Race and Colorism Alive and Too Well

by Andrés T. Tapia –39748906GlobalForum_50_150dpi

(The following article was originally published in Diversity Executive.)

Today, after nearly a decade of denial that race still makes a difference in
the United States, the #BlackLivesMatter movement that emerged in response to the shootings of unarmed black men Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner and Walter Scott is not letting the country sweep race back under the carpet.

But the United States is not the only country that must reckon with the unfinished business of racism. Despite protestations by locals, race and colorism continue to play an inordinate role in social exclusion in Europe, Latin America, and Asia where people are unwilling to admit that skin color still plays a role in marginalizing those of darker hue.


Europe struggles with a dearth of darker skinned leaders in the corporate world. In various European countries I have worked in and visited, Europeans’ self-image of their own egalitarianism flies in the face of deep housing and social segregation.

This is evidenced by the low-income neighborhoods of North Africans and Muslims surrounding Paris who in the past decade have erupted in violent protest against racial inequality. The Council of Europe just this year released a report titled “France: Persistent Discrimination Endangers Human Rights.” But race is difficult to talk about not only qualitatively but also quantitatively since a law was passed in 1978 that specifically banned the collection and computerized storage of race-based data.

In 2014, according Spanish advocacy group Movement Against Intolerance, of the 1,285 hate crimes reported to police across Spain, 37 percent were motivated by race. In the United Kingdom, the amount of those who self-report that they have some prejudice has risen to 30 percent in 2014 from 25 percent in 2001, according to an article in The Guardian titled “Racism on the Rise in Britain.”

These headwinds must be in play when considering a report by an organization called “Business in the Community,” which focuses on specific aspects of campaigning on diversity. It shows that less than 1 in 15 ethnic minority workers in the U.K. hold a management position.


According to the 2013 World Values Survey, 43.5 percent of Indian respondents said they would not want a neighbor of a different race and, according to 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland, 27 percent of Indians still practice caste untouchability, the practice of ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate.

In a 2013 study by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg, 1 in 2 Singaporean residents do not have close friends from another race, and only 71 percent of Singaporean Chinese believe it is a good thing that Singapore is made up of people of different racial groups. This correlates with the fact that 1 in 10 Indian and Malay respondents (the largest minorities in Singapore) perceived being treated worse than other races when using public and other services.

Latin America

Various Latin American countries will bristle at the notion that racism may be at play in their societies. Yet, there is an unmistakable pattern: The darker one’s skin is, the lower they tend to be on the socioeconomic ladder.

In Brazil, which is about 50 percent black or mixed race, there is a lack of black representation among executives, senior managers, and managers. Spend time in the business district of Faria Lima, and they are not evident. Even at a recent corporate diversity conference by a reputable global diversity and inclusion organization, the highly committed participants from major corporations could not muster racial diversity even in the most token of ways.

Despite protestations that skin color does not matter, why does Brazilian Portuguese have a Crayola-like color scheme with 134 different terms to capture different skin color gradations? These gradations don’t just make for interesting conversation; they make an economic difference.

According to a BBC report, “on average, white and Asian Brazilians earned twice as much as black or mixed-race Brazilians … black Brazilians are much more likely to be poor and rarely reach the top levels of business or politics.”

The Work Ahead

Between the realities of racial profiling on the streets, to rising prejudice and distrust of those of darker skin, and the continued dearth of people of color in leadership positions, where does this leave diversity practitioners? That even as we rightly broaden the definitions of diversity to be about myriad dimensions of difference, race wherever we look — whether we like it — still matters.

Muslims are in the Workforce, but Some Companies are Being Proactive When it Comes to Inclusion.

by Andrés T. Tapia
— muslim woman with her daughter lying

(This article was originally published in Talent Management Magazine.)

While extremist Islam gets all the press, an extraordinary number of ordinary Muslims are going about their lives around the world. They are in every blue-collar and white-collar industry, with jobs ranging from entry level to the executive suite. They are religious or secular, and they are growing in number nearly everywhere.

As of 2010, Muslims were 1.6 billion, or 23 percent, of the world’s population. In contrast, there are 2.2 billion Christians (32 percent), 1 billion Hindus (15 percent), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7 percent) and 14 million Jews (0.2 percent). According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, the world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35 percent to 2.2 billion by 2030. Europe is expected to be 20 percent Muslim by 2050, and the United States is projected to have a larger number of Muslims by 2030 than any European country other than Russia and France. The growth is fueled by higher birthrates as well as religious conversion. But most workplaces — even those known for having inclusive cultures — are not ready for Muslims’ presence.

A global financial institution I worked with, whose credit cards are ubiquitous around the world, was caught off guard when it discovered a group of Muslim employees had been gathering underneath a stairwell to conduct their daily prayers in its U.S. global headquarters. Human resources got them a prayer room.

