Podcast: Why the workplace needs diversity and inclusion

Esade Entrepreneurship Institute

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What are the benefits of embracing a diverse and inclusive work environment? In this podcast, Davide Rovera, manager of eWorks, tackles this question with Sophie van Gool, founder of Moonshot Diversity and Inclusion, one of the most disruptive MBA startups of 2019, according to Poets & Quants.


Davide Rovera: Hello and welcome. My name is Davide Rovera, I'm the manager of eWorks, the venture creation programme that we run for the Esade Entrepreneurship Institute, and I'm also an entrepreneurship lecturer. I'm here today with Sophie van Gool, entrepreneur, and alumna of the full-time MBA class of 2019. Hi, Sophie and thanks for being with us.

Sophie van Gool: Hello Davide. Thanks for the invite.

Davide Rovera: Today we are going to talk about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Tell us the name of your company and what it does?

Sophie van Gool: My company is Moonshot Diversity and Inclusion. We do analytics strategy and training to help companies become more diverse and inclusive.

Davide Rovera: Before getting into how the company actually works, and what you do, let’s take a step back and see how you got the idea and how the company developed.

Diversity in the workplace

Sophie van Gool: Yes, before I joined Esade I was working in a Boston Consulting Group management consultancy office in Amsterdam (where I'm from) and working with me in the office were some 25 partners – but there was only one other woman. I was confused about that, because the Netherlands is quite an equal country and back in school and university there were a lot of talented women – they were the ones with the best grades and loudest voices in class. I was puzzled when I started working and saw this. I asked my managers and my peers: "why don’t we have more women?" They said things such as: "it's very complicated, and yes we want to change it." So I decided to do something about it.

I started researching this topic, and I wrote an internal project about it before starting my MBA. And then when I did my MBA, I thought that I really wanted to change this situation: the more I learnt about it, the more frustrated I became, and the more I wanted to do something. I started an entrepreneurship class with you and Esade professor Jan Brinckmann and Jan said: "just start a company, don’t worry about the business plan, just start and try to sell something." And I said "okay, I like a challenge."

Diversity and inclusion are not only about the number of women in the workplace

In the MBA, I had already focused on this topic, and I was the president of the Women in Business Club. I used my contacts to network and before I knew it, we had sold a project to Volkswagen. So, I "accidentally" founded the company during my MBA. That was two years ago. Since then, of course, I have become much more professional, worked hard, and acquired new clients – but that’s how my fascination for the topic started.

Davide Rovera: So, you got the original idea even before your MBA, and then during your MBA the entrepreneurship classes pushed you towards building your own business.

Sophie van Gool: Yes.

Davide Rovera: And was there any additional support from Esade that helped you shape the idea?

Sophie van Gool: Yes. First, there was my career advisor, Franziska. In the first week of the MBA she told me to take every opportunity to explore the idea. I wasn’t thinking of starting a company, because I was sponsored for my MBA, and so I was supposed to go back to my old job. But I took her advice and I worked with the Women in Business Club, and I did the accelerator programme during the summer. That was really good because I had some people pushing me saying: "okay, what did you achieve and how many clients did you get?" I was talking to other entrepreneurs and classmates and that helped. I thought that by the end of the MBA course, I would have this company, or if it doesn’t work, then I would go back to my old job (which I did not want to do, and so there was some good pressure).

Davide Rovera: Did having a deadline help push forward the results?

Sophie van Gool: Definitely.

Davide Rovera: Explain a bit more about the issue itself. Diversity and inclusion are not only about the number of women in the workplace, right?

Sophie van Gool: Yes, diversity in my company started mostly with gender, but now it's increasingly about all diversity, including age and disability. A lot of companies focus on getting a percentage of women, and a percentage of people of colour into the company. But then they forget about the inclusion parts. What usually happens is that after one or two years these people remain different to the majority, they don’t feel at home, and they leave. Then everyone says: "Oh, you see? It’s really difficult." And that only confirms their ideas and so nothing changes.

You need to get people who are different into the company, and then at the same time, work on the culture

Davide Rovera: Companies are basically trying to meet a quota. They say let's set a quota, but then there is no proactive effort for inclusion after people are hired.

Sophie van Gool: Exactly. Some companies say: "we just focus on the inclusion and the diversity will follow." But it’s hard to focus on inclusion when everyone is the same and feels included. You need to do both at the same time. You need to get people who are different into the company, and then at the same time, work on the culture. And you can only work on changing the culture if you get more diverse people inside. And then there is another challenge. Let's say a company that usually only hires men, starts to hire women. These women will often be recruited at the lowest levels. They will be the least experienced and youngest people in the company, and so it's very difficult for them to change the culture.

