Diversity & Inclusion Workshop with ABN AMRO – Interview with Daniëlle Smissaert

Diversity & Inclusion Workshop with ABN AMRO – Interview with Daniëlle Smissaert

At ACE, we strive to offer a diverse and inclusive work environment. That’s why we started a program, in which we work together with banks and organizations across the financial sector, to share ideas, experiences and what we’ve learned on our journey to inclusion.

In May, we hosted a workshop with ABN AMRO’s People and Development Consultant on Sustainable Performance and Wellbeing, Daniëlle Smissaert and People and Development Consultant on Diversity & Inclusion Sven Romkes.

Now, Daniëlle Smissaert is joining us to share insights from her work at ABN AMRO as well as her (virtual) session with us and Sven – which included a presentation, a workshop, and hidden bias exercise.

Q: You work in People and Development management – how does this background influence your role at ABN Amro and your commitment to the cause of diversity?

A: When I originally left my job because of health issues. I had to change how I work. Re-joining ABN AMRO, I was no longer able to work 40 hours a week – so now my new maximum is 20 hours. Wellbeing is also important in my life and more so than before. There’s no performance without wellbeing. That means taking steps like reducing work hours, taking care of my energy levels by taking enough breaks, etc., which affect my performance at home and at work.

Like me, most people in the B-Able group at ABN AMRO struggle with energy levels and maintaining concentration. Therefore, Wellbeing is not only part of my business expertise, it’s also essential for me to keep a healthy work-life balance.

This gives me insight into what we need as a group and what I need to  promote as an Ambassador for Diversity and Inclusion.

Q: When people have invisible diseases, for example, I wouldn’t know you weren’t perfectly healthy if you didn’t tell us, it’s easy for people to forget – how can we be more aware?

A: This is something I’ve experienced top down. At ABN AMRO, we decided not to label people. No one in your team will know you’re not fully able unless you choose to share it. It’s not a secret, but you get privacy.

When I was healthy and could work 40 hours, the sky was the limit. Now, I know I really have to look after my boundaries, I have to set priorities, and I have to reschedule some planned meetings. If I want to stay productive, I have to work with a different mindset. For example, I need breaks. I can’t do back to back meetings. I’ll also have to communicate clearly to my team if a deadline is manageable, with enough time for them to potentially outsource it to others . In general, it’s difficult to sell people a ‘no’, but that’s even more true when you’re the only one struggling in this area. It can make you feel like you’re not pulling your weight. But, if you don’t say no, you feel it in your private time or the next day at work. Setting priorities and openly communicating what you can commit to is important.

Q: What can we do to prevent this or to mitigate the impact of mental or  physical disorders on team relationships?

A: You need to build an environment where people feel safe and have the space to open up. It’s difficult and it starts with a culture of open communication. Everyone from colleagues to managers to the CEO have to put in effort and to build the environment where you can share without consequences. That sounds simple, but in many organizations, the groundwork is missing.

Treating people well will always require some flexibility and compassion to acknowledge that personal circumstances, energy levels and focus can vary.

Q: What concrete steps can companies like ACE take to be more inclusive?

A: I think one of the most important steps is to build the company around the employee rather than the other way around. That has to come from culture.

It’s also important to just make it a topic. For example, the unconscious bias game which ACE did in preparation for the workshop with ABN AMRO.

Smaller companies also have an easier time with inclusion, because it’s easier to reach people. Learning weeks, such as a diversity and inclusion week, will reach everyone.

Of course, the most important step is to create a culture of feedback where employees feel comfortable complementing, addressing each other, correcting each other, and supporting each other in daily life. The first step is getting started. That has to start somewhere. At the same time, we also focus a lot on science, research, and tooling. Anything that can help your teams be happy and healthy, while getting the most out of performance from wellbeing.

Open communication is key. At ABN AMRO, we use workshops with the team, we use feedback challenges, we train facilitators to run feedback challenges with their teams. We teach people how to receive compliments, how to deal with feedback, how to build feedback up in a nice way, and how to make that part of culture.

For example, we use an HRV (heart rhythm variability) app with regular assessments followed up by coaching. Employees can get insight into stress, energy levels throughout the day, and the  quality of their sleep cycle. Then, you can measure progress and see whether activities positively or negatively affect you – so you can better balance your workday.

As Sven told us in the presentation at ACE, people with chronic disabilities take less sick leave than healthy employees. If you want to hire people with disabilities and to be more inclusive, it’s also important to set fundamentals. One of the most important of those is to create job listings with flexible working hours. People like me often can’t work full time – so you need flex work to have an inclusive environment.

You also want to implement courses and workshops to support people in accepting their chronic illness, in working more effectively and in managing their energy levels, etc.

Q. What was your impression of the workshop with ACE?

A: It was nice to see the steps you’ve been taking so far. I really liked the unconscious bias game. I also like the fact that all your employees are all involved and that the discussion is open. Additionally, learning by example gives everyone much more insight – so it’s really great to share experiences. And, in my case it was interesting to share my personal experiences in a business environment for the first time.

Our diversity and inclusion projects all inspire me but the more companies get involved, the better. So that was really interesting – and you’re doing the right things to get started.

Thank you for having me.

It’s interesting to hear perspectives and practices from different companies and teams – and useful for us to have these sorts of discussions to learn from. At ACE, we really believe in the cause, and we are moving forward with full support of the company to try to create the necessary discussions around diversity and inclusion – so that it becomes a part of our daily lives.

December 3rd is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, if you’re interested in joining, this is a great day to get involved at your work and to show that, together, we can make a difference.

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