A global management consulting firm had to address complaints from western employees that someone was doing feet washing in the bathroom sink. They addressed it by installing a stall with a hand-held showerhead. A Muslim woman in one of my audiences called me to task because in every photo in my Power-Point that included Muslim women, they all had head coverings. This depicted a narrow range of Muslim cultural expression.

Andres- Regional D. of Muslims

Corporations aren’t ready largely because wider society has not yet accepted this greater Muslim presence. In 2012, France forbade hijabs, the head covering many devout Muslim women wear in public. In 2013, Switzerland forbade construction of new minarets. Also in 2013, a Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding survey showed 60 percent of U.S. Muslims said they faced prejudice from most Americans. The U.S. government has had to be vigilant during the Bush and Obama administrations about hate crimes against Muslims.

But a growing number of companies are proactively being inclusive of Muslims. For example, at American Airlines, the Muslim employee resource group addressed both workplace and marketplace needs by helping get prayer rooms for Muslim passengers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport; the group also recommends vendors to provide halal meals on flights, and provides training for flight attendants on Muslim practices. When I led diversity at Hewitt, a group of Muslim employees suggested an infoshare where those from different faiths — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — could share with each other about Eid, Hanukkah and Christmas.

But being Muslim is not just about religious identity. It’s also cultural. Individuals choose what being Muslim means for them. Recently, after an all-day executive session with a client in Zurich, as we were walking the cobblestone streets in the center of town, I came across a sidewalk billboard announcing pisco sours from my native land, Peru. I met the host: a Muslim bar owner serving Peruvian cocktails in Zurich, which he discovered on a trek to the Andes.

Muslims have many faces.

TEDxIndianapolis Talk: Why Diversity is Upside Down

by Andrés T. Tapia –

Why is diversity upside-down and how do we with what that means for our lives and our companies? Check out my recent TEDx Talk in Indianapolis, IN. I explore just how much our world’s hyper-diversity has affected practically every aspect of our lives – in our personal relationships, in our communities, and in our companies.



The Metamorphosis of Global Diversity

iStock_000012215038XSmall.globeflags.purchasedby Andrés T. Tapia –

In recent months, I’ve given in to my global wanderlust. In November, it was immersion in São Paulo, Brazil for our Diversity Best Practices Global Member Conference. In December, it was homecoming, visiting family in my native Peru.

There’s nothing like jet lag, the cacophony of different languages, new and childhood taste experiences, and newspaper headlines not about fiscal cliffs and sequesters to freshen up one’s perspective—and prompt these few thoughts on the state of global diversity today.

Global diversity continues to accelerate its rise in importance and, with that, it’s metamorphosing into something much more multidimensional and unexpected than the first wave of exported Made-in-USA diversity.

Take, for instance, three different invitations I have received in the past six months. The U.S. subsidiary of a Belgium-headquartered company calls asking for help on building out its diversity strategy. Then, a German company calls seeking help with getting its American affiliate to come up with a U.S. response to their global diversity imperative because they are behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia. And last year, a Korean multinational asked me to present to 500 company leaders from all over the world on how they can be more inclusive in the various countries it is expanding to, from Vietnam to India to the USA.  

This is all part of a trend of non-U.S.-based multinational companies making diversity an imperative—not only in their countries of origin but throughout the globe. Now Not-Made-in-USA diversity accountabilities are adding to the rising calls-to-action that an increasing number of American business leaders are facing regarding diversity and inclusion.

This is just one way in which diversity is changing globally. A few others:

