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Diversity high on the agenda

  • In 2013, more than 24,000 women were employed in the chemical and life sciences industry.
  • This represents 27.5% of total workforce in the sector. This percentage is consistently higher in the chemical and life sciences industry than in general manufacturing (22.7%).
  • The percentage share of women employed in the chemical and life sciences industry rose steadily on the medium term, whereas this share has constantly diminished in the total manufacturing industry.
  • 63% of women working in the chemical and life sciences sector had a higher degree compared with 41% for general manufacturing. Increasingly, women are occupying leadership roles and management positions in a range of functions including human resources, finance, plant management and research.
  • More than half (57% in 2013) the female researchers employed in manufacturing work for in the field of chemicals and life sciences. In 2013, women accounted for 43% of researchers working in the chemical and life sciences industry.
  • According to a recent study (2013) from the research institute HIVA of 177 companies of the sector, ordered by Co-Valent, the training funds of chemistry and life sciences, diversity lives in the chemical and life sciences sector. Diversity is larger than just the gender issue and covers also the employment of older workers, persons with a handicap, persons of foreign origin. About half the respondents claim that they pay attention to the issue of employing target groups. One organization out of three even has a specific person who is responsible for stimulating diversity. Moreover, companies claim that vacancies for critical functions can be a lever to attract workers with a profile that is different from traditional groups.

Sector initiatives

Why employees with a disability do not necessarily constitute a limitation


Employing someone with a disability is a matter of concern to everyone. Merely as a result of the ageing workforce in the sector, there is a good chance that sooner or later your organisation will be faced with a situation where an employee acquires a disability. A lot of companies are not aware of the support measures that are available to re-employ that employee without sacrificing productivity.

Co-valent, the training fund of the sector, has launched the campaign ‘Straffe werknemers, slimme werkgevers’ or ‘Valuable employees, smart employers’ This campaign is intended to inform organisations in the sector and raise awareness on this matter. More information can be found on www.co-valent.be/nl/arbeidsbeperking/#.

This web page shows, by means of a few specific cases, how employees with a disability can be successfully incorporated into an organisation. These practical examples are available thanks to the cooperation of companies such as Ineos, BASF and Deceuninck.

On this web page companies can also find all kinds of useful links to organisations that can help them with their application for support and guidance when hiring or re-employing employees with a disability.

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How diversity in the labour market can be turned into an asset

Tomorrow’s labour market is not only becoming increasingly tighter, it is also becoming more diverse. The sector wants to be fully prepared to meet these changing conditions. Hence, it wishes to gain insight into the manner in which organisations deal, and cope, with the increasing diversity in the labour market. It is within this context that the HIVA (Onderzoeksinstituut voor Arbeid en Samenleving – Research Institute for Work and Society), at the request of Co-valent, the sector’s training fund, conducted an in-depth study with the participation of 177 companies from within the sector. The study was conducted in combination with conversations with a number of respondents. The insights that were gained from these conversations – together with available government figures – revealed a number of interesting facts.

Employment is primarily male-oriented

The chemicals, plastics, and life sciences sector is characterized by a majority of male collaborators. Two-thirds of the organisations (65.7%) employ fewer than 30% female collaborators. Although the number of women in our sector is increasing, it is clear that amongst the blue-collar workers and in base chemicals, male workers predominate. It is noteworthy that women employed in the sector have, in average, a higher level of education than their male counter-parts.

A sector with a rapidly aging profile

On the one hand, the sector counts a low and still declining percentage of workers in their thirties while, on the other hand, the number of 45+ workers is increasing. In fact, in more than 20% of the organisations the workforce consist of more than half of employees aged over 45. It is worth noting that, within the pharma subsector, the general age of the collaborators is below that within the base and processing chemicals.

Origin of collaborators is very diverse

We note within the sector that, on the organisation level, we are faced with a very diverse reality for what concerns the employment of individuals of foreign origin. Nearly all organisations are employing workers of foreign origin, yet within the sector’s total worker population their numbers represent only a mere 7.5% of total employment figures. Persons coming from a country outside of the EU15 states are primarily to be found within the blue-collar group and are mainly less-skilled. The highly educated individuals originate primarily from the EU15 states and are found predominantly within the pharma subsector.

Low employment figures for impaired workers

Only within a very small percentage of companies (25%) impaired collaborators are employed. Mostly it is limited to one person or a few people engaged by larger corporations. Their conspicuous absence may be explained by concerns and regulations about safety and the difficulties that present themselves in the arrangement of suitably adapted workstations or the composition of functional responsibilities that take their individual disabilities into due consideration. Furthermore, organisations are either wholly unaware of, or poorly acquainted with, existing support measures for such individuals.

An active diversity policy

The topic of ‘diversity’ is very much alive within the sector. Moral-ethical arguments form an important motive to engage in diversity. In addition, various organisations advance economic arguments as well, such as reducing the number of unfilled bottleneck job vacancies. Nearly half of the organisations (48%) professes to pay attention to the problem of employment for certain target groups. One in three companies even employ a specific employee to be responsible for ensuring equal opportunities for all collaborators within the organisation. The diversity principle is primarily focused on actions of particular concern to elder employees. At this very moment half of the companies have already taken measures to be able to continue the employment of such older workers for a longer period of time. To that end, specific steps are taken towards adapting the organisation and the conditions of their employment. Likewise, training programmes for elder collaborators and/or supervisors are provided.

The leverage effect of hard-to-fill job vacancies

Because of the relatively older age structure within the labour market, the number of job replacement vacancies within the sector will only increase. Already now, the sector is forced to cope with a number of professions for which job vacancies are not easy to fill. Certainly vacancies that require specific technical qualifications can remain open for a long time.

Nonetheless, these hard-to-fill jobs can serve as a leverage for employees whose profile does not fit readily within the standard traditional recruitment and selection process, although a revolving door effect needs to be avoided by supporting the influx of such specific employees with a broadly based policy wherein diversity and a long-term sustainable career go hand-in-hand.

Source: HIVA study ‘Diversity’ by Miet Lamberts, 2013. With thanks to all of the participating companies.

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