Employers must approach diversity and inclusion with the same level of rigour, and quantitative and qualitative measures of success, as every other business decision.
This was the view of speakers at this week’s Reuters Next virtual summit, of which ESG Clarity is a media partner.
Speaking to Reuters’ editor of newsroom diversity Joyce Adeluwoye-Adams on a panel at the event, Management Leadership for Tomorrow CEO John Rice said by not applying the same scrutiny to diversity, businesses end up with tactics that are characterised as ‘let’s do better than last year’, which he said would never be acceptable in any organisation.
He said businesses have “convinced themselves that there is a tension between moving the needle on diversity and inclusion and the excellence-based meritocracy that made our organisations a success. And that is completely false and unfair.
“What we’ve seen is it’s not increasing diversity that compromises excellence, it’s the approach to diversity, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re not approaching diversity with the same level of scrutiny we treat every other business decision.”
Lanaya Irvin, president of Coqual, agreed. She said: “Elevating the rigour is an absolute must. There hasn’t been that strategic focus that you might find in a line on business. They now realise diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is more than just the right thing to do, it’s actually better for business. You’re going to find institutional investors now focused on this. Companies definitely now need to take time to audit employee data, diagnose the problems, and act in an informed and strategic way.”
Ignoring inclusion is a business risk
The business case includes diversity and inclusion as a vital part of risk assessment, the panellists said.
“The world can’t deny inequities exist and organisations are being held to task as they make statements denouncing inequity and injustice,” Irvin said.
“Senior committees are really leading into support for change with a sense of urgency. The tone has changed, the sense of urgency has changed. Some firms are looking at diversity within their own organisations, but also at large as a way of assessing risk.”
Rice added the backlash from employees within organisations that were quick to put out statements denouncing racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death last summer who didn’t feel these statements reflected their lived experiences in the workplace pushed senior executives to “move the needle and to analyse risk, and they were exposed for not knowing how to move the needle on race. And now that’s enterprise risk”.
In order to approach diversity and inclusion with the same rigour, Rice said standards must be set. “Our focus now is on systemic change,” he said.
“Establish a standard of what good looks like, like we have with environmental – a comprehensive framework of what good looks like.”