2017 kicked off with polarisation and strong forces that pull at the global society to such
an extent that you might fear it will break apart.

Racism and oppression of women have been revived under Trump’s first executive orders such as the global gag rule that blocks US funding of all international organisations which offer counselling or referral for abortion and the immigration ban on travel to the US for people from seven, Muslim-majority countries. At the same time Putin has reduced the sentence for domestic violence against women and children from two years to 15 days. And some months ago, seven million Polish women went on strike on Black Monday, protesting against a proposal that would ban all abortions and carry a prison sentence of up to five years.

These political developments remind us that rights acquired years ago are not secured for ever.

These political developments remind us that rights acquired years ago are not secured for ever.

In Denmark, the government has introduced rhetoric that in a split second transformed
everybody born in Denmark, but with roots in non-Western countries, to aliens. And defined
Danishness by race.

Jan E. Jørgensen, the Liberal Party’s citizenship spokesman, acknowledged that the rhetoric
was clumsy and open to misunderstanding, but not long after, he was overruled by Marcus
Knuth, spokesman on integration from his own party, who said that Jørgensen did not speak
on behalf of the group and that the rhetoric was “in no way clumsy”. The fact is that we now
officially have drawnline dividing“descendants of immigrants from non-western countries”
and “Danes”. And as Jan E. Jørgensen says, this draft proposal about integration in housing
estates in Denmark is unfortunate because it reinforces the feeling of “them and us” and
confirms to everybody with non-western backgrounds that they can never become Danes
no matter how hard they try.

Luckily, the forces promoting increased diversity, equality and inclusion are also gathering
strength. More than five million people worldwide took to the streets in the Women’s March
on 21 January. Starbucks has pledged to hire 10,000 refugees. IKEA has announced that it
values its diverse and multi-cultural staff and successful tech companies in Silicon Valley
have made similar statements. And lastly, at this year’s Super Bowl, several large corporates
chose to use the most expensive and prestigious commercial spots in the US on messages
about equal pay, LGBT rights and diversity.

“…several large corporates chose to use the most expensive and prestigious commercial spots in the US on messages about equal pay, LGBT rights and diversity.”

Audi contributed with the thoughts from a father to his daughter about equal pay and
equality. And Google waved the rainbow flag for the LGBT community. Airbnb launched
 a beautiful slogan: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you
love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you
accept”. Budweiser’s ad was a tribute to the company’s founder, who immigrated from
Germany, and Coca Cola spent its expensive commercial spot on repeating its 2014 Super
Bowl ad where a group of people of diverse backgrounds sings “America The Beautiful”
in different languages.

Trump is clearly one of the reasons why these companies are taking such a clear stand. But it
is just as clear that equality, diversity and inclusion are areas that the businesses take more
and more seriously, feel obliged to contribute to and at the same time consider an important
business case.

New international gender equality index for the financial sector

The business case was also one of the reasons why Bloomberg launched its Bloomberg
Financial Services Gender-Equality Index
(BFGEI) last year. In January 2017, the 52
companies that qualified for admission to the index were announced. The purpose
of the index is to create a global benchmark for gender equality in the financial
services sector based on objective, concrete data and to ensure the greatest possible
transparency in the area. The Bloomberg index thus meets managers’ and investors’
need to check a company’s attitude and efforts in terms of gender equality. Moreover,
the index helps to spotlight and increase awareness of equality problems by favourably
singling out the companies with a strategic approach to reduce inequality.

The initiative from the financial sector’s leading information and news agency clashes with the
fact that the Danish Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs Brian Mikkelsen has set up an expertcommittee consisting solely of men. The task of the 14-member committee is to review the Basel committee’s recommendations on regulation of the financial sector to avoid future financial crises. Not surprisingly, Brian Mikkelsen was harshly criticised for his all-male committee. Following that criticism, he announced that he would rethink its composition. 

This example is a good illustration of how far we have to go still, or as McKinsey describes it in
its latest gender report: it’s time for a new manual for achieving equality, the old one doesn’t
work. We see far too many examples like this. McKinsey points out that we have to conduct an “uncompromising execution” of our equality initiatives and agenda. And we need to be more innovative and bold in our way of designing interventions.

“McKinsey points out that we have to conduct an “uncompromising execution” of our equality initiatives and agenda.”

A McKinsey partner shares how his wake-up call came during a client meeting: He turned up
to the meeting with a team of experts consisting solely of men; the client challenged him and
questioned whether the team was diverse enough to understand all aspects of the client’s
problem. Being confronted with his own blind angle made him immediately change his behaviour.

Unconscious bias hits hard

It’s imperative that we start dealing withour conscious or unconscious biases. In 2016, two
graduate students proved that job seekers with Middle Eastern names have to apply for 52%
more positions
to be invited to job interviews in Denmark. This result was based on 800 fictitious applications for 400 real jobs. The two applicants had the right education for each job and basically the same work experience and motivation. The only significant difference was their names. That is simply not good enough.

We all must try to uncover our blind spots, be inquisitive and free of prejudice and let ourselves be led by our hearts rather than our fears. Like the message in the video by the Danish broadcaster TV2, which has gone viral and has been viewed more than three million
times: “We live in a time where we quickly put people in boxes. But maybe we have more
in common than we think”.

I think TV2’s commercial owes its success to the fact that people fundamentally and intuitively
feel that it is more right to include and unite than to exclude and divide. 

The former creates safety, growth, joy and solidarity; the latter feeds our fears and creates
conflicts, setbacks and isolation. At the very least, we should educate ourselves about the
consequences of our choices. 

Incidentally, the fact is that Denmark does not need fewer citizens, but more. We have demography with a large ageing population. We have an alarming need for all the help we can get.

In the US, Thursday January 17 was “a day without immigrants” to highlight the role that
immigrants play in the US. More than 100 companies, restaurants and convenience stores
closed for the day in Wisconsin and in Charlotte, North Carolina, the figure was as high as 250. 

“We have demography with a large ageing population. We have an alarming need for all the help we can get.”

Maybe all Danes with non-western parents should choose a similar method to make an example. It would have a deep and resounding impact throughout our society.

For people to thrive and do their best, it is absolutely fundamental to have a sense of belonging – in your family, in school, at workplace and in society. To be accepted for who you are. We all have an obligation to make each other feel that way in our everyday lives. And as with everything else – the more power and influence we have, the greater responsibility we carry.

A responsibility to unite rather than divide.