Representing and empowering the black community

ING’s Black Employee Inclusion Group (BEING) is celebrated its first birthday on 10 June 2021. The network has already made its presence felt in its short period of existence, but if Kelly Morales, Mohamed Sylla and Xiomara Blank have anything to do with it, this is just the start!

Kelly founded BEING “because sometime it’s challenging to be the only black person in the room. I have worked in teams where I was the only one without blonde hair and blue eyes, or who wasn’t Dutch. I’ve studied and lived in the Netherlands for eight years and have everything sorted – a job, a house, a partner... and yet I still feel a little lonely at times. I wanted to get in touch with people who look more like me whom I could relate to more easily.”

White bubble

Both Mohamed – who is a member of the Balance Sheet Risk Management Team at ING Belgium – and Xiomara – who works in the Customer Loyalty Team for Investments in Amsterdam – echo Kelly’s experiences. “Moreover, it seems logical to me that as a bank we want to reflect society. For example, our Dutch head office is in the middle of a black neighbourhood: Amsterdam’s Bijlmer district,” says Xiomara. “The same goes for our HQ in Brussels,” adds Mohamed. “So it would be crazy to preserve a ‘white bubble’ inside, even if it is completely unintentional.”

Not innocent incidents

Kelly: “When I talked about this idea in the beginning it felt a bit uncomfortable, but then the Black Lives Matter movement exploded and people began to understand what I was talking about.” Xiomara: “As black people, we all go through a lot – and that’s not a complaint, but a fact. For example, when wearing my hair in an afro I’ve had colleagues (before I joined ING) stroking me like a pet. I’ve also experienced some very unpleasant confrontations – even with managers – about ‘Zwarte Piet’, which thankfully they later apologized for.” Mohamed continues: “We can all give lots of examples like this. For us, they aren’t innocent incidents, but events that hurt and affect us deeply.”

Represent and empower

Kelly: “BEING’s aim is to contribute to making ING an even more inclusive organisation and a safe and pleasant place to work for everybody. We want to represent and empower the black community, especially in leadership. Therefore, we need to share our stories and engage in sometimes uncomfortable conversations, to create awareness of the position of black colleagues within the organisation and to gain commitment from the management.”

Role models

Mohamed adds: “We also want to show how much talent there is out there and ensure everyone gets equal opportunities for growth and development, regardless of their ethnicity.” Xiomara: “Moreover, we want to provide role models for black people inside and outside ING. It was so cool that two black female ING leaders, Joyce Louiza (Chapter Lead at ING Netherlands) and Raïssa Tété Yéboué (CFO of ING France), shared their stories at our event!”

Kelly: “We’re working closely together with HR and are about to start a mentorship programme in collaboration with ING’s Lioness network. We also have a popular book club which includes colleagues from many other countries worldwide and we’ve already organised some very well-attended storytelling sessions.”

Courageous Conversations

To celebrate BEING’s first birthday, we organised Courageous Conversations on diversity, inclusion and race at ING. The meeting was moderated by Dutch/Surinamese actress Romana Vrede. In attendance were members of (senior) management and BEING to share experiences and have the difficult, but necessary, talk about racism.  

BEING chair Kelly Morales Vallecilla: “It is challenging and courageous to have open discussions about racism. I am pleased that we were able to do so. Because it is so important for ING, actually for anyone and any company, to make progress.” 

Maarten van Beek, director HR: “The dialogue on what we already do well and what we have to improve was a big step forward. An inclusive culture in which everyone can be themselves and feel safe is essential for ING. That is why we will continue these conversations internally.” 

Read more about diversity at ING

About Kelly

Kelly Morales Vallecilla came to the Netherlands from Colombia eight years ago to follow up her bachelor’s in Industrial Design and Visual Arts with a master’s in Innovation Management at Eindhoven University of Technology. She joined ING three years ago and works as a customer journey expert. Kelly has a black belt in taekwondo and goes running every day. She will start an MBA at Cambridge in September and is making plans to set up an IT company in Colombia.

About Xiomara

Xiomara Blank was born in Surinam and moved to the Netherlands at the age of two and a half. She has a master’s in Business Administration. She joined ING’s Investment Department in 2016. Her life changed completely a few years ago when she lost her mobility due to an illness. Since then, she has started growing plants as a hobby and has become a real podcast junkie. She is slowly recovering and is now starting to exercise again. Xiomara is the local coordinator for BEING NL.

About Mohamed

Mohamed Sylla is French, of Senegalese and Gambian descent. Mohamed graduated with a BSc in Mathematical Engineering at the University of Lille III. He joined ING Belgium 3 years ago and works in the Balance Sheet Risk Management Team. Mohamed likes all kinds of music and is a keen dancer, especially salsa/latin. His other favourite pastimes include attending artistic events and meeting up with friends. Mohamed is a member of the BEING committee and the local coordinator for Belgium.

About BEING

The Black Employee Inclusion Group is ING’s network for employees of African and Caribbean heritage (who may identify as black), and for all colleagues with a passion for the African diaspora who want to be allies, regardless of their location in the world.

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