With customers championing organisations that embrace inclusivity as integral to their work, employers can no longer rest on their laurels
When it comes to talking about diversity and inclusion, it’s difficult to know where to begin. I am certainly not an expert on these issues, nor am I the most important voice in the conversation but I hope that this article will bring to the fore the discussions that are taking place and empower companies that want to change but are unsure how to do so.
The past year has placed enormous pressure (and rightly so) on employers to respond to protests for great racial equality amidst a rise of social justice movements and a pandemic that has disproportionately affected nonwhite and women workers, with the latter spending 7.7 more hours per week on childcare than men, exacerbating the already unequal burden of unpaid care and domestic work shouldered by women. This is but one example of the many ways in which COVID-19 has served to shed light on pre-existing disparities which, as a result of the pandemic, have worsened still.
But the demand for building a more inclusive world is palpable with 37 per cent of job seekers more likely to turn down an opportunity due to a perceived lack of inclusion and 47 per cent more likely to stay with an organisation—and seven times more likely to describe their organisation as high performing—if it was inclusive. With customers championing those organisations that embrace inclusivity as integral to their work, employers can no longer rest on their laurels but must reform and act on their diversity and inclusion strategies if they want to thrive in the future.
As part of the ChangeNOW Summit 2021, a group of leading diversity experts from a range of industries sat down to discuss this prescient agenda and to share their wisdom on how to affect real change within a business.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure
An overriding theme that emerged from the panel was the importance of measurement. There’s that old adage: you can’t manage what you can’t measure. When it comes to diversity and inclusion within the workspace, this is particularly pertinent.
Words like “diversity” and “inclusivity” are problematic in so much as they tend to reduce what are highly complex and nuanced issues to token buzzwords which organisations can wear like a badge. How often have I seen job ads which use the phrase “committed to promoting a diverse and inclusive community” or something similar, without really understanding what this means?
According to the Global Diversity Practice, inclusion connotes a sense of belonging while the process of inclusion refers to that which engages each individual and makes people feel valued as being essential to the success of the organisation. But in order to achieve this kind of culture, it is vital to consider the many challenges which employees may face in relation to discrimination and exclusion.
Responding to a collective lack of understanding around these issues and keen to help companies better assess diversity and inclusion within their own ecosystems, Sandrine Charpentier, Dominique Crochu and Jérôme Fortineau, developed Mixity, the first digital platform of its kind.
Designed by experts in the field of DE&I, Mixity is an innovative tool that assesses the diversity and equality of businesses, schools, communities and nonprofit organisations, through a sophisticated evaluative framework based on five themes: gender, handicap, ethnicity, intergenerational and LGBT+. Once a company’s data has been collected, a visual footprint is then generated, in conjunction with key indicators of strengths, areas of improvement and goals for progress.
By adopting a data-driven and outcome-oriented approach, Mixity has proved invaluable to companies like Orange which has praised the platform for its clarity and pragmatism. According to French Telecom’s Vice President of managerial and Talent development, Valérie Thérond not only does the footprint help companies to define benchmarks and implement tangible actions, but it has also proved key in improving economic performance.
Indeed, Charpentier draws attention to the changing mindset of future employees, insisting that prospective candidates want to see evidence that their potential employers have embedded inclusivity and diversity at the heart of their business strategy. Mixity can be both used as an internal dashboard and a public platform for organisations that wish to share their data, the latter option providing a real opportunity for organisations to prove that they are in the motion of a diversity agenda as well as expressing humility.
“The purpose of Mixity is not to name and shame but to name and honour,” says Charpentier. “It marks a company’s commitment to move forward.” In other words, if you’re not perfect, don’t sweat it. It is far more reassuring for stakeholders to see that you have identified opportunities for improvement and have conceived of actionable plans to realise these changes than to brush them under the carpet.
Cartier Philanthropy’s Strategic Advisor to the Board, Pascale de la Frégonnière, echoes Charpentier’s sentiment, stating that “Data will allow you to learn and understand whether you are having an impact…We can’t fund stuff that isn’t having the desired effect”.