  • To be a woman is to be rising in opportunities. Women’s advancement is the most frequently cited diversity issue today. It’s the one global diversity issue that arises on all continents as the common and urgent issue we must address now. The challenges are often the same regardless of country. From Chicago to Shanghai, women are pressing to fulfill their ambitions for leadership positions and a growing number in profit and loss roles. And women, at all levels of the organization, no matter where in the world, yearn, fret, and fight for work life flexibility.
  • Socioeconomic disparities are masking the realities of colorism. The United States isn’t the only country facing race and class disparities. In a host of countries, societies are stratified based on one’s economic status. Yet, in countries such as India, Brazil, and Peru those with darker skin are more likely than their fairer counterparts to be members of the lower socioeconomic classes. This is far from a coincidence. While there’s a great deal of denial about this reality, it’s true that in many countries a preference for those of a lighter hue is blocking access to educational and employment opportunities for a significant percentage people. Until countries where colorism prevails recognize the impact of this form of discrimination, companies in these countries will continue to struggle to have true diversity in the workforce.
  • Millennials are civilization’s first global cohort. Whether they grew up in South Africa, Egypt, Romania, Laos, or Venezuela, many members of this generation shared the reality of growing up digitally and interconnected to the rest of the world. Global terrorism, global recession, global warming, and global social media have meant a common experience in many formative ways of how the world works. When a billion go “Gangnam Style” around the world in a matter of weeks, when the Arab Spring inspires Occupy Wall Street (and not vice versa), and when the Twitter-nation transcends all borders with 500 million users (making it the third largest population in the world), an unprecedented shared upbringing across the world’s 24 time zones is in the making.
  • Employment gains for people with disabilities. While in the United States the Americans with Disabilities Acts made it the law to make workplaces physically accessible to those with disabilities, there is a growing global trend to actually make it the law to employ those with disabilities. Brazilian law stipulates that depending on the size of your employee base, 2 percent to 5 percent of your workers must be people with disabilities. On Christmas Day 2012, a similar law went into effect in Peru. And in the United States, the Federal Government has put into place guidelines that those doing business with the government must have 7 percent of employees be people with disabilities.
  • LGBT rights on the march. The wall of resistance around LGBT rights is tumbling in countries across the globe. In 2009, the high court in New Delhi, India struck down the law that made same-sex sexual activity illegal. In 2010, Mexico City and Argentina legalized same-sex marriage while Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay all started to recognize same-sex relationships, such as civil unions. This is an enormous gain for the LGBT community in Latin America, which has long been characterized by its strong Catholic roots and machismo undertones. And putting an exclamation point on the importance of worldwide LGBT rights, in 2011, President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced that LGBT rights would be a criteria for whether a country will receive U.S. foreign aid.

Just a few examples of how diversity and inclusion are playing out globally. This trend is unstoppable. Next generation diversity practitioners would be wise to track and then ride these trends for the good of their organizations.

When’s your next trip to another land?

Globalization Boomerang: Making the U.S. a Destination for Offshored Jobs – and What It Could Mean for Diversity

by Andrés T. Tapia –


Sending American jobs overseas has lost its cachet. Not only for sociopolitical reasons but also for economic ones.

The case for offshoring and outsourcing jobs overseas has weakened as an increasing number of U.S. manufacturers are choosing to look stateside for labor, a move that creates jobs and helps boosts the U.S. economy. So says Time in “The Economy’s New Rules: Go Glocal” (August 20, 2012). In fact, the Boston Consulting Group estimates that within five years, as many as 3 million high-skilled, high-demand manufacturing jobs could come back to the United States.

But the ability of American government and business to tend to the diverse talent pipeline – particularly of Latinos and Blacks – will be critical in the U.S. economy being able to seize the full benefits of the convergence of forces that could bring more jobs back to the USA. But before taking up this gauntlet, a look at what’s driving American companies to bring jobs back home:

  • Labor costs rising in China, India, Mexico, and other countries. The Chinese to U.S. wage ratio, for example, is projected to jump from 3 percent in 2000 to 17 percent by 2015. This is due both to accelerating wage increases in the emerging markets and slowing wage raises in the U.S. Also higher rates of corruption in the emerging markets compared to the U.S. drive up costs and risks. According to Transparency International, the BRIC countries are two to three times more corrupt in the business world.
  • Increasing number of manufacturing and construction jobs require a higher level of education. High tech manufacturing is requiring higher education from workers to run the robots on the assembly line. Even welders must now have in-house training or a community-college certification, not just a high school education to meet job requirements. By 2018, 63 percent of U.S. jobs will require post secondary training. U.S. workers in some blue-collar sectors have a technological edge that companies are rediscovering.
  • Rising energy costs means distance for shipping goods to the largest market, the United States, matters. Do the math. How many barrels of oil (not to mention carbon footprint units) does it take to ship that car from the Far East to the North American continent? GE has punched in the numbers and the result has led to GE shifting production of appliances from Mexico and China to Louisville, Ky. Many other companies of all sizes are reviewing the cost of transportation. Along with GE, firms like Seesmart (a small manufacturer of lighting products), Master Lock, and Caterpillar are finding the balance sheet weighing more heavily towards domestic production.
  • Automation means factories with fewer people – which then lowers the labor cost equation that has been leading companies to offshore. “Labor is a relatively small component” of costs, said GE’s Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, in a recent Reuters.com article. “That’s different today than it was 10 years ago.” GE just opened a new plant in Schenectady, N.Y. because of labor’s decreasing share of manufacturers’ costs. This, of course, cuts both ways in that it reduces the total number of jobs overall, but it nevertheless slows down the number that get shipped overseas because it’s more cost effective to simply keep them in the United States.
  • Companies want to bring jobs and operations closer to where their customers are. That emerging “locally grown” movement that has found its way to supermarket carts and restaurant tabletops is seeping into manufacturing. Mitch Free, who runs MFG.com, one of the world’s largest online marketplaces for the manufacturing industry, said in the previously mentioned Time article, “It’s all about regionalization and localization rather than globalization.” He noted that consumers are now demanding that things be newer, faster, and better so shortening the life cycle helps accomplish this. Citizens’ desire to slow down global warming also plays a part.

