Guillaume Boutin, chief executive of the telecommunications company Proximus, has become the first senior private sector executive to speak out on the question of racial diversity, De Tijd reports.
Boutin was intervening in a dispute between far-right Flemish party Vlaams Belang and his company’s major competitor Telenet.
That dispute centred on a recruitment advertisement produced by Telenet for its network management division. The ad featured a woman wearing a Muslim headscarf or hijab.
The aroused the ire of Vlaams Belang member Sam Van Rooy, who tweeted, “The totalitarian, woman-suppressing symbolism of the Islamic body covering for girls and women is centuries old, recorded in the Quran and Hadith and until further notice not determined by Telenet or a few individuals but by imams, muftis & Islamic law schools.”
Telenet replied to point out the photos used in its recruitment advertising are all photos of current Telenet employees. “We are convinced that investment in diversity ad experience makes a difference every day.”
Posting on his personal account, Boutin replied, “100% agree. I truly believe that when diversity is embraced and valued, as Telenet said, it allows for more creativity and innovation, and increases a company’s performance.”
Van Rooy, who boasts he is the most shared Twitter member in Flanders, later added, “Take a look: Proximus supports Telenet. Tough competitors in internet/telephony, but allies to normalise the Islamic veil, which also affects millions of (underage) girls and women worldwide, also in Belgium. Shame on you, @proximus.”
Telenet and Proximus are the country’s two largest companies for mobile telephony and internet, and commercially, there is no love lost between the two.
Boutin’s overt support for Telenet has thereby more of an impact that any isolated statement by either company, especially since he posted not on the official Proximus account, but on his personal account, which has only 372 followers.
“Boutin’s move makes sense,” marketing expert Fons Van Dyck told the paper. “In the United States, it has been a trend among companies for years to speak out against all forms of discrimination. The Black Lives Matter protests have reinforced that. Procter & Gamble is the most recent large company to join, calling for active action against racism.”
Proximus employs 48 different nationalities, but only one in three employees is a woman. As a partly state-owned company, Proximus has not only a fiduciary duty to its shareholders, but also a social responsibility. Last year the board decided that in future, the bonuses of directors would be evaluated partly on the basis of the company’s global reputation.