The global coronavirus pandemic has peeled back the curtain on a number of trends and problems within the global workforce, a major one being the importance of diversity and inclusion within companies. More so, in 2021, 50% of employees felt that discrimination is affecting their ability to be promoted or fairly compensated. However, discrimiation is not a new issue. It has been around in business since business first began.

What we now call diversity and inclusion (D&I) started off as equal employment laws and affirmative action in the 1960s. So, in 2022, how is inclusion in the workplace being addressed? As we at Omnia further drive diversity and inclusion in our workplace, we have noted a few key points that should not be overlooked.

How can one structure D&I programs to last in the long run, and not just become a flash in the pan?

Think of D&I programs as a pyramid: The top is about leadership - the C-suite and senior management - that needs to enforce these programs with a trickle-down effect. They need to have the vision while taking accountability for the maintenance and governance of the program. In the middle is structural and behavioural inclusion that covers inclusive practises and structures as well as open-minded decisions and mindsets. The foundation of the pyramid, which is the bulk of it, should represent a change in attitudes, company culture and outcomes that have come from within the organisation, which are often one of the most challenging aspects.

D&I programs should or would typically overcome unconscious bias, accepting differences, managing diverse teams, embedding behaviours and culture, while on the legal side, non-discrimination and regulatory compliance which covers the laws and codes of conduct set up to ensure equality.

D&I in Europe, today

Concluding in September 2021, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) released a report on the state of diversity and inclusion, surveying more than 970 corporations in 26 industries across 19 countries in Europe. Overall, the results show that although many European businesses have stated a commitment to focusing on and expanding their D&I efforts, there is still a lot of opportunity to be gained from ensuring equal opportunities within companies, no matter of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality and/or religion.

According to PwC, D&I programs should have four basic levels in order for them to be fully implemented, and a similar approach was used within Omnia Retail:

Phase one — Understanding the Facts of Today: Taking a hard look at the current state of D&I at the company today.

Phase two — Building an Inspirational Strategy: Creating a plan that will drive D&I goals for the future.

Phase threeDeveloping Leadership Engagement: Getting senior management to drive D&I goals.

Phase four — Creating Sustainable Movement: This is the highest level of maturity for the program. Executing real-world results that see employees experience the positive results of the program.

How well are D&I programs being implemented?

Out of the surveyed organisations, only 2% reached the highest level of maturity, which is the fourth phase, when compared to PwC’s levels of D&I integration. An overwhelming majority of 54% of respondents felt that D&I programs remained in the basic stages of maturity in phase one; 18% felt that their companies fell short on D&I efforts around the second phase; and 25% felt it was the third phase where efforts stagnated. That’s in comparison to the 76% that stated D&I was a core value.

More than half of companies, 60%, are using D&I as a strategy for two reasons: To attract and keep talent; and a few to simply comply with legal requirements. While there is a small group only using the guise of D&I programs to prop up their stature or prominence or to appease the expectations of customers. A greater number are utilising D&I programs for the growth of the business and their employees, a welcoming sign of adoption.

Diversity, inclusion, and now equity

As the workplace evolves so do the ways in which we expect these spaces to be safe, comfortable, welcoming and fair environments for employees that occupy these spaces. More recently, D&I programs are starting to include equity, which is the crux of the equation that ensures impartiality and that processes provide fair and equal outcomes for all employees. It’s not just enough to make employees feel accepted for who they are or where they come from - they must be able to work with the knowledge that no matter who they are, it has no impact on their progression within the company.

Catalina Colman, the Director of HR and Inclusion at Built In, an online portal for young professionals looking to enter the tech or ‘SaaS’ environment , says that “equity takes into account the fact that not everybody is starting at the same level.” Colman continues to use the example of applying for a home loan at the bank: Although the bank may vow to not discriminate based on race, gender or ethnicity, that doesn’t account for an applicant’s existing debt, socioeconomic status, domestic issues, unique living arrangements or student loans. Equity “is about levelling the playing field so the barriers to entry are the same for every single individual”.

A double-edged sword

According to the surveyed companies, there are little to no drivers for senior management and the C-Suite to implement D&I programs. Only 10% said their performance evaluations of and annual salary increases for senior management are affected. 40% of respondents said that neither employees or senior management are tasked with D&I responsibilities.

However, although looking at the results of PwC’s 2021 survey is helpful in understanding where some companies are going wrong in terms of D&I efforts, we should not discount the many companies across Europe making great strides in diversifying their teams and moulding open-minded and accepting company cultures. Across 7,000 companies tracked worldwide on the Thomson Reuters' Diversity and Inclusion Index, European companies top the list for having the most diverse teams. In fact, 8 out of 10 of the most diverse companies in the world are European. In November 2018, leaders from more than 50 European companies signed the European Roundtable of Industrialists’ pledge to implement D&I strategies and by 2019, that number increased to more than 700 European companies being listed on the Financial Times’ annual list of diversity leaders.

Looking to the future

Tackling diversity may seem like a monumental task, so it may be best to start with something simple: a conversation. What’s working and what isn’t? Where are there cracks in processes and structures and who is responsible for them? A leading article in 2015 by McKinsey & Company, updated in 2021, detailed how companies not only perform better but exceed financial industry medians when they have a high percentage of racial and ethnic diversity. In addition, companies that achieved in the top quartile for gender were 15% more likely to achieve the same thing. Looking at this data, we can agree that the benefits of having diverse teams, senior managers and C-suites goes beyond what society should or would expect.

Chief Operations Officer of Omnia Retail, Vanessa Bernhart Verlaan says: “Greatness and creativity start with everyone feeling free to bring their best self forward,” who is the driving force behind the company’s culture and the continuous implementation of the D&I project. One of our three core values is “Free To Be You And Me”, a company-wide focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, and with a team of employees from 12 different countries across 5 continents, we continue to see the positive effects such principles and values have at a grassroots level.

Learn more about Omnia Retail via our LinkedIn page.