To drive inclusion in your company, engage with the world outside

16 January 2019 This article is the second in a series that Rebekah Steele and I have written on LinkedIn, focused on how organisations can do a better job of inclusion.

By Rebekah Steele and Alison Maitland

Amid the divisive social and political debate surrounding the migration of refugees and asylum-seekers, some companies have brushed negativity aside, viewing the crisis as an opportunity to do good and benefit their business. Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 refugees worldwide over five years. In the UK, the company linked up with a leading charity, the Refugee Council, to offer refugees training in preparation for Barista roles in its London coffee shops.

Other companies pledging jobs around the world include Hissho Sushi, US yogurt maker Chobani, and global services provider Sodexo. ‘It’s the smart thing to do, it’s in our business interest,’ said Rohini Anand, Sodexo’s head of diversity & inclusion and corporate responsibility.

Companies need to address the whole of inclusion – internally and externally – to find sustainable solutions to the global business challenges ahead. 

In our previous LinkedIn article on new ways to build inclusive organizations, we showed why companies must address and measure organizational factors as well as individual perceptions and actions. In this second piece, we argue that organizations also need to look beyond their own walls, as the companies above have done, if they want to create deep-rooted inclusion.

Because companies are part of society, an inclusion strategy falls short if it does not extend beyond organizational boundaries. The impact that companies have on society, and the communities in which they operate, can be massive. Moreover, in an increasingly networked business world, nurturing relationships with external stakeholders, partners, collaborators and customers is more important than ever.

Including these stakeholders is a powerful way to build and deepen key connections. Here are two examples:

1.    To provide the solutions and services they need, companies are increasingly reliant on a flexible supply of contingent workers – from highly paid consultants and PhD-equipped researchers to drivers and cleaners. Does your company’s inclusion strategy extend to this growing workforce? Or is it confined to employees on your payroll, and perhaps even just ‘top talent’? Do you offer benefits to your contingent workers, or include them when you’re consulting employees on strategy, new products, or employment perks? If not, can you truly call yourself an inclusive organization?

2.    Shareholders are agitating more loudly for change on issues like gender balance and ethnic diversity, given evidence of their importance for business success. The UK’s largest private sector pension scheme – the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) – is a recent case in point: the Financial Times reported last month that USS would vote against, or abstain from voting for, members of a board’s nomination committee if the company had no female directors and had set no deadline to introduce them. Does your company’s inclusion strategy take investors into account? Are you speaking with existing investors regularly about your goals? Are you missing out on potential investors because of the way you address, or fail to address, inclusion?

Social initiatives offer lessons on inclusion for the private sector

Another reason organizations must look beyond their own walls is because they are impacted by the wider environment. Government regulations on parental leave or equal pay, for example, can make a big difference to gender inclusion inside companies.

What happens in education systems also feeds into inclusion or exclusion at work. Unresolved tensions and lack of trust lead to lower engagement, performance, and retention. So, how can your organization ensure that future employees are equipped with a deep understanding of how to connect, collaborate and resolve conflicts?

Our wide-ranging research into inclusion highlights helpful insights from outside the corporate sector. One example is Roots of Empathy, a social initiative with classroom programs that help children to develop empathy, emotional intelligence and social connections that foster inclusion. Does your company connect with and provide support to fruitful social and educational initiatives like this one? Are you learning from the best initiatives out there?

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