Diversity and inclusion is a requirement for today’s global enterprises to effectively reach diverse talent, reflect the marketplace and create authentic connections with customers, suppliers and communities. But to fully realize its potential, organizations have to overcome traditional, compartmentalized thinking and view the enterprise as an ecosystem, with interdependent stakeholders, both internal and external, who each influence and shape the others.
Shifting demographics, globalization, talent shortages, multiple generations in the workplace and more savvy, demanding customers are some of the key drivers propelling diversity and inclusion to a prominent perch in today’s organizations. Another is big data, and all of these things connect.
“Businesses everywhere are using data in new ways to inform business strategies, target the changing face of consumers in the marketplace and to find the best talent,” said Grace Figueredo, chief diversity and inclusion officer for managed health care company Aetna Inc.
The best organizations recognize an intimate link between what diversity and inclusion can do from a talent perspective and a business perspective to explicitly link their value to enterprise success. Michele Green, vice president and chief diversity officer for financial services company Prudential Financial Inc., said there is renewed belief that “D&I is beyond awareness and recruitment of diverse talent; it includes employee engagement, multicultural marketing and how we interact with the communities in which we operate.”
For example, multinational food services and facilities management company Sodexo has leveraged its D&I practices as a differentiator in a crowded marketplace. According to Rohini Anand, the company’s senior vice president and global chief diversity officer, having established D&I as a competitive advantage, its brand is now synonymous with leadership in inclusion. It is a core component to the brand and central to business growth strategies, which enables Sodexo to win contracts. “We are not competing on price or as a commodity, but leading with our values and D&I practices, and this enables us to outpace the competition,” she said.
Linking Workplace and Marketplace
Most large organizations in the U.S. now have statements on their websites proclaiming their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Yet too often words do not translate into meaningful, long-lasting change. But where it is implemented effectively, D&I changes from a siloed staff function to one woven intentionally into how organizations conduct business.
Aetna’s Figueredo said she has observed firsthand the progress in diversity and inclusion thanks to a more integrated approach. “This focus on bottom-line issues for D&I is now very much accepted as part of the way we work. There used to be a disconnect between D&I and HR; now, with strong, effective practitioners, we have tighter linkages between HR and overall talent management. We also have a close relationship with line business leaders who serve as advocates.”
Integration with the business is an essential component of the D&I ecosystem. Figueredo said to build linkages between the workplace and marketplace, diversity executives not only have to know the business, but they also have to understand its strengths and where the knowledge gaps are, and create strong relationships with the people who will integrate D&I practices into the business.
As a health insurance provider, Aetna focuses on understanding how health care and illness affect different communities, such as the prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in African-Americans and asthma in Hispanics. With this data, Aetna can take action to improve health and wellness, and empower people to live healthier lives by providing them with access to critical information and tools. Figueredo said Aetna “was the first national insurer to address the topic of racial and ethnic disparities in health care by creating a series of initiatives to assess and track these issues with the goal of improving the quality of care and health of our members.”
Viewing three areas of thought leadership — wellness, sustainability and diversity and inclusion — as core to its brand, Sodexo also has been successful executing high-impact initiatives that affect its clients and the community. For example, in a partnership with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the company has chefs go into schools to educate children about healthy eating, portion size, cooking with healthy ingredients and sustainable food products. The program is being extended to six cities following a successful pilot.
Also, consider Sodexo’s Virtual Diversity and Business Leadership Summit, which Anand said enables a global reach for the company’s D&I efforts, provides webinars, promotes Sodexo’s flexible work initiative, sustainability and management for D&I, and extends and enhances learning experiences with sessions that can last up to six months. It even reduces the company’s carbon footprint.
Linking Sodexo employees, clients and suppliers is the intention behind its Better Tomorrow Plan, an initiative the organization developed to foster change on a larger scale. “We want to extend our impact beyond our 425,000 global employees,” Anand said. “As most of them work in 35,000 client sites globally, we recognize that we must demonstrate our commitments externally with customers and communities.”