Davide Rovera: Let's then jump to your solution. What does Moonshot Diversity and Inclusion do to help tackle these issues?

Sophie van Gool: That’s a good question, because the solution is still something that I'm working on every day. The first thing is analytics, because I know everyone has an opinion about this topic, but no one really understands it or measures it.

Most companies don't look at gender balance or ethnicity in the numbers of people they hire, fire, or promote

Davide Rovera: You mean inside the company?

Sophie van Gool: Exactly. Everyone, including the CEO, says: "yes, we want women, but they always leave at a certain age when they want to have children," and other people say "it’s not possible to get women because they don’t study these topics, or they don’t go to the university that we hire people from." Everyone has plenty of hypotheses and assumptions, so in the first phase, I gather those insights and I interview people. Then we compare these hypotheses to the data – their own data. Most companies don't measure these kinds of things, so they don't look at gender balance or ethnicity in the numbers of people they hire, fire, or promote. Many companies don't even measure their pay gap. What we offer are real insights.

The insight we usually provide is that there is a lot of inequality. The company generally says that it wants to change this, and we show them the issues they need to work on. In the next step we help them build solutions or strategies. We might say: "you need more diversity in your recruiting pipeline, so you need to diversify your pipeline and your job ads." The recruiting process may have hidden biases – that means it only selects certain types of people, even though the company thinks it is very objective. And then in the last part we offer training on non-conscious bias. We explain to people that even if they think they are super-objective and open-minded, everyone has biases that make us sometimes prefer people who are more like us.

We explain this and during this training we explain issues of racism and sexism. People share their own stories, and we try to get this topic on the agenda in the corporate environment.

Everyone has biases that make us sometimes prefer people who are more like us

Davide Rovera: So, there are two layers. One is internal and involves processes and biases and structure, and that's in a way reactive, so you can look into the company, you validate the hypothesis with data (which is also a good application of the entrepreneur mindset), and then you say "with this data we can demonstrate what the situation is." And next you analyse the proactive results. Typically companies say things like: "we don’t have a diversity of people applying for jobs and we can only select from the people who apply." So, you have companies asking for support on proactively diversifying the pool of applicants.

Sophie van Gool: If a fisherman doesn't catch any fish, does he complain that the fish are no good, or does he change his strategy? A lot of companies are always complaining about the applicants, and I tell them: "You can do something, because if you go to the universities, at least in the Netherlands, you will see that they are very diverse, especially in the big cities, with all kind of nationalities, races, and backgrounds." But you don't usually see these people in a big company. I tell them you need a wider audience; you need to promote yourself. We know that during the application process, there are a lot of hidden biases, there is a lot of research that shows that someone with a foreign-sounding name has much less chance of getting invited for a job interview that someone with a Dutch name. I don’t know if it's the same in Spain, but I believe it is.

So, there are things you can do, you can make the process anonymous, you can use tools or technology for people to pass the first round of the job interview, and these are things we recommend and we help companies to do.

Davide Rovera: Your company is relatively young, but can you share something about the results of these practices and the support that you provide?

Sophie van Gool: Well, the first result is really getting this topic on the agenda of management boards, which are usually 50-year-old white men who suddenly start to speak about sexism and racism and these kinds of issues. I think that's one result. Some things are hard to quantify – and so I can't say "this company increased the number of women so many percentage points." But we work with big companies, such as DSM, Coca-Cola, Google, DeepMind, Volkswagen, and several big Dutch law firms.

It's very important that the CEO is committed to diversity and inclusion, because that's the most important driver for change

Davide Rovera: One question. Who do you talk to in these large organisations? Is it HR? Is it the board of directors? And who initiates the dialogue? Do you approach companies, or do they approach you? And then inside the company who is the right stakeholder to talk to?

Sophie van Gool: In the beginning it was usually me approaching the companies, and me telling them that I think they need to act. Now they are increasingly approaching me. A few years ago, when I approached these companies they would say: "oh yes, it's interesting, maybe we should do something," but now this subject is increasingly in the news and more companies are becoming aware.

Typically, it's a combination of HR and senior management who deal with this issue, so it's very important that the CEO and someone very senior is committed, because that's the most important driver for change. Usually, there is somebody senior sponsoring the project, and then someone from HR executing it.

Davide Rovera: So, you need commitment from top management, and then you need HR to support implementation.

Sophie van Gool: Yes, changing the job application processes or promotion cycles is their day-to-day business and so HR must be involved.

Davide Rovera: From your contacts and your operations, do you see the current crisis impacting the situation? When a situation such as this happens, companies often pull budgets away from HR for this sort of initiative. How do you see the future in the next couple of years?