These trends are not just influencing American companies to bring jobs back home; they also are cajoling European and Asian companies to open up more plants in the United States. Airbus, the airplane manufacturer that is a symbol of European manufacturing pride, is opening up a plant in Montgomery, Ala. In making the announcement, its CEO, Fabric Brégier, cited “a more competitive labor and growth climate in the U.S.” Companies like Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen have been pumping up the local economies of cities around the nation by opening or expanding plants.

Back to the U.S.-based companies. There also seems to be an awakening on the part of some CEOs about how they are, in effect, eating their own young by having aggressively moved so many jobs overseas. When American businesses shift millions of jobs from home to outside, the domestic consumer market gets decimated. The result? Stifled business growth that causes economic blowback for these very companies.

Diversity and Inclusion’s Role

Now is the time to include American workers in any globalization strategies and efforts. In the past five years, we had moved from a U.S.-and-“rest of the world” paradigm to an emerging-“rest of the world”-and-declining-U.S. paradigm. Now it’s time to reframe it all to a “the world”-where-the-U.S.-is-a-region paradigm.

I engage this topic fully aware that as diversity and inclusion practitioners we are also tasked with ensuring a truly global approach to the work where we are caring for the inclusion and engagement of traditionally marginalized groups wherever our companies operate in the world. Zeus knows, we are still in diapers when it comes to truly being global in our mindset and knowledge about current social, cultural, economic, and political dynamics across the world’s timezones.

Nevertheless, in using this global mindset where the United States is not the center but one of various global regions, one of the marginalization issues we must address in the U.S. region is persistent high unemployment and the income disparities it deepens. In addition, the global economy’s vitality that is raising millions out of poverty still requires a vibrant U.S. economy with a positive outlook.

Now to respond to the gauntlet. As the offshoring tide begins to turn, diversity and inclusion must play a key role in capitalizing on ensuring these jobs fully come back.

On the diversity front, one dizzying risk is the uncertainty that there will be enough skilled workers for these positions. If we are not graduating half of our demographically booming Latino and Black kids from high school then it could kill the re-shoring of many of these jobs.

Business must urgently collaborate with government and not-for-profits to do everything possible much earlier in the education pipeline so that our students are getting and completing the education they need for contemporary jobs that are in demand.

We face a wrenching irony that at the moment of getting a shifting tide of jobs back that the skilled talent needed will not be there in a moment of still high unemployment.

On the inclusion front, what an opportunity to capitalize on a key competitive differentiator of American culture – creativity and innovation. Not only is this a hallmark of the American character, it’s the very thing we diversity and inclusion practitioners insist is the most compelling argument for inclusion – and this is that greater diversity leads to greater variety and richness of perspectives, that when energized and unleashed through an inclusive culture, leads to even greater creativity and innovation.

Diversity and inclusion practitioners have an important role to play in getting this word out – and in bringing U.S. jobs back in.

Diversity Fast Facts — Immigration

Diversity Fast Facts – Hip Pocket Stats for the CDO on the Go


Every once in a while, I’ll publish Diversity Fast Facts on different topics to provide Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) on the Go with stats and information they can use to reinforce the realities of diversity and inclusion. It’s my intention that these news abstracts will add to the conversation and encourage our thinking about how diversity plays out around the world. Here, we look at global immigration trends.

  • The world’s population is on the move. Following are global trends: The largest population of contractual migrant workers comes from Asia. In Asia, movement within China and India accounts for large population shifts. The predominant trend in the Americas is migration from the south (Latin America and the Caribbean) northward and even into Europe. The United States and Canada tend to host permanent migrants, but increasingly need temporary workers. In Oceania, Australia and New Zealand play host to growing populations of migrant workers from smaller islands. Source: International Organization for Migration.
  • The United States is home to more migrants than other countries. The United States was by far the largest host country for migrants in 2010, hosting 42.8 million migrants. Following the United States: Russian Federation (12.3 million), Germany (10.8 million), Saudi Arabia (7.3 million), and Canada (7.2 million). Top three sending countries: China (35 million), India (20 million), and the Philippines (7 million). Source: International Organization for Migration.
  • Migrant workers are a diverse lot. Other quick facts regarding immigration: three percent of the global workforce consists of immigrants; one-third of the world’s migrant workforce lives in Europe; women migrants focus primarily on short-term work and tend to go to the Middle East; industry, construction, and services are the leading industries for migrant workers; some countries in the Gulf region consist of up to 40% migrant workers. Source: International Organization for Migration.
  • The number of workers in India and China is growing. By 2030, it is projected workers from India and China will account for 40% of the world’s workforce. Source: International Organization for Migration.

