May 9, 2013 — Change often creeps up on us, and a new phase in the Netherlands may just be starting—one in which we stop accepting traditional notions of what talent looks like, and instead embrace new attitudes towards talent that are not defined by gender.
At a recent Catalyst Europe Roundtable here in Amsterdam, I was struck by the number of members talking about talent. They were seeing a pressing need within their organisations to address continuing bad economic news from the Eurozone by developing new approaches to talent management. Their organisations were learning both how to attract top talent in the first place, and how to retain, develop, and leverage existing talent.
The talent theme is cropping up more and more often, and this excites me. Suddenly there are voices talking loudly and concurrently about stopping the outflow not only of women, but of talented millennials, visible minorities, and LGBT people as well. Organisations are implementing programs to encourage schoolgirls to take a betapakket (science module) in high school, and women college graduates are being promoted into technical roles. Employers are coaching young parents through their return to work following parental leave. Slowly but surely, the number of men sponsoring high-potential women into senior management and board positions is rising.
Many organisations are now making a valiant effort to make these changes happen. The change agenda of the EU’s Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, may be creating fewer waves than it did six months ago, but companies in the Netherlands are certainly beginning to realize that the deep-seated culture of male privilege and cronyism so pervasive in corporations and in politics is stifling economic recovery and innovation. Critics of the bias intrinsic to the Dutch political system, media, and society as a whole are getting louder and more convincing in their arguments, and Dutch people no longer see a woman leading a company or ministry as an excuustruus (token woman), but rather as someone who got there thanks to talent and merit.
Despite legislation slumbering in the Upper House, business leaders and a number of national organisations and independent institutions have introduced internal targets not just for women on boards and in management roles, but throughout their ranks of employees. Via congresses, Tweets, NGOs, publications, forums, networks, and blogs, an urgency and enthusiasm about diversity is beginning to spread. And talented women are ready to step up.