Written by terrahomme.global
Published in the workplace

the cost of d&i

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we have all seen and read articles and studies about the benefits of diversity and inclusion in companies. we know that in the usa and europe, large organisations have whole teams (or at least a person) taking take to ensure that the workforce consists of a mix of ethnic groups, where sexual preferences are not taken into account when applicants apply for positions and in some cases where the business leaders appointed, are women.

one company's test

i recently talked to the diversity and inclusion officer of a company involved in the life science industry, with a workforce of more than 27’000 in 90 countries worldwide and more than 14 billion usd$ in sales in 2012. what i discovered in our informal discussion, made me wonder if this company – certainly one of the leaders in its field – was serious about the topic and if the situation could be said for other organisations too. here a short highlights of our discussion:

1 the diversity officer has only been in the position since 2012
2 diversity and inclusion should not exceed 20% of her workload as the other 80% are dedicated to strategy planning and compliance not associated with diversity and inclusion
3 a policy for inclusion in the ‘corporate responsibility’ policy is being drafted, but does not have a high priority
4 although senior management created the role of the diversity officer, buy-in from management on lower levels is difficult
5 no definite budget for the diversity and inclusion programme has been defined, no strategy for communication, awareness or interaction with employees has been developed
6 no networking with other companies or their diversity and inclusion officers/managers has been established. the only contacts consist of ex-colleagues from previous companies, none involved in diversity and inclusion programmes

the bottom-line of our discussion was that diversity and inclusion is not seen as a core activity of the organisation and should not require too many resources or too much money. the feeling that people being categorized as ‘diverse’ - specifically belonging to the lgbt community - are already ‘connected’ to like-minded people within and outside the company and therefore do not require additional ‘assistance’ definitely made me frown.

in a forbes insights study (june 2011) of 321 companies with more than $500 million in revenue surveyed, 85 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is key to driving innovation in the workplace. having diversity and inclusion as part of a global organization business principles is no longer simply a matter of creating a heterogeneous workforce, but using that workforce to innovate and give it a competitive advantage in the marketplace. the report further states “…these organizations increasingly see having a diverse and inclusive workforce as critical to driving the creation and execution of new products, services, and business processes. for executives in charge of diversity and inclusion, this is paramount to building the business case for their efforts.”

so, coming back to the discussion i had with this diversity officer, can the lack of comparable growth (7% for this company compared to 16-25% for its main competitors) be attributed to the flimsy efforts to establish diversity and inclusion as part of the organisation’s business backbone? is the cost of investing in diversity and inclusion too high? is the commitment from senior management nothing other than a few sentences to keep the activists at bay? has the wrong person been appointed for this role? does the organisation know where to get help? how important is life-work balance to management? is the same level of inclusion practiced in businesses of the organisation in countries not particularly known for their acceptance or tolerance of the lgbt community? is support offered to employees working in these countries?

the diversity officer could not answer these questions, but wrote them down. whether they will be addressed, is another question. the impression i had, was that 20% of a person’s workload and a negligent budget are by far not enough to give direction or establish clear guidelines, share ideas, build trust, inform and exchange experiences in an organization of this size.

another company

in the early 90’s i worked in an organisation in south africa, where as you will know, the winds of change had already started to sweep through the country. although most of the changes had been political in nature, the company i worked for wanted to address the issue of imbalance of education levels within its ethically-diverse workforce.

what this basically meant was that i was given the task to perform a survey to determine which employees could benefit from a programme that would enable them to complete some form of study and who would then have a better qualification to advance their careers. some of the employees had not even completed primary school, others part secondary school, some had finished secondary school, but due to a lack of financial support could not continue their studies. within three months a selected group (meeting certain criteria) started their studies. with a relatively small annual budget, 95% of these employees successfully completed their studies within the required time frame. 90% of this group were then employed in more suitable positions.

back then, diversity and inclusion as a topic was not ‘branded’ as such, this organisation spent money and resources to identify and address its shortcomings. no stone was left unturned, no effort too big, no holy cows too holy, only commitment and determination ensured a successful pilot project that not only benefited the organization, but also greatly impacted the lives of its employees.


i have listed only two experiences i have had in the world of diversity and inclusion - one very recent, one more than 20 years ago - but my feeling is that what i had heard recently in a modern-day corporate environment in a very tolerant european country is definitely lacking substance and progress and does not compare to my experience so long ago in a country known for its intolerant past. sad, but true!

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