The authors of The Inclusion Marathon, Zoë Papaikonomou and Kauthar Bouchallikht, in conversation with translator, interviewer and research assistant Elodie Kona.
Who’s behind The Inclusion Marathon?
Zoë Papaikonomou is an investigative journalist and writer specializing in equity and power structures. Kauthar Bouchallikt is an intersectional climate activist and currently a member of the Dutch parliament for the Green Left. Both have years of experience tackling the lack of diversity and inclusion in organizations and have researched the ins and outs of DEI work in the Netherlands. For this book, they interviewed 41 diversity practitioners and researchers about their experiences and expertise in the DEI field. The Inclusion Marathon was selected as Management Book of the Year in 2022.
Elodie: Farzin Farzad & Shiva Roofeh are both international pioneers on organizational justice and wrote the preface. They state: “this book is a brave interrogation of the Dutch image of self”. Why do you think The Inclusion Marathon is relevant within an international context and what does it add to the DEI literature that’s already out there?
Kauthar: I love that our book collects different perspectives. With this English version of our book, we hope to contribute to developing the DEI field internationally. As in this field, it’s a prerequisite to include as many views as possible. I hope the Dutch perspective can be a great addition to the existing literature and research.
Zoë: I’d like to add that our interviewees have roots worldwide and thus add to this broader perspective of DEI. And mind you, many books about diversity, equity and inclusion are based on the Anglo-Saxon point of view and the more popular books are widely distributed in the U.S. or Great Britain. Don’t get me wrong; these books are precious and very important but specific to British imperialism and colonialism. Even though these books and thinkers have meant a lot in our DEI journey, we can’t help but wonder which perspectives are left out. The Netherlands also has a colonial history that differs from Anglo-Saxon colonialism and imperialism. Our history can add to the knowledge of how colonial powers come to terms with their brutal past in the present day. For example, this has implications for present and future power dynamics, which may differ from the United States.
Power of The Collective
Elodie: I’d like to share another quote from organizational justice pioneers Shiva Roofeh and Farzin Farzad in the the preface: “At a time when we’re all struggling to make sense of all of these growing complexities, the authors maximize the use of the greatest tool that has yet to be leveraged fully in DEI work: the power of the collective.” Could you explain to the readers what’s meant by “the power of the collective''?
Zoë: Well, the more renowned books on DEI are often written by one person. We, however, included different voices to create a collective view on the subject. The individualistic approach is definitely very valuable, but it's often still one perspective, whereas we believe in the collective approach. We decided to integrate what various diversity practitioners experience in the workplace in the Netherlands and believe that their input forms interesting takeaways for the global DEI movement.
Kauthar: And I’d like to say this book also reflects on how the Netherlands is viewed abroad. We’re seen as tolerant and often like to boast about how tolerant and progressive we are compared to others. But, the Dutch self-image is often portrayed in a much better light than reality. So, it’s crucial to keep having DEI conversations in every country and not to be blinded by what seems to be going well. Let’s remove our rose-colored glasses to learn from our biases and move forward.
Elodie: Besides the collective approach, you’ve also chosen a start-build-sustain format in specific chapters. How can the reader interpret this structure?
Zoë: One of the reasons why we wanted to write this book is the ever-increasing urgency for DEI in the workplace and how many organizations claim, “we want to work on DEI, but we don’t know how”. Still, that’s no excuse for delaying your DEI efforts. Even if our book wouldn't exist, our book is part of a long list of existing books that help organizations along with the ‘how’. So, with the start-build-sustain format, we want to tell the reader: here's how! We’re not claiming we’ve created a blueprint for DEI in the workplace; that’s impossible, as every context has its specific complexities.
Kauthar: And let’s not forget the title of our book. It is a marathon! When working on DEI within an organization, you start by sharing knowledge, gathering expertise and putting everything into practice. Still, as the process continues, many developments occur within the company and society. So, this format is more like a cycle with different starting points, which means sustaining is about how all these trajectories ultimately collide and are intertwined with societal movements. It’s a never-ending path.
Zoë: We often joke that maybe we should have chosen ‘the endless inclusion marathon’ as the title of our book. (laughing)
Equity, Knowledge and Power
Kauthar: It's important to talk about sustaining because I often see initiatives starting with good intentions with lots of energy and urgency. But, if at some point the budget runs out or there is only a one-time budget made available, investing in DEI comes to a halt, organizations have to start from scratch and all hard work is lost. So, when you’re in the beginning phase, think about how you will sustain DEI for the long haul because this mindset influences how you set up the process at the start.
