we look at it is an important starting point of your motivation. And certainly as a company, as a CEO of a company: 'why do I want to take care of diversity within my company now?' Is it simply because it's the right thing to do? Or is it from an economic perspective? For example, you sell nuggets – it might be wise for you to start thinking about selling halal nuggets.. Especially if your local outlet is in Antwerp, for example....

There are several reasons to care about diversity, to think about that. But I think we should not be lured into the trap of the media where a very polarising frame is put forward.

Celebrating diversity - and then I come back to what you said - yes it is something we are all in right now, solicited or unsolicited, and we make do with what we have, let's make the best of it instead of focusing on the differences that separate us from each other, let's look at what we have in common, what unites us.

And there plenty of that!

And it frustrates me greatly because I often come into contact with companies, advertising companies, communications companies, that - I find - have a narrow vision. Because they are exactly focused on what we differ in.

I'm just saying. If you put two people together who have had breast cancer. That transcends colour huh? Imagine: you put two mums together who have a child with a disability. That transcends colour! A woman who has lost her partner. Having to pay taxes. The electricity bill. The high cost of parking. If you cycle: the bad cycle paths. Actually everything in society: because we share an entire society.

The day-to-day frustrations or the pleasures that we stayed - all the same.

Now imagine if we started catalyzing every bit and piece (every person that is part of) wealth this country has to offer. Just imagine how bright this country would be shining! A colleague of ours said - and this perhaps touches upon the fear when it comes to diversity and inclusion and all these other container terms - there is resistance involved and an uncomfortable feeling, but she said: resistance is actually a good thing, because from pressure and resistance and friction you create those beautiful stones that are diamonds. And the more that you rub and exchange and talk out, and deepen that, then those start to shine. And a diamond is worth a lot!

So the way we start looking at that, that vision of it, if everyone is on board with this, then I think we can start celebrating that we have so many rough diamonds here. And that we can then see that it's time that we start to polish and shine and celebrate and highlight those.

Then you frame resistance as a strength, as a positive thing. There is energy in that. And then the challenge is mainly how to turn that energy to the benefit of all of us. And that, of course, is not so simple.

That's not easy. Because it is and remains an exchange, a communication, an open attitude, respectful rapprochement towards each other. That is required to get to that point. And every party has to have that basic attitude somehow as a prerequisite to excel. And not everyone is always on the same track or on the same level towards that kind of place or that level where you can communicate with each other. And that's actually something we want to do with NON: give people in that place enough tools and insights to start having those conversations, to dig deeper, to engage on introspection (what about my company, and if I bring people in, how do I keep them there, how can I turn a diamond in the rough into a shiny diamond that will also help illuminate my company,...). And that's pretty much our thing. We are all about Now Inclusion and Never Again 'we don't find them'.

I want to go back very briefly to the basic question from earlier: what are the big thresholds? We've talked about the threshold that is very much connected with our thinking. What are other thresholds you encounter on which you say 'something really needs to be done about this'?

Yes there is actually a whole list.... [Do you have time?] on many different levels.

For the recipients, who are looking for work, it might be about where you post your vacancy, where you surf online, what images are used, what language, it's about inclusive imagery, in short, inclusive vacancies.

There really is so much. But on the other hand, it is also about the HR staff who conduct the interviews or read the CVs and cover letters: to what extent are they aware of their own frame of reference? To what extent are they aware of their own psychology, of their own preferences,.... Because field tests show that people today are still discriminated against by name, by background, by photograph. And do you know how we do we know that? We know because we measure it. Specifically, for example, in sector X, there are 9,000 vacancies, we are going to apply 18,000 times: 9,000 times with a Flemish name and photo, and the same similar profile, almost identically the same, with a CV or a name of foreign origin or with migration background, and it shows - and it is one study after another that says this - that there is significant difference. That really points to direct discrimination. So that goes back to 'how people are recruited', 'who recruits', 'why do you choose a particular person the way you choose' so there I think is also room for growth. In the form of awareness-raising, trajectories, etc. Because there really are still various thresholds.

It is difficult to summarise or synthesise that now, but it is also about the fact that once you are on the labour market, there is still a whole list of thresholds.

As a job seeker.. In Belgium, they pretty much sell the American Dream: if you work hard enough, you'll get there. But the reality is, and this is exactly what Fatma explained: people with a migration background do not start on the same startline as native Belgians. So those barriers have to be removed. That can be from socio-economic class to language, to single-parent families,.... There are a lot of thresholds that can be worked on to at least get those people on the same starting line so that when the starting shot is given, they can also achieve an equal outcome.

