Foto: Maarten Delobel

'I didn't want to be the token Moroccan'

Marjolein de Jong14 August 2019

Research shows that white employees mostly fill top-level positions at many companies on the Zuidas, also known as the Financial Mile. Mustapha Abdellati, the only partner of Moroccan descant working for Ernst & Young Nederland, is putting effort into creating greater workplace diversity. 

How does E&Y do in regards to diversity? 

„With the new influx of employees, we see a reasonable reflection of society. Our challenges lie mostly in keeping these people here and have them work their way up. It’s still a struggle to get them to the top.” 

What causes you to lose these people higher up in the company? 

„Personally, I see that colleagues from a different background generally have trouble finding their own place. Due to their cultural background and often their different interests, they don’t have that natural connection with people working top-level positions. When working with teams, people frequently choose employees they can relate to. They often never or rarely even interact with people from non-western backgrounds. If people are allowed to choose freely, they generally prefer a natural connection.”  

„I more or less had to prove myself first.”

You managed to push through. How did that come about? 

„I was mostly chosen as part of the team because of my knowledge and abilities. I notice others are sometimes chosen based on recognisability, or when that person has a likable personality. That wasn’t the case for me. I more or less had to prove myself first.” 

Has diversity always been important to you? 

„I’m now seen as a role model, but I used to completely ignore it. I didn’t want to be the token Moroccan. The only thing I wanted was to do my job well, to be seen as fully-fledged and to not associate with people who looked like me. Other wise it would feel as if I was getting higher up because of my background. I now believe that, even if that had been the case, I still have a responsibility.” 


How are you trying to create greater workplace diversity?

„If during meetings people with a non-western background are being criticized, I try to figure out whether these critiques can be blamed on cultural differences. Maybe someone who appears to be shy doesn’t speak out because that’s his or her way of showing respect culturally. I then try to explain that this might also be due to their cultural background. On top of that, I play an active role in team composition and job applications.”  

„I was never allowed to attend my friends’ parties because they might serve pork.”

Which cultural differences did you have to learn to overcome yourself? 

„I used to live in between two cultures, which forced me to adapt continuously. What was normal at home wasn’t normal outside of the house. Respect for your elders is very important within Moroccan culture. When elders speak, you’re supposed to be quiet. Outside of the house, it was important to speak your mind. If you don’t do that, you’re considered quiet or shy in Dutch culture. That was a mental switch. Even now, I sometimes need to tell myself to speak up during meetings.'"

Are there any cultural differences you’re struggling with? 

„Those mostly happened when I was little. I was never allowed to attend my friends’ parties because they might serve pork. You can imagine what that’s like when you’re young. This caused me to never step foot inside my friends’ homes and my parents never interacted with other parents, which didn’t benefit our integration. When my three children attend their classmates’ birthday parties, I make sure to call the parents beforehand and tell them my children are not allowed to eat any pork. Problem solved. You need to integrate, with respect for each other’s religious beliefs."

*Monitor Talent naar de Top 2018.