As stated in Forbes, “those who embrace diversity will be more likely to prosper, and those who ignore it will be more likely to fail”. It’s one of the reasons why posts bidding for diversity inundate our newsfeeds on a daily basis. It’s now one of the defining issues our times.

My network is currently buzzing with Diversity and Inclusion specialists. We’re all engaged in the (overdue) debate on how to turn words into actions in the workplace. Many of you are no doubt familiar with Simon Sinek’s successful TED talk on the Golden Circle. One of my favourite presentations, it gets me thinking about which business areas it can be applied to. Marketers will find the most value in this Golden Circle model, as it helps direct focus on how a business can stand out from similar competitors by communicating its differences. I also use the model in intercultural training to explain how crucial it is to give context to tasks when assigning them to team members, i.e. don’t just tell them WHAT to do but tell them WHY and most people will happily oblige.

Regarding the topic of Diversity and Inclusion I’d like to flip the Golden Circle on its head if I may. Looking at Diversity and Inclusion in today’s workplace, I think we need to get on with the WHAT as we’ve been talking about WHY for ages! This endless loop of WHY we should be doing it needs to be replaced by WHAT we are actually doing! It’s time to get some action into the process.

But building a valuable D&I strategy is no easy feat – it relies on tenacious, inclusive leadership. And instead of writing another blog about the subject, I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth and speak to someone who works at the Diversity and Inclusion front.

Seyda Buurman-Kutstal is a Diversity & Inclusion expert located in The Netherlands. She has trained over 8,000 people in the Brown Eyes Blue Eyes exercise. Her clients include the Dutch Police force, Delta Lloyd and a variety of teacher training institutions. Her key goal is to train organisations to improve their practices in tackling discrimination on a daily basis.

She has a variety of techniques to approach the D&I topic, working as a trainer, coach, supervisor and consultant. She has witnessed real results in changing people’s mindsets. She conducts training in English, Dutch and German. I decided to sit down and ask her about her job.

How did you get into Diversity and Inclusion and how long have you been involved in this field?

It’s been 28 years now. I started with an internship in a nursing home for women with dementia. There, I learned first-hand how people respond to positive treatment. Humans, disadvantaged or not, live up to the expectations of their environment. I witnessed elderly women in the late stages of dementia coming in as new residents only able to sit or lie down. After a couple of weeks, they started doing things no one previously thought possible. It was only because staff and had faith in their abilities and engaged with them accordingly. They adapted to the new expectations and this brought about change.

I went on to work as a consultant for the “Schools without Racism” project at Centrum Buitenlanders Oost-Brabant in The Netherlands. There, I organized a session to educate college students about racism. We’d heard about Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyed Brown Eyed exercise. We decided to invite her to The Netherlands to incorporate the experiment into our own project.

Tell us a bit more about Jane Elliott’s work.

This was 24 years ago and I’ll never forget the first training day with her. I was a participant in this workshop, brown-eyed and having all the privileges I could wish for while my blue-eyed colleagues were being discriminated against. And they were not able to do anything right. I could do nothing wrong and it was this that opened my eyes to the anatomy of prejudice. Whereas I’d been thinking if I just worked hard enough my position in society would change and I would be able to attain the same privileges as my blue-eyed, blonde-haired friends and colleagues, I realised it really didn’t matter how hard I tried. Once I had actually experienced gaining privileges that I had done nothing to deserve, I understood that it was not about me. It was about the system that allows prejudice, discrimination and racism. This is when I first began using the Brown Eyes Blue Eyes exercise in my training.

Have you encountered a lot of racism on a personal level?

Of course I have and I still do. For example, when I arrive at a training location with my male white business partners and I’m the last one to be asked what we need for our session. And then participants want to know how long I’ve been living in the country and expect me to be happy when they complement me on my Dutch. I experience it when I order things online using my surname and I’m told the product is sold out; but when my husband orders the same item it’s delivered without any issues. When I went to college, the teachers voted on whether I should be allowed to attend as I was the first Turkish Muslim ever to apply to study there. It was a Catholic institution led by a bishop – who decided I was welcome.

But watching those around me suffer discrimination is far worse. I often witness this kind of behaviour and I intervene whenever I can.

How would you describe your training? What can people expect from it?

Brown Eyes Blue Eyes gives you the opportunity to “walk in the moccasins” of another person for a day. During the workshop, participants are divided into brown-eyed and blue-eyed groups and put in different rooms. The brown-eyed group has all the privileges, such as chairs, coffee, information etc. The blue-eyed group has no access to any of these things. This creates a microcosm of society with one big difference: everyone knows it will be over by the end of the day. Since most blue-eyed people have no experience of discrimination, they lack the tools to cope with it. They deploy the strategies of the majority group. This gives the impression that they don’t want to learn and that they’re being unreasonable. But actually all they’re doing is trying to improve their situation.

The brown-eyed participants, on the other hand, are shocked. While they’re enjoying their privileges, they also feel guilt, because they know it’s not right. But again, they lack the strategies to stop it happening. After this first part of the workshop, the eye-ism stops and the real learning starts. All participants reflect on what has happened in a structured group discussion.

Is there much resistance towards your approach?

As a trainer, my core task is to comfort the uncomforted and confront the comforted. This means I encounter a great deal of resistance from participants whose real-life positions are comfortable. And my approach makes them feel UNcomfortable! For example, imagine a tall, white middle-aged hetero man, someone who’s worked his way up into a position of power, suddenly being told what to do and how to do it by me – a small, curly-haired Turkish woman! Sometimes people get really angry and even aggressive. We’ve had people shouting and walking out of the workshop. We’ve even had to call the police to remove angry participants. But they all have the right to be angry. We need people to understand how frustrating it can be when you are treated in a way that is forbidden by law. But just think about it – whereas in my workshop, participants are angry about being mistreated for a couple of hours, this is a daily fact of life for so many people. That’s the powerful take-home message of my training.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of your career?

I’d like to help create a better world! Realistically, I’m riding as many waves as possible to tackle discrimination and racism. I hope my workshops leave enough people feeling discomfort at what they have learned; and also that enough people take comfort from the realisation that discrimination is not about them, but about those who just accept it as the status quo. To be honest, I don’t believe my career will ever end. I don’t see my work as a job, but as a task.

Tell me about your next public training course.

The next training course will be a very special one for experienced trainers and educators wanting to learn about the Brown Eyes Blue Eyes exercise. I’ve trained over 8,000 participants and I’d like to share my knowhow during this one-day masterclass in The Hague on 16 November 2019.

If you are interested in this masterclass, please get in touch with Seyda to secure your place.  You will learn how to create an action plan for Diversity and start using the BEBE tool in your company or institution. There is also a handbook and mastermind group for consultation once the masterclass is over. The language of this workshop will be English.

It’s time to make Diversity and Inclusion a dialogue that includes everyone in the conversation. It’s not a marketing tool – so let’s stop talking about the WHY and get on with the WHAT!

Masterclass BEBE The Hague, 16 November 2019 includes the following:

  • The ins and outs of BEBE
  • How to use it in companies
  • Understanding the power of the anatomy and how to deal with it
  • Exercises
  • 2 coaching sessions (telephone)
  • Handbook
  • Mastermind group

If you know anyone who would benefit from reading this post, please share.

And drop me a note if you want to boost company team performance when working across cultures or if you are relocating as an individual – culture shock is not easy to cope with alone!