That already starts from education, from childcare actually, until the moment you retire. And we also see these barriers at the psychological level. We are studying this more and more, precisely those psychological thresholds. Many people with a migrant background are struggling with imposter syndrome, with racism stress, with certain thresholds on deeper levels that result in them not choosing certain jobs. And a lot of employers, it turns out when we talk to them, have absolutely no idea that all that actually comes into play at a job interview. Take for example here, I arrive here - now, I know Artemis - but usually I measure my heart rate everywhere I go when I know this is a white space, I wonder how I'm going to be received, whether I'm going to face racism. Then my heart rate goes up because I start to feel stress. Then I wonder where my exits are, if there are safe persons, what the policy is,.... These are a lot of things that come into play that employers don't really know about and in which area you could open the doors much wider for people by maybe taking a few actions and welcoming them with a better mindset.

Please do name a few actions that would then - in this case for you - be important?

What we advise above all, and this is also important for me personally, is good preparation. If I know what I'm stepping into - say, a job interview: it's going to be with so many people, with that profile, .... I can then prepare for that psychologically, I can research on LinkedIn, I can google,.... I can prepare myself for the potential situation. From the way they draw up the e-mail, I can see whether I will be able to ask questions regarding my concerns (colour, feedback,..). Fatma also has a great example about this. In some cultures when you start a new job, it is super normal to ask how much you are going to earn and that is just said straight out. But if you ask that here in Belgium at a job interview, everyone looks at you like you're the craziest person in the world. You have to know these things in advance, so that you can present yourself with confidence and in your authentic self. After all, that is ultimately what you are looking for as an employer: to bring in that person's authentic, best self. And not the anxious self, full of barriers, concerns.

But you rightly say that, and we were just talking about the book ‘de zeven vinkjes’, which is also completely about that. Yes there is still some work to do there.

Yes, and it goes beyond that too. Once you are working, it is also about whether there is room to be yourself. Are my holidays recognised by management? Celebrated? Certain needs I feel: religious needs or cultural needs, is there space for that? Is there a service or a person with a listening ear within the organisation that can help or comfort me when I am confronted with certain comments? Because are small things but they do happen, and more than you would think. And we know that those small microaggressions that individuals from migrant backgrounds face,.... I will give an example. It has been Eid and the day after, I come to work and my colleague says 'here, I have smashed a fly, I have also sacrificed an animal. I am also participating in the Eid celebrations’. And then the rest of the team bursts out in laughter. For example, that's a little microaggression I experience at that moment. Or for example I ask a colleague from a migration background ‘hi where is Mohamed?' 'Mohamed bombed Bosnia didn't he'. Comments like that. And to most people that seems very innocent, that is funny, that is humour, because that makes your working day fun. But somewhere inside, that is a microaggression that a person from a migration background is not comfortable with. And very often that is hidden, people don't go and complain directly to the manager or report to Unia either. You don't do that because you don't want to be the bore or be the so-called whiner who pulls out the racism card again. You don't want that. People with migrant background don't want that. We also notice this when we look for testimonies from people with migration backgrounds about racism: people don't want that anymore. They are tired of going along with that victimisation narrative.

But it is something that is alive. And that may well cause a person to look for another employer. Because that's just such a reality in the workplace. And those are things that companies can deal with if you know about that. Or if you look for yourself as a CEO 'how is the well-being of employees with a migration background'? And it can also be about other groups: LGBTQ+,.. It's about the intersections between groups.

Microaggressions, I describe it like this: someone is constantly tapping your ear. The first time it's a bit irritating, the second time too,... and then it starts to get red, irritate, and then it just hurts. And in the long run that gets inflamed and starts festering. If you don't do anything with that then that's going to infect the whole of your ear. If you know that there is an infection within your organisation: just putting a bandage on it doesn't help. You really need to go and clean that out, make sure it has time to heal, set up hotlines where you can go and say that your ear has been tapped again. Measuring is knowing. I feel, everywhere we go that it's really guess work. Start monitoring the state and health of your business. From there, we can then start and get very specific. But often people ask us to 'make an offer' but the question is so vague that I often think 'yes, we can do a lot... but you yourself don't know what you are looking for'.

And if it goes really well, or you have an employer who really works on that: that also radiates, that's very important. People start broadcasting that themselves via their social media: 'look my employer has done this or that and I really feel seen and heard here...'. And that way you start to create a very positive image on your company. And then you have people with or without a migration background who start to feel that extra commitment of 'hey, that's the employer I work for and I'm proud of that and I'm proud to work there'.And that way, you will also start attracting people who want to start working for you. 'Hey look what they do, they provide bags during Ramadan month so you can take the lunch that's provided in the cafeteria for free at noon'or 'they provide time to do that at that time...'. - little things like that. And I really notice that people pay a lot of attention to that. That really goes back to 'who am I as a person', 'what is my frame of reference', 'what are my values' and 'do I feel myself valued and recognised and acknowledged here'.