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with Springwise, Executive Director of B Lab UK, Chris Turner, outlines his intent to get the B Corporation assessment “into the hands of as many businesses as possible, because ultimately, if we can do that, then they’re on the journey. They’re thinking about the right things. They’re identifying the right improvements.”
The invisible barriers that inhibit progress
Another value of adopting a measured and evaluative approach is that it draws attention to the more insidious and often invisible barriers which undermine inclusivity and prevent individuals from under-represented groups from accessing career opportunities. These barriers are perhaps the most challenging to overcome since, very often, we are not even conscious of their presence.
In a recent report by the CBI, the organisations which are leading the way on diversity are “those prepared to take a forensic look at their culture to discern invisible barriers…Businesses have an imperative to measure, assess and review their progress to ensure that they are doing everything within their gift to remove barriers to opportunity.”
The City of Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Hazel Chu, agrees, stating that one of the greatest inhibitors of social meritocracy is the lack of equality of opportunity. But in order to establish a more balanced footing, every industry must first take responsibility for its own unconscious biases, the first step being to acknowledge that these biases, however imperceptible, exist and we all have them.
Because unconscious bias operates below our waking awareness, a systematic approach that brings these prejudices to the surface is all the more crucial in strengthening inclusion. A better knowledge of the manifestations which unconscious bias takes can lead to improved awareness of one’s own internal judgements as well as biases rooted in company processes, such as in hiring and recruitment or sufficient provision of facilities. Companies can then put in place strategies and KPIs to prevent fostering biases that are most likely to influence them. This, in Chu’s eyes, is an example of building “allyship” which, if implemented successfully, will help to create a “society that can keep discrimination in check.”
A company that is putting this into action is the social startup, Konexio, which aims to promote the socio-economic inclusion of vulnerable populations, including refugees and migrants, by offering quality training in digital skills. Konexio’s CEO and co-founder, Jean Guo, sheds light on the growing digital divide, which has been thrown into even sharper definition following the pandemic: “Looking at the Covid crisis, we have 7 years in terms of digital acceleration but there’s a huge segment of the world today that are not prepared. In France, we’re looking at about 30 million people.”
Guo outlines the misguided assumptions that are often made about the elderly generation as being digitally illiterate while Gen Z, those that have grown up with these tools, are inherently digital natives. “When we talk about digital proficiency it’s about the differences and the nuances in the skills.” Digital inclusion extends far beyond the ability to navigate a smartphone; it is about a person’s breadth and depth of digital knowledge and engagement.
Similarly determined to bridge the digital divide, Paul Duan launched Bayes Impact, a non-profit start-up that uses information technology to tackle social issues at scale. In 2016, the NGO launched Bob AI, an online, open-source and free platform that uses artificial intelligence to provide data-driven, personalized advice to unemployed individuals in France to help them improve their chances. Today they have over 300,000 job seekers using the tool.
Duan also discusses the importance of allyship in tackling issues around inclusion: “It’s a catch 22 situation. The people who need your tool the most, tend to be those who do not have information to use your tool in the first place. Partnerships are very important to solve this. We use technology to simplify the constellation of solutions and, through our partners, distribute information correctly to those people who need it.”
Elsewhere, Springwise has spotted an array of innovations that are helping to address socio-economic disparities, from an e-commerce marketplace that promotes solely black-owned businesses to a retailer that creates inclusive lingerie for disabled women.
For those companies that need to act now in implementing strategic and pragmatic solutions to systemic issues regarding inclusivity, they should consider the employee engagement platform, All of us, which attests to the power of evaluation and methodology in tackling diversity and inclusion barriers.
Written by: Tabitha Bardsley
Our Better Business series aims to provide actionable takeaways for companies and entrepreneurs looking to bring more purpose to their work and create positive change within and beyond their sectors.
7th July 2021