A day of progress and inclusivity

Kraket had another edition of the Diversity and Development Day (DDD), where the issues surrounding diversity and development in the workplace are highlighted. I had the pleasure as a member of Kraket to attend this wonderful day, hear the different speakers make their cases, ranging from a new programme to help disadvantaged students, to how diversity and development comes into play in the workplace, to the wonderful story of how one woman became a partner at Deloitte, with the express purpose to further diversity and development.

The day started at an opening ceremony of the DDD at De Waag restaurant in Amsterdam, where we had a bit of Dutch history above our heads, in the form of a number of prominent names with their symbols emblazoned on the ceiling. The first speaker of the day was Bowen Paulle, a part-time professor at the University of Amsterdam, working full-time to stop the spiraling inequality of education in Amsterdam and the Netherlands as a whole with his NGO, Bridge. Professor Paule eloquently describes the current problem facing education, with struggling students often years behind their peers in terms of academic skills, where they usually do not have the resources to make up this difference through tutoring or similar services. In particular, the transition to highschool can have quite a damning effect for most students, as an assignment to less highly viewed levels of education, such as the Dutch ‘mavo’ or ‘vmbo’, can often severely demoralize these students. This demoralization coupled with the reinforcement of the belief that they are ‘dumb’ leaves students with little motivation to actually learned, as they feel they have already been dismissed by the school system. This is where Bo’s NGO comes in, where Bridge offers High Dosage Tutoring, or HDT for short, which involves daily 2 on 1 sessions with a tutor for struggling students, during school hours. The HDT sessions are meant to help students catch up, and have been empirically shown to be immensely helpful, going so far as to reduce a 4 to 5 year arrear in their education to less than half a year, i.e. compressing 3 to 4 years of education in less than half a year. That is an immense amount of progress, and shows that it is an extremely valuable programme.

The second pair of speakers were from the large insurer Aon, where they talked about the different divisions within the company, from reinsurance to private equity, and the impressive size and structure of the company. The Pathwise department at Aon is particularly focused on the creation of different models for the other departments, making it the department dealing with the more technical modeling issues. Besides that, there was also the person responsible for the current efforts within Aon to promote diversity and inclusion, where Aon operates on the principles that ‘everyone should be welcome to the party’ and ‘everyone should feel included in the party’. To this end, Aon has been looking into making their employees more aware of common types of unconscious biases, i.e. biases in our judgment which we are not always keenly aware of. Four very common biases were expounded on, which are:

  1. Affinity bias: People choose others from their own group for positions

  2. Beauty bias: People tend to unconsciously believe that more beautiful looking individuals will also produce higher quality work

  3. Conformity bias: This is also called group thinking, i.e. the tendency to agree with the larger group, while you would normally not agree with such a train of thought.

  4. Confirmation bias: This is defined as the tendency to actively seek out information that confirms one’s own opinion.

These biases were eloquently represented as something that is inherent to human judgment, and far from something negative, yet it can be easily influenced and rapidly lead to less than optimal decisions due to these 4 unconscious biases. This was mainly represented and received as a challenge and an arduous labor to keep track all of one’s biases. However, and this is simply my personal opinion, it seemed more like an opportunity to myself, as one can morph these biases into something more fruitful, and the more easily one can become aware of their own biases, the more one can shift them towards a productive mode that more effectively discriminates on ability than on arbitrary characteristics. 

The third speaker of the day was Taman Autur, a senior consultant at Global People and an expert in recruitment and selection of the right candidates for more technical jobs, which econometricians usually gravitate towards. During his workshop, he walked us through the important parts of a CV, ranging from lay-out, to not having a photo of you drinking as the picture on your CV, to some common mistakes he often sees on CV’s. The workshop was very interactive, and a fresh change to the serious atmosphere, with all kinds of topics coming into play, from professional sports, to internships, to what to put on your LinkedIn, and a whole host of other tips for econometricians to truly represent yourself as the valuable candidate you can be. The workshop lasted a bit longer than planned, but the extra time allowed for some wonderful questions from the audience which really drew everyone in and made for a wonderful experience. 

The last speaker of the day was Heleen Vaandrager, the partner at Deloitte responsible for promoting diversity and development. She represented the research done pertaining to the glass ceiling women face, and how that affects their chances of entering high positions at Deloitte. The more and more informal hiring process closer to the top seems to be a main cause of this, where the earlier introduced unconscious biases more and more come into play. Deloitte has a number of initiatives to promote diversity among its employees, from supporting LGBTQ+ organizations, to the inclusion of more neurodiverse groups, to actively promoting women’s advancement within the corporate world. The initiative to promote diversity within organizations, backed by research, will lead to high levels of innovation, with new perspectives abounding and performances soaring compared to hiring from a single group, the larger the pool you hire from, the more talent you can attract. 

Heleen’s personal story echoes this sentiment, as the middle child from Eindhoven, she pursued the written arts, learning a total of 6 languages, before she moved to Brussels for a traineeship at EC Generali, where she worked for 17 years and had 4 children. She later moved to Den Haag to work for Aegon Global Pensions as a regional sales director for 7 years, after which she moved to Rotterdam and worked for Aon’s retirement and investment as the CCO for 7 years. Now, she is working for Deloitte as the partner responsible for stimulating diversity and inclusion within the higher ranks. Heleen put forth some very important lessons to the more quantitatively minded audience, that it is important to cherish and grow one’s independence, to be aware of unconscious bias, to network and get to know more people, and to support others in their journey. The round of questions that came after were very insightful in how she experienced the glass ceiling, with some recommendations on how to get around the current constraints for women. 

The rest of the day was filled with a lively speed dating event with different companies, ranging from the known companies such as Optiver, Triple-A consulting, to newer companies, such as Significant APE, focused on helping public sector organizations make well informed decisions, and MagnaVersum, a Business Intelligence company. Each company came with their own representatives, some still recovering from their company ski trip, each with their own story, which always remains a joy to hear. In addition to the companies present, there was also the opportunity to take an online personality test to gain a better insight into one’s behavior, and the opportunity to have a professional picture taken. 

The day wrapped up with a thank you to the committee members responsible for setting up this wonderful day, with some drinks to finish the day off, where one could network a bit more with other students and representatives from the speeddates still present. All in all, it was a very interesting and insightful day to be part of, and we at SECTOR definitely recommend coming to next year’s edition of the DDD.

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