New professor aims to make the world of work more inclusive: ’We need everyone to participate’

- EN - NL
What if everyone could participate in the economy? According to Professor Rene Bakker, a more inclusive labor market would solve a lot of problems. In his new role as Professor of Inclusive Entrepreneurship and Employment at Tilburg University, he will explore how to break down the social barriers that prevent people with disabilities, the elderly, immigrants and other groups from reaching their full potential. "With all the challenges the world is facing today, we really need all the talent we have."

Rene Bakker will join the Tilburg School of Economics and Management (TiSEM) from June 2024, where he will take on the role of Professor of Inclusive Entrepreneurship and Employment. He will focus on how to include people with a larger distance to the labor market in society and the economy. We asked Professor Bakker five questions about his research.

What exactly will you be researching at Tilburg University?

"My chair relates to understanding and promoting the economic and societal inclusion of people with a larger distance to the labor market. You can think of people with an immigration background, for example, or seniors, or people with a disability. These groups face unequal opportunities to participate and earn a living. Take people who are living with a disability, for example. I am sure that most would agree that being disabled should not mean being disqualified from having access to any aspect of life. However, in The Netherlands, there are over two million people living with a disability, yet they are much less likely to be employed, and they report a lower quality of life, lower happiness, and more loneliness and depression. Consider this to be the situation in a country as well developed as the Netherlands. In many areas of the world, the inclusion of marginalized groups like people living with an impairment is even more challenging."

People with disabilities often face physical barriers to the labor market. But you mainly look at social barriers. Why?

"Even though you cannot see such social barriers, they are just as real. My main focus is on stigma, although I look at other factors as well. Stigma is central to the lives of those who face unequal opportunity, and it is very destructive because we know people ultimately have a tendency to start behaving according to the stigma society sticks on them.

Think of the significant challenges we face as a population. Climate change, inequality, poverty. We cannot have people sit idly at the sidelines.

It’s important that we take these barriers down, because we really need all the talent we have. Think of the significant challenges we face as a population. Climate change, inequality, poverty. We cannot have people sit idly at the sidelines. Also, a diverse workforce is more innovative, adaptive and resilient. So unlocking the potential of marginalized groups of people does not just benefit them, it benefits us all."

You take a unique research approach. In addition to looking at social barriers rather than physical barriers, what else makes your work different from what has been done before?

"I take a positive perspective. The glass is half full! Maybe having to deal with some horrible disease or disability breeds resilience. Resilience is a key success factor for entrepreneurs and for being successful at work. Maybe some of the groups I work with could particularly be good at their jobs if they weren’t stigmatized. Another point of difference is that I take a unique methodological approach using experiments and large-scale archival data. Much of the previous work in this space is based on qualitative data."

What does inclusive entrepreneurship and inclusive employment look like in practice?

"Inclusive entrepreneurship and inclusive employment present two alternative paths by which people with a larger distance to the labor market can participate and be included in society. My vision is that entrepreneurship and the business world more generally are, or at least have the potential to be, diverse and inclusive landscapes promoting the inclusion of those with a larger distance to the labor market. But we are not realizing this potential. My research, teaching, and outreach activities try to address that problem."

The world of work as an inclusive, diverse space - is that merely a vision for the future, or are there any real-world examples?

"Yes, absolutely! A good example of inclusive entrepreneurship are the impact investors that recognize that seed funding seems to favor male, white, able-bodied entrepreneurs, and that specifically seek to finance ventures started by women, or entrepreneurs with an immigration background, or those that have a physical or cognitive impairment. Not just because these entrepreneurs face a funding penalty, but also because some of these ventures are really, really promising. So it’s a win-win.

ASML would not be where it is today if it had not captured the unique talents and skills of its neurodiverse employees.

A good example of inclusive employment, I believe, is ASML, particularly when it comes to neurodiversity. ASML takes a very active approach in recruiting, onboarding and coaching neurodiverse staff, through employee networks like Atypical. They recognize the unique set of skills neurodiverse talent has, provided this talent is used to its full potential. ASML would not be where it is today if it had not captured the unique talents and skills of its neurodiverse employees. Again, there’s a clear win-win here. And I believe that is the key to inclusion in the economy-you need to find and recognize the win-wins. Ideally, we should of course all try to be inclusive just because of the morality of it. But if there is a clear business case supporting inclusion as well, that’s when it becomes a much easier sell and you can make most impact. That’s really key to my thinking. Doing well by doing good, as they sometimes say."

    Rene Bakker

    Professor of Inclusive Entrepreneurship and Employment

    Rene Bakker is Full Professor of Inclusive Entrepreneurship and Employment at Tilburg University. He also serves as a Field Editor for one of the top journals in entrepreneurship, the Journal of Business Venturing, and as a member of the Editorial Board of the Academy of Management Review. He is also a member of the Young Erasmus Academy and a recent laureate of an NWO VIDI grant supporting his research into the inclusion of people with disabilities. The Financial Times recently covered his ongoing work in this area.

    Before joining Tilburg University, Bakker was Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University (USA), and Associate Professor at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. His award-winning research has been published in the leading management journals and top media outlets and has had significant scholarly and societal impact. In addition, he works with several large organizations who share his vision that the world of work could and should be made more inclusive. Bakker has also obtained multiple competitive grants throughout the years, totaling well over 1.2M in external funding.

    Prof. Bakker has extensive experience teaching at all levels. He has won several awards for his teaching as well, and recently wrote a textbook (with Greg Fisher and John Wisneski) titled Strategy in 3D: Essential Tools to Diagnose, Decide, and Deliver , published by Oxford University Press.