A very small example. As a child in primary school, I always wanted to please the teacher, I always wanted to be seen as a child. I would raise my finger 'Miss can I please wipe the board?' - 'yes'she said, and then I went to the front. But that was so heavy, I couldn't get that board down. So then she said to me 'You must eat more bacon huh, bacon with eggs.' I don't eat bacon, I'm a Muslim. And those are such little things.... And now years later, of course, I know that I just needed recognition. And if you have a child who celebrated at home yesterday, who comes to school full of joy: you have to give that a place, you have to create space for that. The same in the labour market. It's actually quite simple.

Diversity is not rocket science huh!

It's actually all so obvious.


Less is more sometimes and it doesn't have to be so difficult.

[I'm kind of watching our time - unfortunately. But. In the name Now Or Never, there is a very great urgency in that. It's not rocket science, we should celebrate, but we should also just keep it normal,. But what is the most urgent thing now? What needs to be addressed by whom now].

The employment rate of people with migration background in Flanders needs to go up. This is so bad compared to other European countries! Belgium has been alerted about this fact so many times already! Worst student, worst student, worst student,.... And then you just wonder: what are we doing wrong in Belgium compared to neighboring countries?

Can you provide us with an answer? What is it?

It's not one thing, it's an interplay of different indicators.

But I also just notice ... I come from the Central African diaspora, and France, for instance, has also colonised African countries, and the way they deal with their colonisation history: my family from France feels French. One hundred percent. And the way France deals with that capital, with that inheritance of colonisation - I'm not saying it's ideal there - that's a different way of looking at it. Because those with migration background are Frenchmen. In Belgium, I am always 'with migration background', the 'other', which means there will always be a gap somewhere. And if you go back in history: the way we sometimes deal with our shit - just sweep it under the carpet and then it doesn't exist anymore, and we don't clean out our wounds and we don't let it heal either,.... That makes a difference. If you look at the Netherlands: the people with a Surinamese background are not 'people with a migration background', they are 'Dutch people' eh!

So. Next year there are elections, you are elected and - let's keep it simple - you two fill 1 ministerial post. What is the first action you take?

We go for education.

And I impose quotas.

What quotas?

For people with migration background, to straighten that group because the employment rate has to go up. We have been palavering for years and small initiatives here, diversity consultants there, everyone is working on it,.... The policy now just needs to make a bold statement of 'we're going to do something about this now through quotas'. Done. And within 10 years, this will no longer be an issue.

So we go for education and we impose quotas.

And what are we going to do within education?

We're going to hose it down first because it's all on fire - education. But I think professionalisation within education, that's the first thing. [Explain?] The reality of a teacher now is: you're in an education system that is totally out of sync with the changing world around you. You have to prepare young people, children for a labour market that has certain demands but you can't deliver that - those demands. You are with a diverse group but your education has really only given you tools to teach in a monoculture. You have to start professionalising to pull that up as quickly as possible so that you can give those kids the right tools to start in their lives. So that does require certain attitudes, in-service training, actions, financial resources,... to be able to meet those expectations.

If you look at the big cities now: a large part of the population is not authentically Belgian. So in the schools there we notice this first, those schools are very diverse and very coloured and multicultural, I would then think, okay, the multiculturalism is actually growing and emerging naturally there. Are you saying that we are still creating or perpetuating a big problem there?

Fatma and I are both partly responsible for the growth of multiculturalism because we both have children, but the thing is: I worry - I think you too - aren't they going to end up in that waterfall system? Are they going to be pushed into technical or vocational fields? Are they going to be inspired by the teachers they get? Who don't keep their abilities and their dreams small but rather fuel that fire? Are they going to see people who teach, who look like them? And who can detect microaggressions? Because children go through that too. Is education going to give them a foundation to be able to be part of society and then be able to give back? Because education is an investment and at some point you're going to have to give back. But the investment is currently so minimal and so basic, while they do expect the return to be more than basic. And that's a problem.

So still a lot of work in education. And among teaching staff: you talk about in-service training, awareness,...

It takes a village. It's not just education. It's everything around that: the comprehensive schools, CLBs, initiatives that organise homework assistance. Everyone has to be on board to get those kids to the finish line. I can't do it alone, even if it's on a micro scale in my family: I also have my mother, my sister,.... You need a village. Education is so isolated in our society, it seems debilitating that they don't work with other sectors that create that village and that network around them. That's bonkers!

Yes, so indeed there is still some work to be done.

Allright. We have the new ministers of the next government at our table. I vote for you!


>>> You have been listening to Let's Talk, the podcast where we feed the dialogue around inclusion in the labour market, highlight impactful initiatives and let lesser heard voices have their say. Were you captivated, did this conversation make you think, would you like to be one of our next guests yourself? Let us know, follow us on social media and be sure to subscribe to this podcast series!