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Businesses should employ evidence-based inclusion policies

 Senior HR Business Partner at Ipsos Sally Kamsa. [Courtesy]

There is a concurrence that organisations must urgently address Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues to achieve growth and meaningfully impact their communities. 

The urgency comes from the escalating global environment and social crises that have bestowed upon businesses a critical role to play in addressing these challenges.

However, whereas all three pillars of ESG are important, there seems to be undue attention to environmental considerations. This is at the expense of the other two – social and governance.

Environment has traditionally stolen the limelight, mainly due to the ever-growing concern for climate change, attributed to human activities that have resulted in rising global temperatures.

But within the ESG, lies diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which comprises the central S (social) pillar and plays a significant role that cannot be overlooked by organisations in pursuit of sustainability. ESG in its entirety may be a recent phenomenon for businesses, but DEI is not.

DEI emerged during the civil rights movement in the US in the 1960s when black people fought against discrimination at their jobs, or when they sought to access healthcare or to gain education. These days, DEI at the workplace has become an imperative that organisations must prioritise.

DEI initiatives if well designed and implemented will help businesses to achieve higher revenue, easily innovate, and enjoy the ability to recruit for a diverse talent pool and at the same time boost employee retention rate.

A diverse and inclusive workplace is one that makes everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do for the business, feel equally involved in and supported in all areas of the workplace.

To avoid confusion, |Diversity is the representation of different people in an organization, while Equity is ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute to and influence every part and level of a workplace.

Inclusion, on the other hand, is making employees feel that their ideas, presence, or contributions are truly valued or taken seriously by their organisations, despite their unique selves. It is about creating an environment that embraces and respects everyone’s unique perspectives and experiences.

In Kenya, although some studies suggest that we are performing better than the global average on diversity, the issue of DEI remains a hard nut to crack.

The Board DEI Survey Report published in 2021 found that gender diversity in the boardroom now stands at 36 per cent, which is significant progress from 21 per cent in 2017.

In comparison, the global average of women holding board positions stands at 23.3 per cent up from 20.4  per cent in 2018.

The report also revealed that the average age of Kenyan board members is 47.6 years, down from 55.8 years in 2017. 

Diversity, however, goes beyond gender and age, to include other variables such as ethnicity, religion, education attained, physical abilities, professional background or other ideologies.

Although DEI comes into focus when discussions pander to the social aspect of ESG, recent trends have shown that organisations are increasingly prioritising it as a means of strengthening each of the three aspects of ESG.

A diverse and inclusive workforce is more likely to be aware of how environmental issues affect different areas and communities and this enables organisations to introduce strategies that reflect local needs.

Expectations for governments and organisations to act on the challenge of inclusivity have risen from citizens and consumers across the world. It is no longer an activity relegated to the notes in an annual report but is imperative for societies and brands.

According to Ipsos research conducted in the US in 2021, nearly all Americans want to see significant changes in the world when it comes to sustainability and equitability. American consumers would like to see brands representing this change.

The challenge is how to make diversity work in both public and private institutions. Many organisations are spending a lot to ensure active DEI in their business operations but end with poor results.

This is because businesses are not well equipped to implement DEI policies that are based on evidence and are resorting to ineffective and polarising policies.

This has been revealed by the independent Inclusion at Work Panel report on the state of DEI business practices in the UK published on March 20, 2024.

Measure progress

Implementing DEI initiatives without evidence backed by data is an adventure in vain. Even where there is success, the impact of the initiatives may not be known as there are no metrics with which to measure progress.

Research insights will go a long way in strengthening the evidence base to inform, scale up, and progressively boost the ambition for the attainment of optimal DEI in both public and private institutions.

At Ipsos, we believe that we have a responsibility to help organisations and the public understand opinions, behaviours, and trends on DEI.

Our work includes the use of varied methodologies to capture perceptions and experiences on a wide scope of topics, including the role of the media and advertising, family and child-rearing, health, and the workplace.

Leveraging Ipsos data and insights from a pool of our experts will help you to understand how shifting opinions on diversity, inclusivity and intersectionality are impacting your business.

 - The author is a Senior HR Business Partner at Ipsos in Kenya

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