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There is nothing wrong with people being different, it makes us better in everything we do

At Capgemini, it is about who you are and what your abilities are. It is not about where you are from, or what your orientation or gender is. Annet Harmsen is well placed to know what it is like to get people from different backgrounds and different preferences to work together. To make sure diversity and inclusion within the company continue to be safeguarded, we have various communities. One of these communities focuses on culture. By staging events and gatherings, this group makes sure that colleagues get to find out about each other’s customs, habits and cultures. Annet considers the cultural differences within the company to be enriching. Including in a personal sense. In her blog, she talks about what diversity and inclusion mean to her and what they bring Capgemini.

What is your role within Capgemini and in the community?

At Capgemini, I am in charge of the Application Managed Services (AMS) component. In practical terms, this means we perform long-term services for our clients, as part of which we look after the entire application landscape. Around about half of AMS works from the Netherlands, the other half is based in India. As the manager in charge of this department, I also have a lot of dealings with our colleagues out there.  An international team is important to enable us to deliver our services at national as well as international level.

In addition, I have been asked to involve myself with the ‘Culture’ stream, as I am already dealing with the topic of ‘culture’ quite a fair bit as it is in everyday practice. With good reason as this is something I take to heart. It is my role as a member of management to offer help whenever the community is looking to set up an event or launch a scheme. I help them create support and provide backing for the schemes they unfold.

Was this the main reason for you to sign up as part of this community?

Let me say first of all that I very much enjoy the international aspect of my job anyway. Getting to find out more about the sheer diversity of different cultural backgrounds, religions, creeds and persuasions that exist: I find it all greatly exciting. This not only enriches the work I do, it also enriches me as a person. At international video meetings, you sometimes catch a nice glimpse of people’s home kitchens. Which is when you notice big differences, in terms of housing or in terms of customs. But you also get to see similarities. Children who suddenly walk in, for instance. Whether I’m video-calling someone from Poland, France or India: that may happen everywhere. It is little things like these I really love. All of these experiences combined make me want to highlight the benefits of diversity and support my team in these endeavours even better.

How important is ‘culture' as a topic within Capgemini?

Very important. Perhaps it is something we could do more to promote to the outside world. Obviously, the staff are aware of the company’s vision and they are aware of the kind of things that are being organised. But I believe that it is precisely the fact that we are so very much involved in and with diversity is able to contribute to painting an even more positive picture to the outside world. It may even be a reason for potential employees to opt for a career with Capgemini.

Just looking at our Indian colleagues who come over to live and work in the Netherlands shows that it is important that they get the support they need. We provide support through the Dutch Language Programme for example, which we launched two years ago within AMS. At the time we were eager to pursue growth within the public sector market, but to the government and the public authorities, it is the important that people speak Dutch. At the time, we also taught a number of colleagues Dutch, people who do a marvellous job programming in Java, for example. This group of people now has a good command of Dutch, which means they can be committed to all kinds of different posts within the company.  Two years ago, we celebrated our first ever Diwali (the Indian Festival of Lights) with these colleagues at our Leidsche Rijn office. We went all-out, no holds barred. Finger food, music, all the bells and whistles. It turned out to be a huge success, where different cultures got to find out more about each other in an informal setting. So, on the back of that success, we decided to celebrate Diwali again this year, only this time everybody at AMS was invited. After exposing our Dutch colleagues to this Indian celebration, the Indians in turn joined us to celebrate Saint Nicholas. These are just a few examples of simple yet effective ways of bringing different cultures together. You get to know each other and gain a better understanding of one another’s culture, which is only conducive to the atmosphere, but also to peoples’ working relationships.    

To what degree do you notice that diversity plays a part in the result?

Someone with a different background will look at a particular issue from a different angle. This being the case, people will bring in ideas and views which may never even have occurred to you. Simply because it is not something you ever found yourself faced with before. It is just a different way of thinking. Which definitely constitutes added value for the company. I am a great believer in this. The idea behind the community is also to make sure that people feel they are being heard. That they are allowed to be who they want to be and know that they are appreciated. 

What is your personal ambition in terms of culture within Capgemini?

Inclusion is about taking action and taking a genuine interest in people. It is about people feeling heard, included and empowered to be who they want to be. The same applies in a cultural sense, and all the more so as this is so important in our line of work. My ambition is to make sure that, whatever your cultural background or beliefs may be, everybody feels part of the greater whole. And by the same token to make sure that we also have fun working together and learning from one another. Hopefully this manifests itself in enjoyable working relationships, as this is ultimately what it is all about.

How is your community set to evolve in times to come? What will you be doing?

One of our core values is diversity. There is nothing wrong with people being different. It is ingrained in our company as the sheer fact of operating on an ‘international scale’ by definition comes with cultural differences. To us, the national and international dimension is simply part of everyday life. To me, this is a very rewarding aspect of the work we do. So here is a standing invitation to all colleagues (from within and outside of Capgemini) to join us. It has certainly enriched my life.