Peru Election 2011: Peru’s Poor Make Their Voices Heard

by Andrés T. Tapia –

This article was published by the New America Media


No to trickle down economics. No to corruption. No to human rights abuses.

These were the electoral reasons why the Peruvian public elected Ollanta Humala, 49, as their 94th President, marking the sixth consecutive peaceful transfer of power since 1980.

In sending Keiko Fujimori to defeat, a very narrow majority of Peruvians indicated they were more troubled by her filial links to her father, former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori who was imprisoned for corruption and human rights abuses, than with Ollanta’s two failed insurrections against democratically elected governments.

In fact, for many voters, these rebellions were seen as bona fides for his willingness to take matters into his own hands to bring about change. Those more ambivalent about this recent past were able to put their fears at bay either through wishful thinking, hope, or real belief that Humala’s radical, Hugo Chavez-like ways from five years ago were merely a phase, and that there was real substance to his recast image as a reasonable non-radical who could address the needs of the destitute poor without pitting them against the rich.

This is the first time in 40 years, since the Cuban-Revolution-inspired military coup of Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado under which I grew up, that a leftist president will be ruling Peru. The big question is whether it will be in the mold of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, or that of Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The first would deeply and destructively divide the country. The second, which simultaneously and successfully made the poor a priority, while stimulating the economy, would be transcendent.

Key to Humala’s win was the full endorsement of Alejandro Toledo, former Peruvian president, who was originally one of the first round candidates in the presidential election. True to the twists and turns of Peruvian politics, one of Humala’s insurrections was against then-President Toledo.

While the recurring story lines of the election campaign were the Fujimori family’s disgrace and the radical past of Humala, the most profound back story was that Peru’s poor — heavily represented in the rural areas and outside the power center of the capital in Lima — decided Peru’s new President.

Despite the fact that in the last five out of six years Peru’s GNP grew at a steady 8% annually, making Peru a much richer country that could invest in infrastructure that brought in foreign investment, nurtured local industry, and helped make Peru a global tourist magnet, many of Peru’s poor have been left behind.

While it’s true that the poor of Peru have seen their numbers drop, from 50% of the population to 30% during the economic boom, Sunday’s vote declared that it is still unacceptable that one-third of the country is below the poverty line of $2 a day in earnings. Peru’s prosperity should be beneficial for all Peruvians, their vote proclaimed.

They believed Ollanta Humala, the maverick outsider with no links to the elite in Peru, the United States, Europe, or Japan, would be the one who would deliver. But there are jitters that his nationalistic, populist ways will derail the Peruvian economic miracle of the past few years.

His immediate top priority between now and his inauguration on July 28th, Peruvian Independence Day, will need to be calming nervous investors and markets, assuring them that his promises for the poorest of the poor can be fulfilled, while still nurturing the long Peruvian boom. This should not be difficult to do, at least rhetorically.

Already, some of those who did not support him are working on reassuring themselves that Humala will do right by the markets. As a commentator said on Panamericana TV, “There is no appetite to mess around with prosperity. Not even Humala is going to want to do that.”

Still, there is a significant amount of apprehension about whether he has a hidden agenda against the powers that be. And so when the stock market opened on Monday, it dropped 12.5%, the biggest one-day drop in its history, before regulators closed the market down.

Keeping a close eye will be his defeated rival. At 36-years-old, and having won nearly half the vote (she lost by just a few percentage points), Keiko Fujimori will remain a force to be reckoned with for some time to come.

But for now, this is Humala’s moment. As he addressed his supporters in his victory speech around midnight in rolled-up shirt sleeves and no coat and tie, on a stage that jutted out into the crowd at Plaza 2 de Mayo, he laid it out plain and simple. Without thundering against the elite, and without specifics, his message was all about the poor’s plight — lack of potable water, electricity, education, nutrition, health and living wages.

The poor have spoken. This is their man.

A Fresh Voice in an Ancient Land: Take Five with Yvette Jarvis, First Black Public Official in Greece

To meet Yvette Jarvis is a happening. I first met this multifaceted, talented, committed, and passionate person at the European Union World Diversity Leadership Summit in Vienna, Austria this past March. The hours we spent talking, debating, and strategizing only scratched the surface of how much she has to offer. Brooklyn-born Yvette came to Greece in 1982, the first Black to play in the Greek Women’s Basketball League, as well as the first salaried female athlete in the league. She simultaneously launched a professional career that spanned more than a decade in modeling and television. In 1989 she embarked on a flourishing career as a vocal artist, which she continues to this day (hear her vocals in her video biography).

