Combining Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Policies For the Benefit of People and The Planet: Why D&I is Vital in Our Changing World

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Home > Articles > Combining Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Policies For the Benefit of People and The Planet: Why D&I is Vital in Our Changing World

 Combining Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Policies For the Benefit of People and The Planet: Why D&I is Vital in Our Changing World

Susan Goldsworthy and Walter McFarland | Today's Manager
September 2, 2019

​The authors discuss the need for organisations to have D&I.

In recent years, many organisations have implemented D&I policies. Sometimes this is done because everyone else is doing it and to ‘tick the box,’ sometimes it is done because the company considers it the right thing to do, sometimes it is done because it delivers better financial performance, sometimes it is done to both attract and retain talent, and sometimes it is done for a mixture of the above reasons.

Recently, Iceland passed a law requiring companies to prove they pay employees of both genders the same. 1 By 2022, they hope that the gender pay gap will be closed. In March 2019, Philip Morris International became the first international company to be certified globally for equal pay by the independent third-party EQUAL-SALARY Foundation. 2

The research here is clear: there is a correlation between diversity (defined as a greater proportion of women and ethnically/culturally diverse individuals) in the leadership of large companies and financial outperformance. Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21 per cent more likely to outperform on profitability and 27 per cent more likely to have superior value creation. The highest-performing companies on both profitability and diversity had more women in line (i.e., typically revenue generating) roles than in staff roles on their executive teams. 3

Whilst progress has been made on the D&I front in the past few decades, there is still a considerable amount of work to do. On 14 and 15 March 2019, IMD Business School hosted a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) event where speakers and participants shared both inspiring stories and the significant challenges they still face within corporations. 4 According to a study by McKinsey, companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33 per cent more likely to have industry-leading profitability. That this relationship continues to be strong suggests that inclusion of highly diverse individuals—and the myriad ways in which diversity exists beyond gender (e.g., LGBTQ+, age/generation, international experience)—can be a key differentiator among companies. 5

A common phrase that attempts to explain the difference between diversity and inclusion is that diversity is being asked to the party whilst inclusion is being asked to dance. While somewhat helpful at the surface level, what this phrase doesn’t address is the power dynamic and sense of agency of the employee. A more helpful definition might be that diversity is choosing to go to the party while inclusion is feeling at home enough to dance.

We are richer, more humane, more productive, and more sustainable when we embrace diversity and inclusion in organisations. If we then extend the concept of diversity and inclusion more broadly from that of people and organisations to species and our planet, the situation is even more critical and more urgent.

In order to flourish, life needs diversity. When the balance of biodiversity is upset by removal of one or more elements, we see disastrous consequences leading to the collapse of ecosystems. Dramatic losses in biodiversity threaten our very existence. Some recent key statistics from scientists include the facts that:

  • the Earth is undergoing a “mass extinction event,” the first since the dinosaurs disappeared some 65 million years ago, and only the sixth in the last half-a-billion years;
  • about 41 per cent of amphibian species and more than a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction;
  • about half of coral reefs have been lost in the last 30 years; 6 and
  • globally, monitored populations of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians have declined in abundance by 60 per cent on average between 1970 and 2014. 7

According to Ceballos, Ehrlich, and Dirzo, “All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on biodiversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life,” and in the last few decades, there have been catastrophic declines in both the numbers and sizes of populations of both common and rare vertebrate species through habitat loss, overexploitation, invasive organisms, pollution, toxification, and more recently climate disruption. 8

If we want to continue to flourish on this earth, we need to act to protect our planet. Organisations have a critical role to play if they can move from denial to awareness, from defense to acceptance and from distraction to action. A good starting point is to look to the United Nation’s (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) covering 17 areas that address the global challenges we face including areas such as poverty, climate, equality, and life on land and below water. 9

Building on decades of work by countries and the UN, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. In 2015 it was adopted by all UN Member States. At the core of the blueprint is an urgent call for action by both developed and developing countries in working on the 17 SDGs. Ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth—all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. A number of the SDGs focus on areas that can also be relevant to organisational diversity and inclusion policies including gender equality, reduced inequalities, good health and well-being, and decent work and economic growth.

If every organisation embraced work on the SDGs, it would provide a practical approach for collective action. Introducing D&I Policies to protect the planet, as well as people, could be a powerful way to signal hope, engage employees, and make a difference to all living species, our own included. 

Ms Goldsworthy and Mr McFarland are co-authors of the award-winning book—Choosing Change: How Leaders and Organizations Drive Results One Person at a Time.












​Ms Susan Goldsworthy is an Affiliate Professor for Leadership & Organisational Change at IMD Business School role, a multiple award-winning author, an experienced senior executive coach, and former Olympic finalist with extensive global business experience at senior management levels. She is also an associate of Genesis Advisors, known for its work on transitions and The First 90 Days.

Mr Walter McFarland leads the People and Change business of North Highland. He is the past Board Chair of the Association for Talent Development and co-author of Choosing Change.


Copyright © 2019 Singapore Institute of Management

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Today's Manager Issue 3, 2019

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