Zoë: Maybe people should start with ‘sustain’ because constantly repeating the cycle Kauthar mentioned is exhausting. In the chapter on the diversity practitioner, we note how diversity practitioners often end in burn-outs because of this never-ending cycle. We see this happening in the Netherlands and our international network. Even though this work has its heartwarming moments of shared stories and community-based learning, it does include the more sinister and nastier sides of organizations and human behavior.
Elodie: So, this word in Dutch, ‘gelijkwaardigheid’ is not a one-to-one translation of ‘equity’. Still, we decided to use ‘equity’ in the English translation. Let’s clarify why it’s so difficult to translate.
Zoë: Yeah, that was a tough one. Even though ‘equity’ isn’t a complete one-to-one translation of the Dutch word ‘gelijkwaardigheid’, we did choose it, as it's already so ingrained in the international context. For people who are reading this in English, who speak English as a first or second language, it's important to know that in the Netherlands, we were only talking about diversity and inclusion without equity. Our interviewees often mentioned the lack of equity in the diversity and inclusion discourse. We could’ve called it justice, as the letter J is also seen internationally.
But equity or ‘gelijkwaardigheid’, as we define it, is a combination of equity and justice. In the Netherlands, many organizations dive into the happy diversity talk (concept by Sara Ahmed); that’s nice and comfortable. Yet, they'd rather not talk about abuse of power, discrimination and bullying. The systemic and unjust barriers that work against diversity and inclusion. Then, all of a sudden, the discussion gets too complicated and unpleasant.
Kauthar: What immediately comes to mind is how words and language are also about power, even more so in an international context. Language determines who’s allowed to participate and what words are considered relevant. One must think carefully to ensure things get lost in translation and words don’t lose their original meaning.
Zoë: Our interviewees also describe how diversity and inclusion were coined to maintain the unequal status quo. And language forms a barrier in (unequal) conversations. For example, I've given lectures in English and been in international settings. I always state: I'm not a native English speaker and people kindly respond: oh, no problem! That's very nice, but I want to clarify that I may express words differently and terms might have different connotations. You must realize that as a native English speaker, you hold power because you can almost always express yourself in your native tongue, especially in international environments. Farzin Farzad, an American DEI specialist, says knowing your power(s) within spaces is important. So, if you are a native speaker in whichever context, use your powers wisely.
Kauthar: And the same goes for other important powers as Farzin Farzad, also one of our interviewees, describes in The Inclusion Marathon: Because of this historically grown inequality, we have developed a tendency to consider the views and opinions of white, upper-class males as the norm or the truth. Voices representing marginalized groups are regarded, for example, as the ‘Asian, Black or Muslim perspective’.” Now, Elodie, you’ve been with us from the beginning and written the English translation. I'm just curious, as you’ve experienced both worlds, the Dutch and global contexts. Did you start reading differently to keep the international context in mind?
Elodie: Not quite. I believe stories about slavery and colonialism in the United States are well-known globally. Still, the history of the Netherlands' brutal past sometimes slips through the cracks, as does the Belgian colonial past. I was mostly focused on how to preserve the Dutch-specific nuance without confusing English readers. Then, I wanted to find links between the Netherlands and other parts of the world. That’s where Farzin Farzad’s overarching explanation of power dynamics really helped, and the fact that he’s an American made it easier to apply the DEI discourses to different contexts.
Zoë: We’ve collected beautiful quotes from all our interviewees, of which we’ve included parts in the English translation. Could you name one or two quotes that stood out?
Elodie: Yes, Astrid Elburg’s quote: "The same knowledge in another body is worth less.” And when Farzin Farzad mentions "with great power comes great responsibility." Especially that last quote is one that many of us recognize from Spider-Man.
Kauthar: Both quotes combine what The Inclusion Marathon is about: knowledge, power and responsibility.
About the authors
Kauthar Bouchallikht (she/her) has published for various media outlets, has extensive civil society experience and is an intersectional climate activist. She became a member of Dutch Parliament for the green political party GroenLinks in 2021.
Zoë Papaikonomou (she/her) is an author, investigative journalist and lecturer. Her work is focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. Not only by researching this field, but also by challenging current structures and norms. In 2018 she published her first book ‘Got an angry Muslim for me?’ A book about Inclusive Journalism.
About the translator
Elodie Kona (she/her) is a journalist, copywriter, and communications specialist. She speaks and writes fluently in multiple languages and loves participating in climate- and DEI-related causes.
The Inclusion Marathon is available on your favorite ebook platform, some extra links:
- The Read Shop: https://lnkd.in/ehrMz43q
- Amazon: https://lnkd.in/eeDHeQxy
- AUP: https://lnkd.in/e-bzeYMb