As a human rights activist, Yvette participated in many Greek NGOs and helped establish many other organizations that emphasize the rights of immigrants, women, and people with special needs. As a result of her political involvement, in October 2002, Yvette became the first Black to be elected to the City Council of Athens, Greece. During her four-year tenure on the Athens City Council, she focused primarily on women’s rights and domestic violence, immigrants’ rights, assistance for people with special needs, and important initiatives in youth and sports. Her important achievements include being instrumental in implementing a directive to increase the municipal hiring of people with disabilities by 5%, organizing a Greek language school for immigrants, establishing a domestic violence hotline, and spearheading the Football Against Racism Campaign.  Currently Yvette serves as Special Advisor on Immigration Issues to the Mayor of Athens.

With so much to say, this really was a Take 200. But here, for your enjoyment and learning, we give you a taste as we Take 5 with Yvette Jarvis.

Take 1: You are the first Black person to be elected to public office in Greece. How has your presence on the Athens City Council changed the dynamics of politics and governance there?

YJ: Yes, I am the first Black to be elected to public office in Greece. Unfortunately, eight years later I remain the ONLY one! Having said that, I can affirm that my presence has opened the eyes of many to the fact that Greece is no longer only inhabited by ethnic Greeks. Finally, immigrants and people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds have had a voice in public office, and a very loud one at that!

From my first council session to my last, issues concerning immigrants have been a focal point. Incidents of blatant racism–neighborhood councils that denied granting store or residency permits to immigrants, public facilities restricting access to immigrants, and many other situations–became issues for vote in the council because I raised them as problems. As a result of my initiatives, immigrants now benefit from athletic, cultural and language learning programs. After years of lobbying, the government has finally passed a law solidifying citizenship rights of second generation immigrants born or educated in the country; so for the first time, immigrants may play a vital role in this year’s municipal elections. I cannot take full credit for these changes, but I have influenced the decision makers at the party level and in the government by heading up committees on immigration and by participating in municipal government. Hopefully with the new immigration laws, the balance of power will swing in favor of immigrant participation in local elections, thus assuring that issues especially relevant to them remain in the forefront.

Take 2: Like the rest of Europe, Greece has become much more ethnically diverse in recent years due to immigration. How is this affecting what it means to be “Greek”?

There has been an ongoing discussion for the past few months about precisely that: “What does it mean to be Greek?” The newly elected PASOK party and our new prime minister George Papandreou ran on a platform that supported giving second generation immigrants citizenship rights at birth. When the campaign rhetoric took legal form, it became apparent that what was seemingly a tolerant society was not so tolerant of difference. Fear of diluting Greek bloodlines, expressed in chants of “you are born a Greek, not made a Greek,” were heard at demonstrations, and many expressed the belief that children who were born and raised in Greece of immigrant parents should have rights, but not citizenship! Of course this is not the opinion of all Greeks, but those who opposed the new law were the most vocal.

Greece has a tremendously long uphill battle to fight for diversity issues. As of yet the term “diversity” is not in Greece’s political vocabulary. Once the new law takes effect, it will become increasingly apparent that Greeks will have to deal with non-ethnic Greeks integrating into society as they apply for civil service jobs as police officers, fire fighters and teachers. The fact is, however, that there are more and more nontraditional looking Greeks, in part because of mixed marriages, and the challenge will be how we begin to understand that.

Take 3: Although you are native to the U.S., you have lived outside of the country for a long time. From your perspective, what seems significant about how diversity issues have been unfolding in the States?

I find it very significant that most companies are now actively involved in diversity issues and that diversity has become the topic of the day in the U.S. A niche has been created and a new job market: diversity specialists and conferences are increasing in number as more and more organizations respond to an increasingly diverse  global market.  It’s an exciting time, actually–especially for someone like me who lives outside of the U.S. With Obama as president, I think we may have the most diverse cabinet in the history of the United States. Women, African-Americans and other minorities have catapulted to the upper echelons of the highest offices in the country. Very exciting indeed.

Take 4: In Greece and/or Europe as a whole, how are women advancing in terms of leadership, and how are women being held back?

I think there is no doubt that women are advancing in politics. Around Europe for the first time ever, many women have been elevated to the posts of president or prime minister. But even so, women still remain underrepresented  within governing bodies. In business the picture is even more bleak. The percentages of female CEO’s is disproportionately low in Europe, and many women cannot claim equal pay for equal work. The glass ceiling may certainly have a million cracks today, but it has not shattered by any means!

Take 5: In the U.S., much has been written about the generation of Millennials who are just beginning to enter the workforce. In your experience, how are Greek Millennials similar to or different from their counterparts in the U.S. or other parts of the world?

I think youth around the world possess some basic shared desires–to get the job of their choice in their field of study, to make money, to be independent, and to make their mark on society. Where Greek Millennials may most differ from U.S. Millennials is in how possible it is for them to realize those hopes and dreams.

