Manifesto against work placement discrimination signed
For many students in higher education, work placement discrimination is an everyday reality. They may have a hard time securing a work placement or encounter discrimination during the work placement itself. This summer, universities of applied sciences, research universities, the Ministries of Education, Culture & Science and Health, Welfare & Sport, student associations and employers therefore signed a manifesto aimed at combating work placement discrimination. Students must receive support to ensure that everyone has the same chance of finding a work placement.
‘This is an important step toward equal opportunities for all our students, regardless of their migrant background, skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, religion or disability,’ says Board member Mieke van den Berg. ‘The plurality and diversity of parties who have signed the manifesto underscores its power and message: the only way to combat work placement discrimination is through a joint approach.’
Imagine a student with a migrant background who is denied a work placement at a certain organisation, while a classmate with a Dutch background is hired for a work placement at the same company. Or a student whose work placement application is rejected after they mention their non-heterosexual orientation. These are two examples of work placement discrimination: unequal opportunities in connection with obtaining a work placement, or discriminatory words or treatment during a work placement. This discrimination is based on identity characteristics such as skin colour, migrant background, sexual orientation, gender, religion and disability.
Robbert Dijkgraaf, Minister of Education, Culture and Science, says, ‘Equal opportunities are a top priority for me, which is why I intend to take a firm stance against work placement discrimination, both in higher education and in senior secondary vocational education. Only together can we combat this persistent problem. The higher education manifesto represents an important step in that direction.’
Studies have shown that work placement discrimination is structural in nature and has a major emotional impact on students. This form of discrimination negatively affects the victim's self-confidence and well-being and increases their chances of incurring a study delay or dropping out before graduation, while also making their entrance into the job market more difficult.
‘Factors such as a migrant background or sexual orientation can result in unequal opportunities in the job market. Being rejected, time and time again, based on intangible elements takes a toll on a person. Work placement discrimination has a tremendous impact on students and – in the worst-case scenario – can even cause them to drop out,’ explains our very own Machteld de Jong, professor of Diversity Issues at Inholland, who was closely involved in drafting the manifesto. ‘It is therefore crucial for educational institutions to be aware that finding a work placement is easier for some students than for others.’
With the manifesto, educational institutions and the business community are working together to develop joint interventions. ‘We're very proud of this, because work placement discrimination is unacceptable!’ Machteld says with conviction.
Work placement discrimination can only be stopped through joint effort. The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH), Universities of the Netherlands (UNL), the student associations ISO and LSVb, the Ministries of Education, Culture & Science and Health, Welfare & Sport, the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers and the Dutch Federation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises have now joined forces in order to do so. They are taking action by signing a manifesto against work placement discrimination in higher education and by establishing a joint long-term programme. In the manifesto, the partners acknowledge their shared responsibility for ending work placement discrimination and state that each of them is committed to help solve this complex problem in their own way.
Efforts to increase societal awareness of work placement discrimination will take place in cooperation with the national centre of expertise on diversity policy, ECHO, in the period through 2026. Another objective is the joint realisation of effective steps for improvement, both based on existing measures and by developing new methods. In addition, students, teaching professionals and employers will be trained, supported and activated with respect to combating work placement discrimination.
Employers are getting involved as well
Employers have an important role to play in combating work placement discrimination, too. The proposed ‘Supervision of equal opportunities in recruitment and selection’ Act will also apply to the recruitment and selection of work placement trainees. In order to support employers, connections are therefore being sought with programmes such as VIA (Further Integration in the Labour Market) and the Action Plan on Labour-market Discrimination. This is intended to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
‘Right now, students are often left to their own devices’
Noor Mohamed is in the final year of the Leisure & Events Management programme at Inholland and previously participated in the #DatMeenJeNiet (‘you can’t be serious’) project, which promoted speaking out against online discrimination. She also did a work placement at the Diversity Studies research group. Noor hopes that the manifesto will help make study programmes and businesses more aware of this issue. ‘As a student, you're often left to your own devices, with the idea that it will make you more self-reliant. I think that educational institutions could be more helpful in this regard by using their networks and making them available to students. That means, of course, that students have to apply for and arrange the work placement on their own.’
Lecturers need training and tools
Ona Birol, lecturer and researcher with Inholland's Diversity Studies research group says, ‘Lecturers have the greatest need for training and tools aimed at overcoming the hesitance to act and making it easy to openly discuss this matter with work placement organisations and with each other. We all tend to avoid conflict; everyone wants to keep things friendly. But there's nothing friendly about this topic – and that's OK. Some friction is natural. But we also need to empower people so they feel safe speaking out about this, without fear of being labelled a racist. Because in 99 per cent of cases, that isn't what's going on. This is about unconscious bias, i.e., making certain choices without being aware of the discriminatory effect. Dealing with the embarrassment and hesitance around this topic is very important to me and my colleagues.’
Work placement discrimination? No way!
Some time ago, the Diversity Studies research group at Inholland established the ‘Work placement discrimination? No way!’ platform. It is home to a community in which experiences and knowledge are shared and acknowledged. The documentary entitled Liever Fleur dan Fatima (Fleur over Fatima) is part of this project as well.
In September, a programme will be launched in cooperation with the centre of expertise on diversity policy for the purpose of developing interventions to help those in higher education combat work placement discrimination. The Diversity Studies research group will introduce the programme among Inholland's study programmes and lecturers and monitor the progress.