Prudential Financial is also aligning marketplace and workplace D&I priorities with a focus on research and education. The company has made significant investments to understand the needs of diverse populations, such as women, African-Americans and the LGBT community for different services, such as financial and retirement planning, Green said. Prudential’s published research guides, available on its website, are used for external-facing employees to take into the community as education, and for internal use to educate employees and other distribution channels. “This research demonstrates our knowledge of how diverse communities have unique needs. For the LGBT community, for example, we have learned that often they have not been aware of the need for survivorship transfer of assets, and this is an area we can actively help them with, so it is a win-win,” she said.
The company also linked D&I in the workplace and marketplace with a recent conference targeting high net worth women of color. “We brought our staffing professionals, financial planners and agents to demonstrate our capabilities and knowledge of this previously untapped group,” Green said. “The result was that we picked up business, increased awareness of our brand and also became more educated ourselves about the needs for this target population.”
Figueredo said at another company she worked for prior to joining Aetna, leveraging D&I workplace and marketplace connections to produce better results was particularly tough when trying to reach Gen Yers as potential customers for disability insurance. Young people, she said, often feel invincible and don’t see the need for this type of product. Their resistance was compounded by employers increasingly moving toward a voluntary purchasing of benefits model.
“The Gen Y ERG launched a case study competition across the organization about how to best engage with the Gen Y consumer,” she said of the company’s solution. “It extended across different lines of business and geographic sectors, and had widespread participation. We obtained so many outstanding ideas that it was truly difficult to select the best one. We had the top groups present their pitches to senior leaders. In fact, the last I heard, the winning idea was in the process of being patented.”
The need to adapt to changing marketplace requirements applies both to consumer products and to a business-to-business environment, to deliver effective products, pricing, delivery channels and other variables as sources of competitive advantage. Organizations that are less successful at understanding and responding to multicultural needs will lose to those that understand and celebrate diversity.
Global and Local Relevance
Organizations are increasingly sensitive to the nuances of how diversity and inclusion differ across cultures, and there is a pronounced need to maintain some degree of global corporate consistency. Anand said thanks to globalization, D&I has come to the forefront in talent discussions, as skill shortages and the search for the right kind of talent become a necessity to meet global demands. And there is more work to be done across borders.
“The practice of D&I has to make more progress globally outside of the U.S.,” she said. “I see mainly baby steps, particularly as this relates to gender. As more U.S.-based companies are moving into the global arena, we need to learn how to implement D&I more effectively without imposing U.S. values on others — it must be focused more on a partnership. The areas that I see as having greater priority going forward are religion, disability and LGBT.”
Green agreed. As Prudential has 60 percent of its employees outside of the U.S., with an increasingly global footprint, the company needs to keep an eye on how D&I varies by country. For example, women’s needs looks quite different globally. “In India, a central concern is how we keep our female employees safe,” she said. “In Japan, the issues center more on work-life balance. From a global perspective, there are points of synergy and opportunities to partner together, but first we want to make sure it is relevant to the local culture.”
Aetna’s Figueredo said to drive change, diversity and inclusion must be viewed as a long-term effort, requiring ongoing commitment and communication. D&I must align to business strategy, which allows it to become more real to people. “It is also important to encourage people to focus on diversity and understand that everyone is different, and that if people can bring their whole selves to work, they will be more engaged and productive.”
But driving success in diversity and inclusion also means holding people accountable. At Sodexo, not only is D&I central to organizational branding, but metrics also prove the company’s investments in this area have produced results. Based on a sustained focus to create an inclusive environment and cultural transformation, Anand said, “We have dramatic evidence that our efforts are paying off.
Engagement scores for minorities and women have gone up exponentially, into the double digits.”
Marjorie Derven is managing partner at Hudson Research & Consulting Inc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.