Diversity in organizational Policy and Culture: Interview with Home Care Director and Geriatric Specialist Emete Solmaz

As recent discussions about race and exclusion triggered by the Black Lives matter movement and the tragic murder of George Floyd have highlighted, racism affects our daily lives. The health care sector is no exception. Therefore, it is important that we continue to work towards care organizations that can meet the needs of clients from different cultural, ethnic and linguistic background with respect and sensitivity to the individual’s needs. A recent interview with Emete Solmaz, director of Royaal Thuis home care, conducted by Eniec member Jan Booij reveals both the struggles and achievements that one can encounter on the path to a diversity-sensitive organization. The interview is the first in a series for Divers Den Haag (Dutch only) and the text is written by Carla van den Bergen and adapted and translated by Hanna Carlsson.

Overcoming prejudice

Royaal thuis home care was started in 2010 in response to the unmet care needs that Emete and her brothers identified among members of the Dutch-Turkish community in the Hague. Although their first clients were Duth-Turkish former guest workers, their ambition was to provide diversity-sensitive care to people from all backgrounds:

“From the very beginning, our policy has been to serve everyone in the Hague, whatever their background. That is what we have communicated as an organization, consciously and clearly, and that is the principle guiding our actions. But that does not mean that it always is easy”

Emete explains that the management encountered obstacles to provide diversity sensitive care. The first ones occurred in their relationships with some other care organizations, who had prejudices against organizations with a migrant and diversity-sensitive profile. Emete was asked questions which suggested that her organization was unprofessional. Emete knew from her earlier work as a geriatric specialist that such questions would not be asked to mainstream organizations. These questions made Emete and her colleagues felt that they always had to be better than others, since any mistake would confirm the bias against the organization. Despite facing conscious and unconscious prejudice, Royal Thuiszorg prevailed and has become an established organization in The Hague. The key according to Emete was to trust in the competence of herself and her organization:

We were new and different. We wanted to be fully part of the care market. And if we wanted to achieve something, and we definitely wanted to, then we would have to invest our strengths, capacities and knowledge (…) I believed that the trust would come eventually.

Since the early days, Royaal Thuis Home Care has created good relationships with other organizations and engage in knowledge exchange through the platform Divers Den Haag. Emete attributes this change both to increased attention to diversity in care and to continuous communication with other organizations, with empathy and confidence in her own organizations’ competence as starting point.

Staying diversity sensitive -establishing an organizational culture

Keeping diversity among staff and clientele is important to maintain a diversity sensitive organization. Emete points out that attracting diverse staff and clients only is the start; keeping them is the real challenge. Her experience is that retaining diversity in staff and clients requires the management to see diversity as positive and to invest energy in maintaining it. However, there is not a single recipe for how to achieve this. Rather, she emphasizes that diversity policy requires that the organization focuses on communication between the organization’s staff. Building relationships and diversity-sensitivity is a long-term process.

“Everyone has their own way of working and there will be clashes. But that offers opportunities to deepen communication and reflection: we can talk about what happens in the clashes, and how we can improve.”

Continuous discussions ask a lot both from staff and management. Taking an example from the school her sons currently attend, Emete highlights how, next to a dedication to equality, it is important with such an open-minded culture. If you can communicate when there are problems, you create understanding and a different atmosphere in the organization. That becomes reflected in the daily functioning of the organization.

Looking towards the future

Despite the prejudice and suspicion that Emete has faced, alongside positive experiences throughout her career, she remains hopeful about the future. She finds reasons to be positive both in the in-depth conversations she has with other care and welfare organizations through Diver Den Haag, and in the shift towards more inclusion of different cultures on the national level in the Netherlands.

“These days both the King and the prime minister speak out about sensitive issues such as discrimination and structural inequality and how that is institutionalized in our system. They also commemorate important events such as Ramadan, Eid and Keti Koti alongside Easter, Ascension and King’s day. That makes a difference. It shows you that are included, that you belong, that I belong. That is something I would want to see more of in the Hague too.”

As members of ENIEC we continue to work towards our vision of intercultural understanding and respect for the needs and cultural background of ethnic minority elders. Have your organization also taken steps towards inclusive care which could inspire other members? Please contact Hanna Carlsson (h.carlsson@fm.ru.nl) or another member of the newsletter team so that we can share your ideas and experiences in the next newsletter.