The Diversity-at-work Career Forum (DCF) is an initiative aiming to improve chances and capabilities of specific disadvantaged groups in the labour market. Thus, it is an initiative targeting diversity management to favour labour participation of discriminated-against targets. In this respect, DCF can be considered as an initiative targeting social mobility, since it aims at enhancing social and economic resources and relations for some disadvantaged groups, changing their public image and promoting their social participation.
It is organised as a career day, matching supply and (discriminated) demand. It took place for the first time in 2007 in Milan. Hereafter it was repeated in other Italian cities (Rome, Naples, Padua and Catania) (Unar, 2014). DCF is organised, after several months of preparations through a dedicated website (www.diversitalavoro.it), once a year in Milan. It takes place in the city centre and has more than a city-level dimension, but the territorial distribution of events is aimed at having local ripple effects. There, firms can upload their job vacancies and candidates their curricula. Candidates’ best matching vacancies are invited for a job interview at the career day.
The partners involved in the implementation of this initiative are both from civil society and public sector: the promoter is UNAR (National Office Against Discrimination), with Sodalitas Foundation (engaged in business social responsibility), Adecco Foundation for Equal Opportunities, and People (a firm specialized in organizing career days). After the first year, when it was launched with public funds, the project became economically independent thanks to payments from participating firms. The partners in the project have an advocacy role, but also ‘gatekeep’ between target groups and the labor market.
Today, target candidates belong to three categories: foreigners, disabled, and transgender. When the initiative started, the target group only consisted of the first one; thus the initiative is gaining in scope.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The project explicitly addresses diversity in the three forms mentioned above (foreigners, disabled and transgender), so there is an attention for the issues related to ethnic and cultural background, physical and mental disadvantage, and to gender. This juxtaposition of diversities in a sole event may lead to some sort of attention towards hyper-diversity – even though it is not explicitly addressed nor problematized in terms of intersectionality. Also, there seems to be not so much attention on ‘labelling’ practices and the choice to put together different types of diversities.
Being the promoter of the national anti-discrimination office, the primary conceptualization of diversity is based on critical and negative dimensions of disadvantage and discrimination. Indeed, DCF focuses on problems that target groups may meet in the labour market access.
Though, the aim of DCF is to reverse this situation with positive discrimination, in order to bring out capabilities and talents of target groups, and to create job opportunities to them. In this sense, diversity may also have a positive side if properly acknowledged. Actually, the discourse underlying DCF is that diversity could be a value, once neutralised prejudice and access barriers. What is more, it may be a factor fostering economic performance.
Main factors influencing success or failure
According to the interviewed expert from UNAR, DCF has the positive effect of increasing the number of target group members in the labor market. ‘Impact’ on the labour market and ‘concreteness’ are terms used to describe the main strengths of DCF.
The impact on the labor market is measured with the number of firms and candidates taking part into the career day, and the share of candidates that find a job thanks to DCF. In 2013, selected candidates were 1000, and participating firms were 40; job interviews were 16.000.
This may be based on a specific background factor, i.e. the public-private partnership that allows the participation of a number of important business groups. The number and profile of partners ensure an effective collaboration, being the roles well defined, according to the interviewee and the document analysis.
Though, just 6% of the candidates have found a job in one of the participating firms. The share is low, but slightly increased in comparison to 2012 (+1%), and this is considered satisfactory enough by promoters. In this respect, as a factor of weakness, the involvement of firms seems more symbolic than actual. In this respect, effectiveness pertains more the public image of some diverse group and their actual labour participation. Thus, a risk of failure comes from the possible gap between targets’ expectation of labour market inclusion, and actual chances. Another factor of weakness is the low (if any) participation of small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up the largest part of Italian economy. Just large firms take part into DCF. As a consequence, one of the goals for the next editions is to increase the role of SMEs.
As an example of success, it may be considered that the inclusion of transgender population was due to claims from members of this group themselves, after the first year of activity. Thus, DCF proved to be open to different diversities and supporting empowerment of disadvantaged groups.
Furthermore, the involvement of business world may increase the attention toward business social responsibility and advantages of diversity in recruitment. This issue has been underlined with the institution of Diversity & Inclusion Awards, honouring enterprises, which recruited people via DCF.
This initiative is an example of a public-private network that cooperates in an integrated way. The actual impact on society at local level seems quite moderate in terms of economic performance, but potentially interesting in terms of social mobility and quite successful in acknowledging discriminated-against minorities as potentially successful economic actors. By shedding light on discrimination in the labour market, DCF increases awareness in the society at large, among economic actors and the disadvantaged groups.
Website: Diversity-at-work Career Forum