'Inclusion is not something that can be checked off'

'Inclusion is not something that can be checked off'

Published on: 21 January 2021

Rapper Typhoon hopes every single coworker is going to be feeling responsible for diversity

 

Putting diversity and inclusion on the agenda is number one. Giving employees the space to co-decide on the topic is an important second step. With that message, rapper, language artist and keynote speaker Typhoon is visiting companies in the Netherlands, such as, online, APG. “Inclusion should be woven into the corporate culture.”



When you visit companies, you get a look behind the scenes. What have you been seeing?

“I’m seeing a variety of initiatives. Equal pay for men and women, applying for jobs anonymously, education and training throughout all the layers of organizations. And often a social stand is taken externally as well, by raising the rainbow flag or participating in a Gay Pride event. I see the willingness and urgency to really make this theme part of the company culture and strategy. APG can count itself among the vanguards in the movement and fighting spirit forward in this. Employees are driven and want to go deep. And that is what you want to achieve as a company. The words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ really make my skin crawl when they’re used as an end in and of themselves. When they’re on the agenda, just to be checked off. A quarterly financial report is something you can check off.”


Sounds like the working world is doing well in the Netherlands with respect to diversity and inclusion.
“Serious time and attention is being put into it, which is good to see. And, don’t forget to celebrate what’s already there, as well as the effort. Then, as a company, you don’t always have the feeling that you are lagging behind and have to catch up. Even if you are. Be brave in your discomfort. Take, for example, APG's equal pay for men and women. Even though that’s just a tip of the iceberg, it’s a good example for other companies.”

When you look at the initiative that companies are putting on their D&I agenda, is there anything missing?
“Whatever means you use as a company to stimulate inclusion, people have to feel it. The DNA of a company must be tangible in the walls and the carpet. Formulate a clear vision with diversity and inclusion as one of the pillars and build towards it, in collaboration with the employees. That’s where your success lies. My fellow speaker and corporate anthropologist Jitske Kramer puts it very aptly: ‘Inclusion is inviting someone to the party and letting them dance. But inclusion is also letting that person help decide on the playlist.” Don't impose this on employees from above; give them the space to speak up. Then everyone feels responsible and you really form a culture together.”

Is it possible to pay too much attention to the theme?
“This is about a culture change and it starts with that one thought change. For that you use words; they have power. But the fact is that everyone connects in different ways, at different times. You can hear something five times and only actually absorb it on the sixth. Because someone is using the words that mean something to you at that moment. So it’s good to keep talking to each other.”

Some issues around inclusion are very clear and visible. Like age, gender and physical disability. But there are also non-visible issues. Which ones should we be sure to discuss?

“There will always be blind spots and we need to explore them together. Systemic racism is a recent example. That term, alongside discrimination and racism, is popping up more and more in discussions. And it shows that racism is not just the personal beliefs of individuals. It is now reflected in society and organizations, creating or perpetuating unequal opportunities and outcomes for certain groups.”

 

I felt really angry and distraught after George Floyd’s death, it was closer than I had thought.

Looking at diversity and inclusion, the Netherlands is improving. At the same time, the debate seems to be hardening. Are we conducting the discussion in the right way?
“The way the discussion is being conducted makes me very sad. There is no vaccine to solve this problem immediately. It takes time and change doesn’t come without a struggle. I felt really angry and distraught after George Floyd’s death, it was closer than I had thought. I hope we can continue to see that this is part of a larger movement. We need perspective, the power of imagination, to see that change for the better takes time.”

Despite that negative feeling, you are brimming with energy when you talk about the topic. Where do you get that strength from?

“From my love for humanity. I look for the good in someone, even when you talk about polarization. Hate is confused admiration, we don’t want to hate, we all struggle with our own questions and personal crises. I know this about myself too, nothing human is foreign to me. So I am one of the Rutger Bregmans of this world, I think all people are good. There’s only the occasional person that actually has bad intentions.”

When you talk about inclusion, you are talking about being equal and being of equal value. What is the difference?  
“People are not all equal, or the same. We are all different, in color and gender, but equal as human beings. That diversity is beautiful and we should embrace it. So look at my color, because I am enormously proud of it. But first of all look at me as a human being. When I was a boy in ‘t Harde and I wasn't allowed to enter that evening, people thought and saw all sorts of things, but not who I really was.”

Do you suffer from unconscious biases yourself?
“I didn’t think so, until recently. My sister, who works for me, mentioned that a party we work with did not look at her during meetings. I hadn’t noticed and I couldn’t imagine it. So I didn’t do anything about it. Later, when I saw it myself, I was shocked. I felt guilty for not standing up for her. I could only say “I didn't see it”, just like Johan Derksen did when it was about gay violence, and it’s just not okay. But this was my blind spot. I have now resolved to take every signal seriously, any time someone comes to me to report something. Even if I don’t see it right away myself.”

You want to be part of the movement forward with your workplace inspiration sessions. Why?

“So that we can let everyone be the best version of themselves. Don’t let prejudices outweigh someone’s character. With the best versions of each other, we can work on the best version of a company and of society. And we can do that if we see each other as equals. Celebrate the differences.”