The connection between diversity, inclusion and corporate responsibility

Last year has been a watershed for our culture. With the #MeToo movement and the many, often painful episodes of racial friction, we are reaching a new public consciousness and consensus around the need to understand each other’s perspectives. At the same time, with high levels of engagement around the Sustainable Development Goals, we are seeing remarkable levels of consensus on the opportunity for a new level of inclusion on a global scale.

For those of us in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) trenches, pushing for changes in the workplace that have brought us this far, there is hope that this cultural moment will help propel us further toward a fully empowered and respected generation.

I wrote "hope" for a reason. This is not a given.

A quick look at most leadership structures tells us that we have a way to go to help our businesses realize their potential with full participation from and consideration of a diversity of viewpoints.

If our hope is to be realized, I believe we as D&I leaders have to capitalize on this moment by working with a natural — but not yet fully leveraged — partner. That would be our friends in social responsibility.

Here is another movement that started, like diversity, on the defense. External pressures, risk mitigation and official compliance triggered most businesses to adopt more responsible practices and support innovative efforts to promote human rights, address environmental challenges and improve communities. Eventually, these efforts became more integral and were pulled together under a corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability team.

Then came along the Millenials and Gen Zs. These younger employees and customers have come to see practices such as sustainability and community economic empowerment as mandatory for their loyalty. Their voices, combined with business insiders who were increasingly seeing tangible business benefits of social responsibility, moved the discipline to the forefront.

Forbes recently cited Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship research that shows C-suite leadership overseeing CSR initiatives has spiked nearly 75 percent since five years ago. Like, D&I, however, few people in the Social Responsibility discipline would say they have reached their destination.

How can they get there? The same way we can. Embracing our shared goals and pushing toward them.

Both D&I and CSR, fundamentally, are about reaching out to disenfranchised communities, bringing new market insights to the table and driving collaborative solutions to business challenges. They are also both skilled at helping the business to understand new, broader definitions of success that will be relevant for the evolving marketplace.

Taken together, they both envision a business community that embraces broader economic benefits and more social inclusion. 

This may seem obvious to outsiders, but within the D&I and CSR silos, we can feel quite different.

Learn more about Sodexo's strategy for diversity and inclusion during the Wednesday session of the GreenBiz 19 virtual event.

For instance, there is often an obvious lack of diversity in CSR. This is partially rooted in the fact that many CSR divisions began with a focus on environmental practices and drew talent from that sector. Environmentalism, as a recent GreenBiz piece described, is sometimes marked by a woeful lack of diversity.

At the same time, we sometimes approach the same goal from different starting points. Take gender equality. We both want it, but D&I might focus more on recruitment and leadership where CSR might focus more on community empowerment. These can seem like different goals, but they are, in fact, merely different approaches to the same end: improving quality of life.

Take, for example, the shared goal for gender equity, which can broaden a company’s leadership perspective, improve employee engagement, boost brand recognition and other KPIs while lifting up local economies. (You read more in the new Pew Research study on Women and Leadership). A 2015 McKinsey report found that if women globally were to reach their full economic potential, it could add $12 trillion to the economy.

Similar cases can be made for human rights, hunger and environmental protections and others. It is why the highest levels of social responsibility strategy are increasingly integrating the two imperatives in their messaging. While the approach to change may differ between D&I and CSR and the core subject matters are distinct, many skills we use intersect. These may include stakeholder engagement, change management, supply chain assessment, community relations, measurement and reporting, and telling our story. 

How can we turn our hopes into realities? In the future, we will benefit from increasing levels of collaboration between the two fields to work better together even while allowing teams to maintain their subject matter expertise.

We can build bridges and listen to each other. We can broaden our own perspectives. We can work together to reach our shared vision.