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Lies Parmentier is our first diversity & inclusion officer: ‘Avans won’t achieve 100 percent inclusivity by 2025’

Since 1 March, Lies Parmentier has been the first diversity & inclusion officer at Avans. In her view, Avans is making very good progress on diversity and inclusion, although there’s still plenty of work to be done. ”You have to look at the longer term.

”I’ve already had a very warm welcome from students, lecturers and other staff,’ says Parmentier. ‘The nice thing about Avans is that it’s friendly and informal. People like a chat and it’s easy to fit in. When I came for my job interview a group of students showed me the way to the right room. Avans is a very open institution, in terms of both people and buildings. I’ve got straight down to work, and so far I think it’s a nice place.’”

What’s your view of Avans in terms of diversity and inclusion?
”It’s an organisation where a great deal is already happening. There are research teams, activities, student and teacher initiatives and policy documents. Charters have been signed and you have the Pink Help Desk. So there’s a lot going on, but it’s fragmented. There are a lot of loose ends. And when certain individuals move on or students graduate, there’s a risk that some of these good initiatives might come to an end. That would be a shame.”

What are you going to do, as diversity officer?
”Working with my team, I’m going to tie up those loose ends. We’ll be meeting people, working together, coordinating and making choices – and not all of them will be popular. My role is to make and implement a diversity policy. To do that, first I’ll need to take stock of what is happening now and which areas should have priority. And I’m also here for those who currently have nothing to do with the theme of diversity and inclusion. It’s important to include them in the dialogue too.”

”There’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel. So much is happening already at Avans, and first we’ll take stock of that and work out how to make the most of existing structures. We’ll be publishing that in a policy document.”

Avans started looking for a diversity & inclusion officer last October. Of more than seventy applicants, Avans chose Lies Parmentier, who previously worked in the same position at the care organisation Driestroom. Lies is originally from Belgium. She trained as a remedial teacher and studied cultural anthropology. Later, she completed a postgraduate programme in colourful management and a post-Master’s programme to become a transcultural system therapist. Now, after sixteen years with her previous employer, Lies Parmentier has moved to Avans.

Why is it important for Avans to have a diversity officer?
”The Netherlands is an increasingly diverse society. As a large educational institution, you need a properly formulated and implemented diversity policy if you want to stay relevant. Avans wants to be accessible for both students and staff, and to serve as diverse a population as possible. To achieve this, you need a fully developed long-term plan and strategy that embraces diversity. The diversity and inclusion officer takes responsibility for that – working with a core team, because I can’t do it all alone.”

”As a large organisation you need to have a face. Diversity and inclusion play a role in every area, so it’s useful to have a single point of contact. Somebody to call on when help is needed.”

What themes do you think are the most important at Avans?
”Gender equality is a very relevant theme. You have the Pink Help Desk, but the subject of women who are outnumbered by men in their programme is also an important one. Then there’s cultural diversity. When I first arrived here, a lot of people told me that Avans is a very white organisation. I’ve also noticed that neurodiversity is a relevant theme. We have students who live with a functional impairment such as ADHD, for example, as well as students with physical limitations. So really we’re talking about students for whom Avans is not always as accessible as it should be.”

What have your first tasks been?
”I have an orientation period of two months. I’m using that time to find out where we are now, working with colleagues. The sooner we can get started the better, as far as I’m concerned, because I want to do the best that I possibly can for Avans. By the end of those two months, we also aim to have decided what we’re going to tackle first.”
”As a diversity officer you have to take a longer-term view, just as the organisation in which you work does. It takes seven to eight years to achieve cultural change. It doesn’t happen overnight. In 2025, when Ambition2025 is over, Avans will not be 100 percent diverse and inclusive – I can tell you that now.”

There will probably be those who think that Avans doesn’t need a diversity officer, and that there is too much fuss about this subject.
”And they have a right to their opinions. But diversity and inclusion are very important for around ten percent of people, and they will see things very differently. And then you’ll have ten percent who think it’s all a load of nonsense and a waste of time. The other 80 percent know very little about it, but they are supportive of change. That’s fine. As a good diversity officer, you need to be able to see things from the perspectives of all those different groups and engage in a dialogue with them. That’s part of my job.”

”Some people say that diversity and inclusion are something new, and that they weren’t important in the past. But that’s not true. Diversity has always been there as an issue. It’s just that it comes in waves.”

When people look at you, some might also say ‘another white woman in the position of diversity officer’.
”As I said at my job interview: if you’re looking for a black woman in a wheelchair, that’s not me. But I am a woman and an immigrant to this country, and throughout my life I have regularly had to adapt to new cultures and languages. I also have three neurodiverse children, which poses all kinds of challenges for them personally, for us as a family and most importantly for the outside world. I don’t think it’s about what you look like, but who you are and what you do.”

Lies Parmentier and her colleagues have already scheduled a number of activities. For example, there will be an iftar (the breaking of the fast during Ramadan) in Breda on 11 April, and the theme of diversity and inclusion will also be discussed during the Avans Day on 13 April.

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