We are celebrating our 75th anniversary as British Council in the Netherlands in 2020-21 by sharing 75 personal stories from people who have a special connection to both the UK and the Netherlands. Read the 75 NL-UK stories and join us in celebrating our 75th anniversary. Expand the box below to read the full stories by Laura Coello, Joost Röselaers, Nick de Jager, and Canan Marasligil. New stories will be added in the months to come.
75 UK-NL Stories - Diversity & inclusion
The UK and I
I don’t think I have ever felt as comfortable to be who I am as I did when I lived in London in 2007-2008. I am a migrant, a visible minority, speaker of other languages (English is not my native language), international, multicultural and I love to learn new things (in formal and informal manner). I ‘met’ the world in London and had the feeling that we, wherever we were from, were all equals.
In those years the attention to combating discrimination and creating equal opportunities was visible and tangible. For every single vacancy I applied for had a diversity statement. Each time I had to use a standard form designed by the organisation to minimise irrelevant differences and review relevant competencies and knowledge. I was so taken aback, in a positive way, by onboarding programmes which almost always included knowledge and concrete actions to take in possible discriminatory situations. And by the diversity of staff. Later on I saw that the higher you aimed for, the more difficult it became for diverse individuals. But even there, there was more diversity than I had ever seen in the Dutch labour market.
After living and studying in London, I worked in various projects with British partners; amongst which the British Council (UK and Netherlands). I appreciate the way that work-relationships with my British partners always had a personal touch, while remaining professional. I experience our relationship and the work we do or did as quite flexible: I receive frameworks and am able to fill these in as the situation sees fit. That makes our partnership relatively equal: it acknowledges each other’s role and expertise area. And allows that personal relationship to flourish.
In 2010 a book of mine got published: Significant difference? A comparative analysis of multicultural policies in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In the book I explore the way the UK had (at that time), after a discriminatory event and the results of an inquiry, incrementally adapted existing policies and adopted new ones to create truly more equal opportunities for everyone. The result was that, in the year 2004 98% of public sector organisations and 68% of the private organisations had equal opportunities policies. In the Netherlands (in 2003) around 40% of the public sector organisations had these policies and just roughly 12% private sector organisations. The result of these other policies inspired by multiculturalism in the labour market participation of minorities, is clear. In the UK the difference between the average male employment rates of the majority population versus minorities was 4.4% (92% for native British males and 87.6% for immigrant males). While in the Netherlands the difference for the same groups during the same period was 12.8% (96.8% for native Dutch males and 84% for immigrant males).
What I mean to say is the following: the UK’s government at that time had the ability to look into the part it had played in not preventing this discriminatory event from happening, along with the willingness to take necessary policy steps to change this. This duty and necessity to explore the role you, as an institution, play in allowing, condoning or combating discrimination will feature prominently in my advice towards an organisation when addressing diversity and inclusion.
Are you sure about this?
From 2013 to 2017 I was a minister of the Dutch Church in London. The Church is located at Austin Friars in the City of London. It was founded in 1550 thanks to a Royal Charter granted by Kind Edward VI to Protestant refugees living in London. This Charter gave the Dutch Church the same privileges as the Church of England.
One of these privileges was the right to conduct church weddings in our church. When the British government allowed same-sex weddings by law, the Church of England hierarchy banned their priests from undertaking those weddings. But the Council of the Dutch Church found out that we were able to conduct such ceremonies because of a loophole. Indeed, the Dutch Church minister was not banned from undertaking a same-sex wedding.
In 2016 a lovely couple called John and John, well known by members of our congregation, asked if they could get married in our church. The Church Council invited a leading member of the Church of England to discuss this wedding. It was all very polite. When we left the church, he looked at me very intrusively and asked: ‘Joost, are you sure about this?’ I thanked him for the interest and didn’t give it any more attention. It was only after the wedding that I’d understood that this was not just a polite question. It was indeed full of concerns. But I was sure about it, and thankfully it didn’t compromise our excellent relations with the Church of England.
Nick de Jager
In lots of ways I’ve seen how the United Kingdom can be beautiful and hideous, even simultaneously. For example, I recall myself ordering ‘fried pizza’ at some food truck around Glasgow Train Station. Obviously, the concept of ‘fried pizza’ is objectionable in every single way, and I’m pretty sure there is no other country than the United Kingdom to order it. Despicable, right? But I have to admit, I loved it.
Of all my visits to the UK, one truly stands out. In the summer of 2018, I was invited for what became one of the greatest experiences in my life. The British Council organised their annual ‘Future News Worldwide’ conference in Edinburgh, an event to unite 100 young journalists around the globe. Delegates had origins varying from Fiji to France, China to Canada and Ghana to Germany.
I had just turned twenty at the time and was a young boy who hadn’t seen anything in the world. And there I was, meeting people from all continents. I climbed up Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat hill with a Colombian, Brazilian and Bangladeshi. Went clubbing with a South Korean, an Indian and a Motswana. Had dinner with a Greek, two Spaniards and various South Americans.
The event opened my world, without doubt. It taught me how stupid most stereotypes are and how you should always try to escape from your prejudices. And it wouldn't have been possible if it wasn’t for the amazing British hospitality.
Nick de Jager
I have been working with people in the arts and higher education across the UK for more than a decade: co-curating an exhibition of comics reframing our idea of Europe, being a translator in residence at the Free Word Centre, collaborating with universities in Norwich, Lancaster, London on literary and translation projects, publishing poetry chapbooks with the Poetry Translation Centre that ended up in Edmund de Waal’s Library of Exile...
Every encounter and collaboration, many times turning into friendship, has been an enriching experience on all sides. I learned from my peers, my expertise and knowledge were welcomed and valued, I always felt celebrated and every project I worked on expanded my vision of the world, and vice versa.
I have discovered the creative energy of places such as Dundee and Belfast. I have always been in admiration of how creativity and diversity have been celebrated by the people I have been in touch with.
It is through working with such organisations, including the British Council where I was employed before I started my freelance career, that I learned that diversity and inclusion need to be implemented on all levels, starting with policy. That awareness has become daily practice for me since then.
It pains me to see current politics negating the importance of a diverse and inclusive society, but I have trust in the arts and culture to continue empowering us all to keep doing better, and my experience with UK based organisations has always proven this is possible.