What your organisation can learn from the Eurovision Song Contest about diversity

read morecontact us

Jun 3, 2021

Blog by Anne van Marwijk

In the wake of the protests of last summer and the efforts of activists, many companies are asking themselves how to become more inclusive. They are asking themselves how to change their inclusive ideals into practical reality and how they can ensure their workforces represent diversity. Although learning is taking place, actual changes are often slow.

Last month, Europe’s arguably largest queer celebration took the stage in Rotterdam as the Eurovision Song Contest of 2021 took place. The contest is viewed by more than 200 million people annually. Countless artists compete to represent their country on the Eurovision stage. As a big fan of this massive cultural display of identity since I was a little kid, I was eager to attend the show taking place in my home country.

Eurovision: you either hate or love it, but one thing is blatantly obvious for all. This is a stage where everybody is welcome and everybody is loved (ok, maybe not if you’re currently from the UK). This year saw a song in Surinamese with references to the Black Lives Matter movement, a performance from an artist with Gilles de la Tourette and a kick-ass presenter who is a transgender woman. Earlier wins of the contest by Dana International and Conchita Wurst show that this is not a recent phenomenon. Every year diversity is celebrated and the most widely flown flag is the one in rainbow colours.

However, the Eurovision stage is not consciously filled with such diverse artists. There are no policies in place that manage diversity in acts and participants. Rather, Eurovision seems to invite or even draw diversity to it. It is diverse without having to try.

What corporate lesson can we draw from this? It tells us that the way towards inclusive representation is not just by creating policies that direct diversity in the workspace. Rather, it is about creating spaces that are in itself inviting.

Political sociologist John Gaventa separates ‘invited spaces’, where people are invited to participate, and ‘claimed spaces’, where people claim a space or create it for themselves. In this case, the key is in creating appealing spaces that everyone wants to join and make their own, whether you’re singing Hard Rock Hallelujah or bringing a power ballad. And if you’re not on the Eurovision stage, to create a working environment that appeals to a diverse audience and enables the space to be claimed.

Let’s see what happens if we shift part of the focus from creating new policies and finding diverse team members to designing new spaces. Spaces, like the Eurovision stage, that are inviting to all. Bring on the glitter!