Inequality usually increases during a crisis because the people who are given 'flexible' jobs with less security are usually women, people of colour, and minorities

Sophie van Gool: I'm a bit pessimistic to be honest. I'm an optimistic person and I see that despite the crisis some companies are still asking for projects, training, and are still focusing on diversity. And now with the Black Lives Matter protests, the topic is really on the agenda. People are asking if everything should change after the corona crisis. Changes like working from home with more flexibility may have a positive impact for inclusion and women.

On the other hand, during a crisis, budgets are under pressure and some people are asking if this crisis is a disaster for feminism. Inequality usually increases during a crisis because the people who are given "flexible" jobs with less security are usually women, people of colour, and minorities – the most vulnerable people in the labour market. These people will be hit the hardest and I am pessimistic about that. Yes, so it's not the happy answer, but…

Davide Rovera: However, the most trending topics in the western world are really related to the coming economic crisis and diversity issues. This places you in a unique position.

Sophie van Gool: Yes, that's true. The nations that are best at dealing with the corona crisis have female leaders. I hope that companies will notice this when they need to reorganise positions. It is sad that many firms have stopped hiring, but I think this could be an opportunity for them to make space for new talent and diversify.

Davide Rovera: If managed correctly, which is a big if, all crises are an opportunity for people and for companies to reinvent themselves, right?

Sophie van Gool: Yes.

Davide Rovera: Then this could be a way for many companies and organisations to reinvent themselves.

Sophie van Gool: Yes, I agree. We have all had to work from home in the last few months, and now some companies are saying "okay, we can keep doing this forever" or "we could do this three times a week." I think there are some positive aspects of the crisis, but we don't know what will happen when the real economic crisis hits in a few months.

Davide Rovera: Let's hope for you, and for society at large, that these budgets are not cut. One last double question. What would you recommend to a recent graduate from university or graduate school, who is looking for a new job? Are there any early signs that they need to look for in terms of discriminatory policies and attitudes before accepting an offer?

Sophie van Gool: Yes.

Davide Rovera: What should they look for?

Sophie van Gool: Look how you experience the job interview and ask questions. Most big companies look good from the outside because they put nice pictures on their website, and they talk about diversity, but it's only when you look closely that you see what is happening. You should ask: "what does your leadership look like globally and locally? How diverse is your leadership team?" Ask for data and not opinions. Many companies say: "we have 50% women," but if you then ask more questions it turns out that all the women are in HR or finance, and there are many departments without any women. Ask if they are committed to equal pay. Tell them you find it really important to be paid and treated equally. Make sure that they are walking the talk.

Every time you make a decision to hire, fire, or promote someone, it's an opportunity to act and show your commitment

Davide Rovera: What about employers? Our listeners are more likely to be employers than people looking for a job. What would you recommend to employers if they want to have a critical look at their company?

Sophie van Gool: They should talk to their employees and listen to them. Management usually has a completely different perception, and lives a completely different life to most other employees. Recently, I was working with the country director of a company in the Netherlands, and he said he was sure that about half of the women in the company had experienced some kind of harassment or negative situation. The only way that leaders can find out about this, and really know if they are doing well, is by talking to employees, listening, and really being open and vulnerable. Many leaders say: "no, it doesn’t happen here," or "I talked to someone from my team, and they said it's fine." I see so many leaders that say "yes, it's really important," and then they go and promote another white man – while everyone else is saying: "Hello? Do you know we are still here?"

Davide Rovera: So, the first step is look for issues that you normally cannot see and talk to people.

Sophie van Gool: And listen.

Davide Rovera: And listen to the answers, maybe anonymously, as employees may not be willing to share. And then the second step is not to leave the data sitting there in a report.

Sophie van Gool: Exactly. I see a lot of people say: "but it's so difficult, it's complicated, we don't know how." But it isn't so difficult. Every time you make a decision to hire, fire, or promote someone, it's an opportunity to act and show your commitment. And maybe it's a little bit more difficult than what you are doing now, and maybe you have to look a little bit longer to fill a job. But there is enough talent out there, you just need to find it.

Davide Rovera: Right. And if not, there are experts like you who can offer support?

Sophie van Gool: Of course, yes. Happy to help.

Davide Rovera: Fantastic. Thank you for your insights, for sharing your story with us, and for helping to contribute to a better future.

Sophie van Gool: Thank you very much.

Davide Rovera: And thanks everybody for listening. I'm looking forward to sharing more insights very soon. Bye, bye.

Sophie van Gool: Thank you. Bye, bye.

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