Getting Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Right: 4 Principles To Keep In Mind

By Athol Swanepoel – HR Director, Nestlé East & Southern Africa (ESAR)

Any ethos of a business that considers itself future-fit these days, is bound to include a statement on diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s the issue of this moment world over. The renewed interest comes on the heels of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter protests that swept the global north over the last recent years. From hiring Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (D&I) experts to enacting strategies that had long lay dormant, businesses have made significant moves in furthering the conversation pertaining to workplaces that are diverse, inclusive, with a promise of equality. One hand, the response is fear-driven – some businesses are intent to be found on the right side of history in the near and further future. On the other hand, the response is truly sincere – some businesses are driven by the desire to be microcosms of the communities within which they exist. Whatever the reason, businesses are still figuring these conversations out – we all are. In doing so, there are certain fundamentals that ought to be considered to deliver the positive impact that diversity, equity and inclusion promises.

In its most basic form, Diversity and Inclusion is an ongoing reminder that organisations are made of humans, and therefore, an approach that places humans at the centre of running a business is essential for all round success. Diversity is about an encouraged and safe presence of difference in the workplace, and that definition of difference is context-dependent and will change from time to time. It can be a conversation on minority-majority population groups, or that of gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, or socio-economic class. Equity is about fairness, ensuring that the workplace delivers equal outcomes for all individuals. Again, with this discussion point, nuance and context play a huge role in the development and implementation of equity-focused policies. Such considerations on types of family, gender, or socio-economic status play a role. Inclusion is concerned with belonging, ensuring that all people can be their true and authentic selves within the business. These three areas are intertwined, and together, have a direct impact on a business’ existence today. Bringing them to life requires organisations to think through, develop and implement initiatives that ensure diverse, equitable and inclusive workforces. 

There are four main fundamental touchpoints that organisations need to be looking at when developing and enforcing their Diversity and Inclusion interventions. There’s never a one size fits all as organisations are different, and therefore, organisations should look to adopt and adapt what is best for their vision and mission, to collaboratively meet its Diversity and Inclusion goals. In my experiences, there are four considerations to always keep in mind: seizing opportunities in our value chain (Supply Chain), fostering and enabling internal networks (Affinity Networks), leveraging both internal and external partnership for collaboration (Partnership), and driving accountability through measuring success (Measurement).

Working in a global food business, we dip our toes in several value chains, which makes supply chain an important part of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. Looking into supply to ensure diverse suppliers is crucial for communities today, especially in an evolving global consumer landscape where more people are preferring businesses to source locally. Partnering with suppliers that share similar principles and drive positive behaviours around Diversity and Inclusion. In South Africa, we recently unveiled the Makhoba Project, a community development partnership with Makhoba Farms, home to our biggest black-owned supplier of milk, Springfontein Dairy Farm. The relationship is a response to the national drive for more a diverse supply pool in the agriculture sector, especially in dairy. The strategic partnership converges the supply chain with youth skills development through the YES Programme that is run in the community, the employment of YES Programme graduates in numerous operations across Makhoba Farms including the dairy operation, and the adoption of sustainability practises to get the farm to net zero.

Most businesses have Employee Assistance Programmes and other similar support programmes. Well considered Diversity and Inclusion interventions should also make room for affinity networks. Affinity networks are employee-led groups within an organisation made up of staff who share common identities such as gender expression, generations, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. These groups are key in promoting safe spaces for networking, coaching and mentorship, and other forms of professional development. At Nestlé ESAR, we have Gender, Ethnicity, Generations and Differently Abled affinity networks. These networks span across borders in the region and are sponsored by the most senior leadership team members, to ensure buy-in on these principles in the highest offices in the business, and to serve as powerful examples of the importance of D&I.

Much of what D&I work seeks to address are systemic issues that are bigger and go beyond the remit of a typical business. Therefore, it is crucial to connect with change agents in the wider society as well as like-minded corporates as it amplifies impact, influencing a larger footprint for change. One way to do this is to partner with non-profit or community-based organisations that tackle issues that align with the chosen initiatives. For instance, an organisation could partner with a girls’ empowerment organisation to help drive an increase in the number of mentorship spaces available for girls in tech. Partnering with issues-based organisations tends to drive engagement in a sector as well, such that competing or complementing businesses can join in the partnership to pool resource and do more. As an example, Nestlé has managed to successfully partner with 6 other Corporates to form a Regional Alliance for Youth with the aim of collectively advancing the interests of the youth community. This has translated into multiple engagements taking the form of webinars, workshops, and other programmes that contributed to the employment and employability of youth.

By far the most important consideration is being able to measure success – how organisations honestly and effectively monitor and evaluate the efficacy of the Diversity and Inclusion is crucial and makes the difference between a success story and a check box. This fundamental touchpoint is about accountability, and while there are people responsible for it, it largely lives with every single employee in the organisation. Employees can and should have the room to hold a business accountable to all its commitments which can include targets, measures of cultural change, etc. Whatever the trends, whatever is in culture influencing the business, measurement will always be a critical touchpoint as it captures change and gives clarity to the business’ commitment to change.

Diversity and Inclusion is truly about transformation – shifting the economic landscape to a fairer imagination that captures the way our societies are made up. Whether it is generation diversity at ExCo levels or levelling the gender or ethnicity pay gap, Diversity and Inclusion work is always about change. And employees must always hold leadership accountable to targets and commitments because therein, as well as whether D&I is a lived experience, lay the proof points for change.

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