The EU has cut race and ethnicity out of its plans for staff diversity

Image: EPA/Olivier Hoslet
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There is a glaring omission in the European Commission’s bid to be more diverse.

While the Commission has taken concrete steps to ensure there are more women in management positions, buildings are accessible to disabled staff, and that there is more awareness of the needs of LGBT and older staff members, the Commission’s “Diversity and Inclusion Strategy” fails to include any targets or measures to be more racially inclusive.

The strategy specifically focuses on four groups: women, LGBTI people, disabled persons, and older people. The Commission states its strategy is part of its ongoing efforts to improve the diversity among its 32,000 staffers.

In a statement emailed to Quartz, a spokesperson for the Commission says the diversity strategy includes measures that are “relevant for everyone.” (They didn’t, however, point out any specific measures to increase racial and ethnic diversity and address the concerns of ethnic minorities).

How did race get omitted from a commitment to diversity? First, the strategy appears to be a response to demands from certain groups within the Commission. The spokesperson says they set out “targeted measures following input we received from the various stakeholders consulted when preparing the strategy.” Second, the Commission’s ability to act on improving racial diversity is limited, since it isn’t allowed to collect data on the racial and ethnic make-up of its staff.

Racial data is a thorny issue among EU member states. While the UK is happy to collect data in order to measure progress on racial equality, France is fiercely against the collection of such information.

In France, racial statistics have long been associated with Nazi Germany and the French government’s complicity in rounding up tens of thousands of Jews and sending them to their death. To this day, opposition to racial statistics remains strong. When the issue of collecting racial statistics came up in France in 2007, many academics signed a letter of protest stating:

Ethnic statistics would have the effect of bringing in the notion of ‘race’—whose non-scientific character and danger are well-known by all—and to foster inter-community conflicts.

The EU is therefore stuck. The Commission can call on European institutions and member states to improve the lives of ethnic minorities (for example, the Commission calls on national governments to be more inclusive of Europe’s largest ethnic minority, Roma citizens). But to respect the sensitivity around this issue, the Commission can’t measure how well it’s doing on that front.

However, the Commission is free to collect data on female representation. Among its most ambitious targets in the strategy is a goal to ensure women occupy 40% of top positions by 2019. Currently, women made up 33% of senior management roles and 36% at middle management.

The Commission has been slammed for slow progress on gender equality. Last year, its budget and human resources chief threatened to halt hiring of men unless more was done to increase female representation in management. It remains unclear how much progress the Commission has since made—on the day it launched its new diversity strategy (July 19), the Commission promoted six men and no women to top jobs, Politico reports.