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02 10 2017

There is more to diversity than gender

Beside NATO's aspiration to recruit the best and the brightest, it also promotes diversity in recruitment. NATO Deputy Secretary General Ms Rose Gottemoeller and Ambassador Marriёt Schuurman, Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, talked about the Alliance's Diversity Action Plan when visiting the NCI Agency Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

The two women were just as enthusiastic speaking about their agenda as the audience who actively engaged in the discussion. How to increase opportunities for young professionals at NATO, how to break through the 'administrator' wall, how to embrace a different culture or sexual orientation were all actively debated during the informal breakfast session.

NATO first decided to create a Diversity Action Plan during the 2002 NATO Prague Summit. Today, a Diversity Task Force with representatives appointed from all NATO bodies is the driving force behind the Action Plan. Currently, the Task Force is working to promote diversity-inclusion NATO-wide, and to expand the definition of diversity beyond gender, age, and nationality.

Diversity means breaking out of ghettos

When speaking about diversity in an organizational environment, gender tends to be the first thing that comes to mind. However, diversity (as the word itself suggests) is much more complex than that.

"Diversity in the NATO context frequently seems to be treated as gender diversity. The Action Plan will look at this issue more broadly, and will look for ways to ensure that the workforce is reflected as the diverse societal demographics of the nations which comprise the organization, including race, ethnic origin, age, religion, disabilities, and sexual orientation." said Ms Gottemoeller. "NATO needs to get beyond the notion that we need to somehow break up the 'pink ghetto'. There are lots of ghettos around there."

Adjusting to the rhythm of millennials

Age diversity within NATO is another key area of the Diversity Action Plan. With millennials accounting for a growing presence in the professional world, it is essential for organizations to look at the issues and challenges that affect young professionals.

The Alliance is taking steps towards better recognizing the value that young professionals bring to the organization, including exploiting their digital native skills, new approaches to challenges and different solutions to problems.

The first step to addressing age diversity is to understand the rhythm of millennials, their professional aspirations, and understanding the potential they have to offer.

Change comes with risk

The Deputy Secretary General and the Ambassador also talked about how improvement comes with change in any organization, consequently in NATO, as well. They both shared their experience of taking the road less traveled and the risks with it, instead of staying in the safety of their comfort zones at times during their careers.

"Cultural change has to be inspired, it has to be pushed by the leadership, because mature organizations have inherited conservatism." said Ms Gottemoeller, while discussing how she sees change as an enabler instead of an obstacle. She also emphasized that staff members have to take their share of risk-taking and have to be brave enough to face change when it is due, too. Transforming an organization only works if there is a top-down and a bottom-up pursue at the same time.

Ambassador Schuurman highlighted the fact that without risk there is no change, and that even though human nature by default is rather risk-avoiding than risk-taking, organizations should look to the future by enabling and trusting their people: "Risk-taking is not something that comes naturally. If you want to change the culture, it will certainly involve taking risks. You will have to let people know you trust them, allow them to make mistakes and back them up, if necessary."

There is more to diversity than gender