For the past few years unemployment among Greek youth has been steadily rising, and it has become increasingly difficult for Millennials to find jobs in their field of study. The riots in Athens in 2008 were a clear message to the establishment that hope for the future was dismal for Greek youth. In 2007 we began hearing the phrase “Generation 700.”  Generation 700 refers to the employment conditions of college graduates who, although possessing multiple degrees, are condemned to a salary ceiling of 700 euro monthly. These jobs were also often contractual and not permanent, creating a very unstable outlook for their future. As a result, more and more 20- to 30-year-olds are still living with their parents and have no plans for marriage or family in the near future.

The recent financial crisis has made the situation worse. The austerity measures which Greece has taken in order to satisfy the EU and the IMF will take a tremendous toll on the average worker and the retiree. The average wage in Greece is one of the lowest of the EU member states. Workers already burdened with a soaring inflation rate and increasing costs for utilities are finding themselves having to cut back on even the bare essentials. Generation 700 has now become Generation 500! Pundits exclaim that Greece may see its first wave of 21st century immigration out of the country, and consequently experience an enormous brain drain that will worsen the deficit of an already overburdened social security system. I remain optimistic, however, that the cycle of depression will come to an end, leaving behind a more resilient and resourceful society. After all we are Greeks and through the thousands of years of the existence of this great nation it has stayed the test of time!

To follow Yvette Jarvis on twitter, click here. For some more of her thoughts on the current Greek financial crisis, click here.

Immigrant Workers Test Europe’s Self Image

by Andrés T. Tapia; Research by Susan Welch and Leonardo Sforza, Hewitt Research in US and Europe —

A massive demographic tectonic shift is rattling Europe — its unsettling tremors reshaping the European Union’s human geography; the aftershocks splintering European notions of egalité, fairness, and nationality; the fear of a cataclysmic population earthquake polarizing the citizenry.

The first set of waves of a tsunami of change crashing against Europe’s shores looks like this:  while the European population, due to is rapidly aging workforce is declining, 80% of its population growth in the past decade has been due to immigration which slowed down but not stopped the population slide. The Telegraph reports that 0ver the past 30 years, Europe’s Muslim population has doubled; it is expected to double again by 2015.  By 2050, 20% of Europeans will be Muslim. Eastern Europeans have flooded Western Europe as the EU has reduced restrictions on the flow of labor within the Continent.

While Academic research suggests immigration’s net effect on the economies of EU countries has been positive, immigrants arriving in search of work are triggering a polarization of attitudes by the native born. They now often find themselves the targets of a new wave of resentment that threatens to derail the self image many Europeans have of being grounded in the soil of the Enlightenment.

As I prepared through research and interveiws for the keynote address I delivered at the World Diversity Leadership Summit-Europe in Vienna  earlier in March, it was clear that a perfect storm of rising immigration rates and declining economies brews throughout the European Union. Overall, unemployment in the EU has risen steadily, from 7.5% in 2008 to 9.5% in 2009. Latvia and Spain have been the hardest hit, with unemployment reaching 22% and 19% respectively.

The counterwave to the rising tide of outsiders is showing up in various forms. The BBC News reports that tensions between native-born workers and immigrants have steadily grown.

  • Statistics published by the Italian government blame immigrants for rising unemployment.
  • Spain recently launched a program to encourage unemployed immigrants to return home.
  • Polls show British citizens cite an influx of immigrants as a leading cause of unemployment.
  • In Germany, a new citizenship application has been denounced as a “Muslim test,” designed to keep that immigrant group from growing further.
  • In 2005 Paris experienced rioting by its Muslim-based immigrant population; today, France, 9% Muslim, is seeking to ban headscarves in various public venues.
  • Switzerland, currently 4% Muslim, has banned minarets on all new construction.
  • In the Netherlands, nearly 5.8% Muslim, the murder of a Dutch filmmaker by a Muslim in 2004 is still a rallying point for anti-Muslim feeling.
  • The EU has taken steps to help ease the situation, issuing both the Racial Equality Directive and the Employment Equality Directive, adopted in 2000. The directives require member countries to build support structures that allow legal support against discrimination. These regulations not only serve to offer protections but they also have become a rallying cry for the many, many Europeans who despite changes all around them, are committed to diversity and inclusion.

    Employers who do buck current scapegoating trends to pursue business savvy diversity and inclusion efforts find themselves in good company–successful European companies such as Danone, Sodexo and Accor have been leading the way in recent years.  In 2008 anticipating this time, Siemens CEO told the Financial Times that the management in his German-based company was “too German, white, and male.” They and other leading companies see that their futures lies in being able to embrace and practice a much fuller and complex diversity and inclusion approach.

    The World Diversity Leadership Summitconference, hosted by the Austrian Ministry of Finance and attended by 300 leaders from corporations, government, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and which at one point had 30,000 hits on its live video web stream, had the stated goal of “Leveraging Global and European Diversity in 2020.” 

