Diversity is important to companies. It’s a source of creativity and innovation. It recognises that different points of view are important in a growing multi-cultural world. Studies show that this idea is gaining momentum around Europe, but studies also show that discrimination is still widespread in the work place.
Euronews spoke to a man who, between 1993 and 2004, was a victim of discrimination in France. Because of what happened he wants to remain anonymous; we’ll call him Marc.
He said: “I was met with great hostility because of my homosexuality. You would come back from lunch and on your desktop would be a note reading ‘Death to the faggot’ or ‘Dirty faggot’. You’re working and you receive anonymous phone calls – death threats. And you’re put down all the time, given the worst jobs and you can, as happened with me, end up for months and months in a room, completely isolated, without being given any work, without seeing anyone.”
In 2000, two EU directives were introduced, they provided a legal framework to fight against discrimination at work.
These guidelines recognised Marc’s sexuality and gave him the legal rights to protect himself.
“Europe showed that homosexuals had the right to respect too. Europe allowed us to defend ourselves in the workplace. I learned very quickly and I used what I had learned,” Marc added.
After a long, hard fight, Marc won the battle against his tormentors. They were demoted and he received compensation.
Anne Devineaux, reporting on this story for euronews, explains: “The European Union has one set up of the most advanced legal systems in the fight against discrimination. In each country there is an independent public agency that is responsible for promoting equal opportunities.”
These organisations are based on the EU directive introduced in 2000. Their role is to help enforce anti-discrimination law. They are now part of a network called Equinet.
At its head is Jozef De Witte, who also runs the Centre for Equal Opportunity in Belgium.
He said: “First we have to make clear to people that they have a fundamental right not to be discriminated against. And that they can address, if they have a discrimination problem, a public body like the Equality body, to find a solution. We can start an investigation on a case, we can talk with all the partners, with the other party for example, who committed the discrimination, to stop the discrimination, to look for some compensation for the victim and to make sure the discrimination does not take place. “
Legal protection has been introduced in the European Union – there are at least six areas concerning discrimination including ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, and religion.
Despite the legal protection, proving discrimination on any of these grounds is often difficult.
Yacouba Barry from Burkina Faso is a French citizen. He passed the exam to become a school head master. He was very successful and so between 2007 and 2009 completed further training as a deputy head in a college near Paris. There he encountered racial discrimination from the head.
“As soon as she saw me, her first words were ‘What are you doing? I don’t want you here, I will do anything to get rid of you.’ It was like that for two years. She constantly humiliated and persecuted me,” said Yacouba Barry.
Despite documented evidence of his competency and the support of his colleagues, he was denied the right to be a college principal.
“The education system is among the institutions that does most in the fight against all forms of discrimination, but in the field there is sometimes a big gap between the laws and how they’re implemented,” he said.
Yacouba Barry is currently waiting for his case to be heard in an administrative court. “I’m waiting for justice, until then I’m suffering,” he said.
“Being refused just for what you are and not for what you do is very difficult. And so quite a lot of people are not wanting to address the situation of discrimination because they feel so offended and so vulnerable that it is a difficult case to empower those people to bring a case to a equality body, even to bring to bring a case before a court,” said Jozef De Witte.
Anne Devineaux of euronews, said: “Fighting discrimination encourages the development of diversity policies in companies. Diversity charters have been introduced in most parts of Europe. By signing, companies agree to promote equal opportunities.”
For over 30 years Myrtha Casanova fought for diversity in the workplace. She founded the European Institute for Managing Diversity in Spain, an NGO that promotes the benefits of diversity throughout Europe.
Over a decade ago the institute conducted some research into discrimination and found there was a large gap between northern and southern European countries.
“In the year 2000, when we did our first research on diversity in Europe, one of the stunning results was on the attitude and performance in diversity inclusion. In the northern countries 20 percent of companies were engaged in diversity inclusion, whereas in the southern part of Europe, there was only awareness of one per 1,000,” said Myrtha Casanova.
She says since then things have improved. More and more countries and companies are raising awareness and diversity charters are increasing.
“The diversity charter is a very successful tool in the creation of awareness because it is a voluntary commitment that companies assume, the reality is that when a charter has many signatories in a country these companies exchange their best practices, they learn from each other and the movement starts and diversity policies are being implemented,” Myrtha Casanova added.
France is the first European country to have adopted a charter for diversity. Among the signatories is the national railway company SNCF. Its staff and recruiters now receive training on the subject. A specific job was introduced to promote equal opportunities.
Claude Mwangelu, Head of Diversity at SNCF, told euronews: “I don’t think that companies today engage in such policies to protect their image. No, diversity is now considered to be truly worth while. We introduced an inclusive policy that allows everyone to be recognised, to be valued, and be accepted, with their contributions, with their differences and with their uniqueness.”
The company has to make extra efforts to adapt the workplace for disabled people. Something which has for Pierre Vautrin, who manages train schedules and is responsible for leading a team of nine people.
He said: “We have to find a role where we can be as independent as possible. We can add different perspectives. As a disabled man, my way of thinking can bring something different to my colleagues. I really enjoy my job. Everything is going great and I’m happy.
Defending diversity is imperative for businesses today and in the future as people celebrate difference.