Everywhere you turn, it seems business leaders (let alone politicians) are extolling the virtues of diversity and inclusion. In the race to a sustainable future and a fairer society built on responsible business activity, diversity and inclusion are crucial to success.
We speak to Shobha Meera, Chief CSR Officer, Capgemini Group and Amy Lynch, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Thoughtworks UK to gauge their views on what has changed and what more needs to be done to properly embrace diversity and inclusion – and reap the business benefits.
How has the diversity and inclusion landscape changed in the last two years?
Shobha Meera (SM): Diversity and Inclusion have become far more central to the Board and CEO agenda. There are several driving forces that go beyond regulation and governance. D&I is being shaped by the evolving profile of the modern workforce which increasingly places a premium on inclusive culture and purpose. Racial justice, a greater understanding and value for diverse abilities and neurodiversity, and advocacy are also other emerging factors that are changing the D&I landscape. Verna Meyers once said – “diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” While we’ve certainly made progress, there is still room for improvement.
Amy Lynch (AL): The range of issues businesses now think about in comparison to 2 years ago is broader. Events such as BLM, the murder of George Floyd, the impact of the pandemic and remote working, to name a few, have meant businesses now realise that there are so many different experiences that we need to think about when we are thinking about diversity and inclusion.
What are the biggest benefits of diversity and inclusion for business?
SM: Quite simply, it comes down to company performance – diversity and inclusion boosts innovation and creativity and helps to build resilience.
AL: Creative and innovative companies rely on a diverse workforce. Again, our research found that growing businesses were significantly more likely to see the business benefits of championing DEI issues than those scaling back. Most commonly cited, over a third of growing businesses believed championing DEI issues was a key part of better relationships with employees (versus 18% of contracting businesses) and led to better staff retention (32% versus 17%).
Do we need more D&I in the C-suite?
SM: Undoubtedly – changes start at the top. Diversity in the C-suite is one of the most important factors for driving broader D&I improvement and shaping a culture that values different types of leaders, talent, and abilities. Leadership teams can also drive collective mobilisation: affirmative networks and employee resource groups for colleagues to engage with and contribute to make the diversity and inclusion agenda a reality.
At Capgemini, our goal is to have to reach 30% women in exec leadership positions by 2025. In parallel, as leaders should lead by example, from 2021, all of our managers and executives will enter an inclusive leadership training path, starting with workshops on unconscious bias, to develop new mindsets and behaviours.
Beyond gender diversity, the group is also committed to ethnic diversity wherever we operate. We are a founding member of the World Economic Forum's “Partnering for Racial Justice in Business” initiative, a coalition of organisations and multinational company leaders committed to creating fair and just workplaces for people whose ethnic identities are under-represented and to eradicate racism at the workplace in a sustainable manner.
AL: Yes! There are a number of different reasons for this. We need C-level people that are making decisions to be representative of the communities that they serve, otherwise they will not be making the decisions that will have the greatest impact, and be of the greatest benefit, to most individuals.
There is a need to create a culture where all people feel seen, respected and heard. Without this, there is a strong possibility people will leave. This is not just about having people from minority groups in decision making roles, but also encouraging people to be role models for other future leaders of the organisation as well.
What countries or regions are embracing D&I and which have more work to do?
SM: North America, the UK, Australia, and several European countries have made solid progress, and this is the topic on every CEO’s agenda. However, progress is less consistent in some developing countries and in Asia.
AL: At Thoughtworks, we are committed to diversity and inclusion across all our regions and have global aspirational goals in place to continue increasing gender representation in tech. However, aligning efforts across regions can become more complicated when you take into account nuances such as socio-political and legal factors in different countries.
For example, race and ethnicity continues to be a big focus for Thoughtworks in the UK, as well as other regions like North America, Brazil, and Germany. In India this area is more complex, however Thoughtworks India has been leading on LGBTQ+ inclusion for many years which is particularly important given some of the laws that still exist, preventing LGBTQ+ people from being fully accepted.
What is the best single piece of advice you give a CEO when it comes to D&I?
SM: It starts with you. Your actions and the team you build will speak more about your commitment than anything else.
AL: Remain open, humble, listen and learn, and understand that even though an employee’s experiences are different to your own, this doesn’t mean they aren’t valid. DEI issues will not be solved with the wave of a magic wand, yet it's important and requires you to be intentional with your approach, measure what you can, and learn step by step is the best approach.
What does the next 12-18 months look like to you when it comes to D&I?
SM: For us, it is about building on progress. Capgemini is committed to increasing the diversity of our workforce and have made ESG commitments including reaching 40% women in our teams, and 30% of female exec leaders. Yet gender representation is only one piece of the puzzle, we are focused on broader diversity and equity goals, and we are working to strengthen our culture through multiple pathways including leadership models, D&I training, ERGs, allyship, and much more.
AL: At Thoughtworks, our goals for the next 12-24 months are looking at how we reduce voluntary attrition, increase diverse representation and improve engagement for people from underrepresented communities. We do this against the continuing backdrop of remote and hybrid working, which itself has raised a number of DEI issues that need attention – from supporting parents and carers to the problems of presenteeism.
Shobha Meera, Chief CSR Officer, Capgemini Group
As the Chief CSR Officer for the Capgemini Group, Shobha drives the strategy for its corporate social responsibility mandate which constitutes three pillars: Diversity & Inclusion, Digital Inclusion, Environmental Sustainability. Working alongside the global CSR network and 270,000+ colleagues who are passionate about the health of our planet & society, she is committed to achieving the ambition for Capgemini to be a global CSR leader. For most of her career, Shobha has been a business and sales leader with extensive experience in sales management & transformation, most recently in the Financial Services space.
Amy Lynch, head of diversity, equity and inclusion, Thoughtworks UK
Amy has worked with technology teams for more than a decade and currently heads up diversity & inclusion for Thoughtworks in the UK. Amy is passionate about social justice and committed to amplifying those who often go unheard and underserved. She has been included on Northern Power Women's 2019 Future List and champions a more equitable future for all.
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