Opinion: Let's talk about BioDiversity & Inclusion

By Audrey Clegg, Coca-Cola HBC's Group Talent Director
The pandemic has provided opportunities for bold new thinking in leadership, argues Audrey Clegg, Coca-Cola HBC’s Group Talent Director...

COVID-19 has been horrific in so many ways and continues to inflict huge suffering. But what fills me with hope is that so many of us have learned something positive and, even better, we are changing the way we lead as a result.

Many of these changes are reflected in a brand-new report from CEMS, a global alliance of more than 30 leading business schools and 70 corporate partners including Coca-Cola HBC

In the report titled CEMS Guide to Leadership in a Post-COVID-19 World, there are two changes that are truly inspiring for me:

  • Mental health is key. Leaders have become much more open about the importance of emotional and mental health at work. The bravest show their vulnerability by talking about their own experiences, ranging from the effects of stress to burn out and depression. Those stories are a huge gift, paving the way for better understanding and more support for those who suffer. 
  • We are failing better. Artists, inventors and great leaders have known for generations that the best way to learn is to make mistakes. Businesses big and small are now embracing this essential truth expressed so well by Churchill: ‘Success,’ he said, ‘consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’

Certainly, these trends aren’t new, but the pandemic has driven change faster than we could possibly have envisaged. And such acceleration has happened in another area that is particularly close to my heart: diversity and inclusion (D&I).

Better prepared for future crisis

The research into the business case for D&I is widely accepted: companies with a diverse workforce and inclusive cultures outperform in terms of innovation, productivity and engagement. But, unfortunately, crisis of any kind tends to dampen enthusiasm for the bold action that is needed to drive complex changes like D&I.

Thankfully, however, crisis also offers an opportunity to step outside the confines of our current thinking. If it hadn’t been for lockdown, for example, I wouldn’t have been exploring my Zurich neighbourhood so much on foot – normally, if I want nature, I head to the Swiss mountains. But just 10 minutes from home, I discovered Belvoir Park with its collection of more than 120 iris species.

As I stared at the flowers and the insects pollinating them, I had a thought: what if we expand what we mean by D&I to include the diversity of ALL living things? If we think in terms of bioD&I, wouldn’t that help us prepare more efficiently for that other crisis we’re in the middle of - climate change.

Aligning thought, word and action

In many ways, we’re doing this already. Most would agree that a team or business that takes into account the environmental and social impact of their work will attract more talent, more consumers, more capital. And it will generate more inspiration and a stronger sense of purpose.

But it feels like the language we use hasn’t caught up. bioD&I is a new idea for me, and it needs thorough testing. Some will say, for example, that it could detract attention from the urgent action needed on gender, race and sexuality. 

Yet, each time I practice using the phrase, I find my mind opening up to new thinking on these complex topics, especially when the conversation gets heated: the broader, more inclusive my perspective, the calmer I feel and the more clearly I can think. 

Equally, the inspiration we get from nature is epic – as is the hugely powerful sense of purpose we get when our work helps to tackle environmental issues like climate change or plastic pollution. 

If a concept like bioD&I can help broaden our thinking and calm overheated discussion and remind us what we stand to lose if we don’t respond to climate change, then I think it deserves a road test. Do let me know what you think! 

Covid has been devastating for so many. Let’s make sure the opportunities it’s given us to reimagine and rethink how we live and work aren’t wasted. Let’s hope we can make life fairer and happier for the generations to come.


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