    The tsunami of change is inevitable. Which are the companies and countries that do what it takes to ride it rather than be swept by it?

    Pressure Is Mounting Against Europe’s Gender Glass Ceiling

    by Andrés T. Tapia; research by Susan Welch and Leonardo Sforza —

    VIENNA — “Pressure is building against the glass ceilings, glass cliffs, and career labyrinths that women in Europe continue to face,” says Dr. Elisabeth Kelan, Assistant Professor at King’s College in London and a  leading scholar and author on gender and generations. At this past week’s World Diversity Leadership Summit hosted by the Austrian Ministry of Finance and where I met Dr. Kelan, several of the speakers and many of the attendees, three-fourths of whom were women, echoed the sentiment.

    When it comes to eliminating gender inequalities, Europe’s record is as varied as the people groups who live there. Back in the 1970s, it was Sweden who pioneered the “equality in government” movement, requiring at least 40 percent of its MPs to be women. Similar laws followed in Norway, Denmark and Finland. Once Scandinavian women began assuming more positions of leadership, a ripple effect began to be felt elsewhere. In Austria today,  more than half of the country’s senior ministers are women and women outnumber men in the Spanish Cabinet.

    Despite these advances, I personally have witnessed many situations where the dearth of the presence of women in leadership forums has a distinct retro feel. Did I just step into the 1950s? The women I talked to at and outside the conference concur but many sense that the moment to demand change has come. The contradictions have become more blatant and the pipeline of highly educated and career experienced women is as strong and robust as it has ever been.

    The clamor is rising that despite more college-aged women than men complete upper and postsecondary education European women , on average still earn 15-18% less than men in comparable jobs. The gap is widest in Estonia and Cyprus, where men earn 25 percent more than their female counterparts. Furthermore, in every age group more men than women are employed, and women are more likely to be employed part-time.

    As is always the case, women’s disadvantages in the workplace are linked to other disadvantages. Women spend less time pursuing leisure activities than men, and more time doing household chores. They stand a greater chance of living in poverty. And although women in Europe tend to outlive men, they also report more longstanding health concerns.

    The mood at the World Diversity Leadership Summit in Vienna, was one of, how shall I say it, cynical hope. Cynical about the men in power being willing to do much about the gap, but hope that a growing diversity movement fueled by the rise of highly educated and ambitious women and supported by a growing body of legislation can close the gap. 

    As a keynote speaker, I joined in with 200+ participants in brainstorming stategies to most effectively “recruit and manage diverse talent by 2020.” Some European employers are coming to understand that they can do more to close the gender gap, and that they will benefit significantly if they do. A recent study by the European Commission found that Europe would see a 30 percent increase in GDP if the employment gender gap can be eliminated.

    Consider these encouraging signs:

    • The European Union’s “European Strategy for Jobs Growth” set a goal of 60% employment for women by 2010; as of 2008, 59.1% of women were employed.
    • In 2006, Norway passed legislation requiring the boards of all public companies to include at least 40 percent women by 2008, which has resulted in revitalized and more cosmopolitan leadership. At least half a dozen other EU countries are considering similar measures.
    • Successful companies in Europe are promoting women in leadership. Sodexo, Deutsche Bank, and Novartis are all examples of corporations who have become convinced of the business benefits of women in leadership and increased their already existing commitments to help more women enter positions of power. Recently, Paris-headquartered Sodexo CEO Michel Landel declared publicly at an event I attended in New York City that 25% of executives’ bonuses are tied to achieving diversity goals especially one that states that 24% of the top 300 leaders will be women within the next few years. Currently 19% are.  In defending against accusations of using quotas in setting gender representation goals, he replied, “We set goals for every business objective. This is no different.”
    • There is a current campaign “Close the Gender Gap Campaign” by the European Commission’s Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities entity. Here’s an ad from the European edition of Newsweek. It contains a link to the Commission’s web page dedicated to the cause: http://ec.europa.eu/equalpay


    Despite these good news of these advances, the economic crisis of the last two years threatens to slow down progress. According to the European Commission:

    “Recent analysis of national responses to the crisis confirms the risk of downgrading the status of equality policies or reducing budgets allocated to these policies. Some gender equality measures have been cancelled or delayed and possible future cuts in public budgets may have a negative effect on female employment and on the promotion of equality.”

    Despite this warning, given the energy at the WDLS conference and the various legislative initiatives the push for closing the pay gap should yield results. At Hewitt offices in Europe we see increased requests from companies for help with assessing if they have gaps and, if so, how to close them.

    The bigger challenge lies in seeing greater promotions of women into managerial and leadership positions. “Until the profile of the  ‘ideal worker’ is named and challenged for being based on the preferred characteristics of white males,” says Dr. Kelan from King’s College, “women as well as people with different racial backgrounds will continue to fall short of being considered.”