By Myrtha Casanova

The European Union is built on the cornerstone of diversity. There are 27 members states (with Croatia becoming a member shortly) with their own governance systems, 23 official languages, 271 regions and countless ethnic, cultural and religious communities living in Europe.

The Diversity in Europe research carried out a decade ago showed that in 2000 some 20 percent of companies based in northern Europe were involved in managing diversity. While in southern Europe only one company per thousand was aware of diversity as a strategic corporate issue.

Only a few years later, in 2008, the Continuing the Diversity Journey project, with the European Union’s financial support, showed a spectacular change in attitudes and practices of the business community. It clearly demonstrated that 63 percent of larger companies in Europe were carrying out diversity and inclusion policies.

However, the study also confirmed that only five percent of small and medium enterprises were aware of diversity as a business case. Furthermore, only 9.7 percent of third level education institutions included diversity in their policies and some are still working towards the introduction of diversity as an academic subject.

Back in 2000 two European directives on equal treatment were adopted. One deals comprehensively with race discrimination in all walks of life. The other focuses on employment-related discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation. However, after a decade of the existence of the EU, equality law, discrimination, prejudices, and stereotypes still continue to prevent millions of people from fully achieving their potential and companies to benefit from their talents. Diversity is an asset, a great force for Europe that has to be cultivated and fostered, especially in difficult times of economic hardship.

Diversity charters can therefore play an essential role in bringing about a change in Europe.

Diversity charters are initiatives to which companies voluntarily adhere to as a sign of commitment to accepting, appreciating, and integrating diversity within their corporate culture. They operate mostly as private initiatives of companies collaborating with the administration and social agents to create awareness regarding the benefits of diversity.

The role of diversity charters is to create awareness and encourage the participation of both the business community and public administration in fostering diversity policies in their countries. In addition, their representatives act as social agents who raise awareness and give support to a broad range of communities. They often create tools and promote exchange of experiences to increase companies’ efficiency and innovation.

The Diversity Exchange Platform supported by the European Commission provides a meeting point for the organizations running the national diversity charters. At this platform the organizations can exchange experiences, best practices, tools and signatories throughout the European Union.

Presently there are eight charters operating in the member states of the European Union (France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Belgium and Poland) and five more are expected to be launched before the end of this year. The ultimate objective is to have in the near future an organization running a diversity charter in each European member state.