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Diversity and inclusion, new pillars of business strategies

Projects and initiatives to open companies to diversity

The concept of Diversity & Inclusion is considered a source of innovation for companies in the 21st century job market and enhancing integration and diversity within work environments is the business strategy at its core. Integrating Diversity & Inclusion Management within an organisation also implies a cultural change that will bring a certain amount of resistance. This requires strong complex reasoning skills in order to achieve increased autonomy and listening at various levels of the organisation. According to a study by Wise Growth and the ISTUD Business School involving 55 large companies in various industrial sectors, a workplace that is welcoming and open to diversity is the main incentive in adopting Diversity & Inclusion policies. More specifically, for 95% of the sample the main objective is to improve company atmosphere; for 84% to promote diversity at all hierarchical levels; for 80% to attract and retain a plural work force; for 71% the possibility of using and enhancing different points of view in decision-making processes and for 61% the reduction in costs associated with turnover, absenteeism and low productivity.

According to the same study, the most widespread practice regards flexibility and smart working which has been adopted by 76% of the sample companies; followed by networking aimed at “knowledge sharing” with other companies (58%), empowerment programmes (55%), mentoring programmes (53%) and initiatives supporting maternity and motherhood (53%). Regarding managers specifically, the most common practice is training to raise awareness of Diversity & Inclusion issues (73%), followed by the creation of plural leadership models (55%), while 42% of companies use shares, numerical targets or Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to accelerate change. Although there have been numerous and significant changes concerning diversity management in Italy recently, the main goals are still mostly linked to gender inequality (82%), followed by initiatives aimed at young people (55 percent) and those aimed at disabled people (53%). 

An indirect reference to the concept of Diversity & Inclusions first appeared in 1962 with the establishment of the OECD Development Centre, which was conceived as an independent platform for sharing knowledge and for political dialogue between member states. Since then, the OECD has drawn attention to systemic issues that could have an impact on development, building on the results from analyses and strategic partnerships to help countries formulate innovative political solutions to global development challenges. Within the framework of the United Nations’ goals to promote greater social and gender inclusion, many examples have also been reported within multinational companies. In Africa, for example, inclusive business models have found success in low-income countries such as Burkina Faso, but also in countries undergoing solid growth such as Ethiopia and Ghana: these initiatives are often launched with the support of multilateral and credit agencies (OECD, World Bank) and are then refined with the countries’ own methods and greater territorial integration.

The experience of the Sonke Gender Justice, a South African-based network supported by a range of donors (UNHCR, UNICEF, Open Society Foundation for South Africa among others), is significant. The network has launched stable projects involving men and women from different social backgrounds including refugees and migrants, detainees and former convicts and civil society and private sector activists. In Burkina Faso, an example of collaboration between the private sector and local communities is shown by the L’Occitane Foundation. The French group supports a network of local textile and women’s entrepreneurial cooperatives, supporting 15,000 women in strengthening their businesses. The Foundation has developed a three-pillar approach: literacy programmes for women; financial and technical support through microcredit programmes and training courses; support for entrepreneurial activities for small businesses.