Pilot inclusion does not provide hard numbers

To move the entire Dutch workforce towards an inclusive workplace, policy and research must focus not only on frontrunners and early followers, but also on organizations that have less manpower and resources at their disposal. This is the advice from TNO after the Retention and Advancement pilot for employees with a non-Western migration background.

Greater outflow

The outflow of employees with a non-Western migration background is greater and their opportunities for advancement are more limited than employees without a migration background. In the Netherlands, for example, they are smaller than Canada, the USA, Great Britain and Sweden. Within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment’s program ‘Further integration in the labor market’, TNO has investigated which measures can contribute to an inclusive working climate and at the same time what the proper implementation, monitoring and evaluation of these measures looks like. The pilot aimed to permanently bind employees with a non-Western migration background to the organization and improve their opportunities for promotion.


One of the explanations for the lagging representation and promotion is the (un)conscious prejudices of employers, team leaders and colleagues with different cultural backgrounds about employees with a migration background and the lack of an inclusive working climate. In order to promote the retention and advancement of employees with a non-Western migration background in the organization, more and more organizations want an inclusive working climate and take the initiative to promote this. More and more employers are also appointing a D&I officer.


Still, it is unknown what exactly works and for whom. Organizations often struggle with the choice between generic diversity and inclusion measures or specific cultural diversity and inclusion measures. Organizations often draw inspiration from other organizations’ approaches, but do not sufficiently consider whether the approach can be transferred to their own organization. Therefore, the approaches in the organizations are often arbitrary and do not always achieve the desired effect. Many researchers believe that a complex issue requires an integrated and more personal approach.


The purpose of the Retention and Transfer pilot is therefore to identify initiatives that contribute to an inclusive working climate, so that employees with a non-Western migration background do not leave the organization again within a short time, but are retained and have equal opportunities to advance to a higher position. The research was initially mainly aimed at mapping the effects of measures, but this was converted to a more qualitative approach during the pilot project. Due to the corona pandemic, the organizations were only able to implement the measures later, which meant that the follow-up time on the measures was too short to measure the effects. The research question was therefore focused on the measures themselves.

Open dialog conversations with the management and a VR glasses target proved to be a good conversation starter.

TNO research pilot Conservation and Flow

VR glasses

The five major organizations that participated in the pilot are leaders in diversity and inclusion. Among the participants are a municipality and a ministry. Many factors are related to employee retention, so employers tested various measures, such as unconscious bias training, mentoring programmes, a career pathway, increased visibility of role models, open dialogues with management members, a diversity calendar, a VR glasses measure to raise awareness, professionalisation of the complaints procedure and confidential advisers and leadership programmes.

Expand awareness

In addition to focusing on recruitment and selection to promote diversity, employers in the pilot project have become more attentive to the retention and promotion of workers with a migration background by promoting inclusion. Several organizations describe an increased awareness of inclusion at different levels in the organization. Inclusion is (more often) a topic of conversation and that conversation increasingly takes place between different functions and job levels. ‘Open dialogues with management and a VR glasses event proved to be a good conversation starter.’

Problem driven

The organizations have worked problem-driven on change processes in the organization. In some organizations, there are tentative signs of changes in factors that ultimately contribute to organizational culture change. Employee involvement and sense of inclusion in some organizations has improved, and social support also appears to have improved through peer exchanges. A number of organizations also experience the visibility of employees with a non-Western migration background and their promotion opportunities as greater. ‘These preliminary signs are contributing to positive cultural change.’

Follow-up time too short

However, there are no hard numbers on that. ‘On the basis of the current study, we therefore find no direct effect of the measures on the retention and promotion of employees with a non-Western migration background.’ The ‘follow-up time’ was too short for this, partly as a result of the corona measures during the pilot. There were also too many practical obstacles, and several organizations mainly took individual measures instead of implementing a larger action plan. ‘This is not enough to achieve sustainable cultural change.’ Several organizations did not choose the measures based on the starting points from the feasibility study and the needs of the target group. ‘Support, mandate and resistance in the organization played an important role in this.’

The resistance is often located higher up in the organization

TNO research pilot Conservation and Flow

D&I officer

The resistance theme deserves scientific exposure, the researchers believe. ‘More than with other subjects, diversity and inclusion require a long breath and a lot of persuasiveness.’ There is no one for this shortcut, “but social and technological innovations can help speed up this process”. It is important to appoint a ‘committed leader’ with a sufficient mandate, say the researchers. It is more difficult to defend a plan from a subordinate position. A D&I employee is employed by the organization but has the right knowledge of the organization and the subject to be able to make appropriate choices ‘and thus achieve the mandate’. “In addition, the resistance is often located higher up in the organization, so coordination does not always lead to the best plan, but the plan that fits best. This can stand in the way of a sustainable cultural change for inclusion.’


The study also produced a guide with practical tips and examples of possible measures for organizations that want to get started with an inclusive organizational culture. This should provide inspiration and provide an overview of possible tools and interventions. ‘However, it does not contain any documented effective measures.’ The composition and sequence of measures have an influence on the final effect of the measures. If measures do not have the desired effect due to flaws in their design, this may threaten the continuity of attention for inclusion. ‘Inadequate results can destroy the support that has been built up.’

Work cyclically

The researchers show many experiences and practical recommendations. Continued enthusiasm from those involved is important, just as it is important to take time for change, but ‘taking time is not the same as waiting a long time before starting’. It is also useful to ‘cycle’ with regular evaluations. It is also important to involve not only the target group, but everyone in the organization. ‘The demand for change lies not only with the minority group in the organisation, but also with the majority group.’ This also applies to higher levels in the organization. When choosing appropriate measures, it is important to share why and how with the employees. This ensures involvement, recognition, space for participation and familiarity with the measures and contributes to ‘conformity between the organisation’s external image and the employees’ internal feeling’.

Button operation

Because there is no consensus on what action actually entails, the researchers advise to ‘address or develop programs with a scientific basis and test their effectiveness within the context of multiple organizations’ for follow-up research. ‘For employers, the threshold for investing in approaches is lower when it is better known what the effect is.’ In addition, there must be more space for follow-up time of measures, and in order to bring all Dutch employers towards an inclusive workplace, it is necessary to pay attention in policy and research not only to frontrunners and early supporters, but also to organizations that have a smaller workforce and resources at their disposal.

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