‘United we stand’ says Professor Adrian Zicari, participant in the CSR committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in France (AmCham France) and representative of ESSEC Business School, as he argues for making the world of business more inclusive, especially in the post COVID-19 context, and suggests how such inclusion could be achieved.
By CoBS Editor Guragam Singh
The winds of change
As people, companies, and entire countries reel under the economic strains that have accompanied the spread of COVID-19, it is important to understand that the impact of these hardships is not the same for all.
As such, it means that the crisis has inflicted the greatest harm on those who could least afford it, and by extension risked a rise in inequality. The foreword to the AmCham France’s July 2020 position paper on Corporate Inclusion goes on to further dub the crisis as one of diversity, vulnerability, and inclusion. This seems appropriate, given how the pandemic has brought out the best and the worst of humanity to light.
Yet, all these challenges give humanity and business a chance to take a step back—not that there is too much of a choice, given the safety restrictions put in place—to make amends, act responsibly, and start building an economy that is more sustainable as well as inclusive.
Lies, damned lies, and statistics
But what does it mean to be inclusive in the workplace? According to the experts, it involves accounting for the diversity present by ‘creating a work environment that guarantees fairness and equal access to opportunities and resources’. It means having policies and procedures that promote respecting differences and allowing everyone to contribute to the success of the organisation while simultaneously being themselves.
Or as Prof Junko Takagi from ESSEC puts it, ‘Diversity is about numbers and inclusion is what you do with those numbers’. As such, a company that simply does not discriminate is not necessarily inclusive, for inclusion, or the management of diversity, requires concerted efforts to be put in. Given this, and despite the progress made—for there is now an increased awareness on discrimination—inclusion is far from being a ground reality.
For instance, ‘women represent only 17.49% of the executive committees of the 60 largest French companies quoted on the Paris stock exchange. Yet they represent 32.97% of management teams, traditionally a pool from which senior executives are recruited.’, says Prof Michel Ferrary, an affiliated professor at SKEMA Business School. Or how a BCG study showed that 46% of LGBT+ employees interviewed in France lied about their sexual orientation in informal discussions with their colleagues.
The wealth of nations
But that need not—and should not—be so, as we move forward. In what could be a revisit to Adam Smith’s invisible hand, companies need not consider the case of inclusion for social justice, but rather for their own interests of organisational success, such as financial performance. This link between inclusion and financial performance is backed by studies from researchers and consulting firms alike, and given further support by the International Labour Organization.
In addition, organisational success is not limited to numbers alone. This is because diversity in management teams promotes overcoming differences and fosters dialogue among the stakeholders, leading to innovation.
Other benefits of inclusion are productivity, client retention, employee involvement and retention, and safety. Another key element is resilience, for companies are operating in increasingly complex environments, and people from diverse backgrounds demonstrate more bandwidth and can leverage it in times of need.
And this brings us to the question of what companies need to do in order to empower the people who will contribute to their success stories. Fortunately, this to-do list can be counted on one’s fingers.
One, ask why the company needs to have an inclusive policy. And while the answer may seem obvious given all the advantages listed previously, it is really a question about the strategic and business benefits that will arise from such an action. As such, it allows organisations to prioritise initiatives and use this policy as a strategic lever of success. The technology giant, Cisco, recently announced its new purpose of powering an inclusive future for all. And it began by keeping inclusion at the heart of its own strategy across products, processes, people, and even infrastructure.
Two, lead by example—especially when the going gets tough. This calls for inclusion to be treated as an organisation-wide subject of importance, and can be achieved by frequent communication from top management and dedication of company resources to build collaborative projects centred on the subject of inclusion.
Following-up on this, companies should adopt an ecosystem approach, aimed at developing a culture of inclusion. Fair warning though—it will not happen overnight and requires considerable effort, and more so early on. These efforts can be reflected in recruitment policy, training imparted to help employees build on their talent, and corporate culture through the use of incentives.
And given all how this must blend with the aim of building a better post-pandemic world, ecosystem-building also includes looking at the overall environment that the company is part of. This relates to how a company thinks of inclusion in terms of its suppliers, production, customers, and other stakeholders. Particularly important given how COVID-19 has shown the existence of cracks in global supply-chains.
Lessons in counting
The fourth cog deals with measurement. Yet, this measurement is not limited to numbers alone. To this end, gauge people’s reactions on the topic of inclusion, ask how employees feel about it, and look at whether a particular group of employees shares a certain solidarity on fairness, employee engagement, and belonging in the workplace. Given the increasing importance of the SDGs, many companies report links between their corporate actions and some specific SDGs, says Prof. Adrian Zicari. “Particularly SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 8 (Decent work and Economic Growth) and SDG 10 (Reducing Inequality). By this doing, companies more clearly explain their contribution to Inclusion at a global scale.”
Companies can also use external tools to help them in the process such as using well-established criteria on inclusion. This helps generate feedback and can help a company know where it stands among others. But that should not mean that in-house tools not be used, for they are crucial to evaluate self-progress and provide customised solutions faced by the organisation.
The last lesson—continuous striving—is perhaps the most important. This means recognising that inclusion is a lengthy process and that mistakes may be made in the beginning. These failures should provide food for thought on how to pick up the pieces and start afresh. A particularly important quality to possess, given how the world around us is changing.
For instance, research by the IMF suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) could cause more job losses to women than to men. This means training and reskilling will be very important in designing and implementing inclusion policies if the post pandemic era is to not to be marked by taking one step forward and two steps back.
Of sovereign importance
This idea of progressing towards prosperity for all brings us to the doorstep of THE institution whose aim and existence is rooted in that very belief—the State. This is important because companies, who also fight for survival, will need to be supported if they are to implement inclusive policies.
This includes support to organisations such as exemptions from paying contributions for hiring young workers, or people from disadvantaged backgrounds. What is also crucial is to complement the stick with the carrot by giving strong incentives for implementing inclusive behaviour. For it is only through inclusion that we can hope to gain the benefits—financial and qualitative—that are going to help humanity face the winds of change today and tomorrow.
- Link up with Prof. Adrian Zicari via LinkedIn
- Discover ESSEC Business School, France-Singapore-Morocco
- Download the full AmCham Report Corporate Inclusion
- Study a GMBA or EMBA at ESSEC Business School
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