DIAL Global Summit: Businesses that don’t prioritise diversity are ‘tactically short sighted’

·3 min read
Panelists at ' The Growing and Changing Role of CEO’s – Speaking up and speaking out as Activists' session. Photo: Dial Global Virtual Summit
Panelists at 'The Growing and Changing Role of CEO’s – Speaking up and speaking out as Activists' session. Photo: Dial Global Virtual Summit

Companies that don’t take diversity and inclusion (D&I) seriously are at a risk of losing talent and at a major disadvantage, said panellists at the Dial Global Virtual Summit.

Speaking at a session called "The Growing and Changing Role of CEO’s — Speaking up and speaking out as Activists," Andrew Pearce, a managing director at Accenture (ACN), said these companies are “tactically short-sighted.”

He cited a report by the UK government from earlier this year that said Britain loses £24bn ($32.7bn) annually when it fails to bring talented Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic professionals into the workforce.

He said the responsibility of this does not rely on human resources or advocates within a company, top leadership must also speak up.

“It's not about tokenism, just having someone on a team for the sake of diversity who is not actually included, doesn’t have a voice and doesn’t feel safe is not the aim,” he said, adding that research shows a truly diverse team performs 30% to 40% better and makes companies 30% to 60% more innovative.

He also said that the new working generation is looking for an inclusive workplace and if they are not made to feel welcome and given a sense of belonging they are likely to leave.

“Our boards and our leaders need to understand the impact inclusion and diversity has on business.”

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Andrew Denton, CEO at Alfa (ALFA.L), said it was after the murder of George Floyd in the US that he realised that "straight, white privileged males" must speak up otherwise “we will just make the same mistakes as the previous generations have made.”

He said that was a turning point for him and where “personal activism merged with business activism” and he put up a post about it on his LinkedIn page.

He also said its critical for him that he has the backing of his board otherwise he would not be able to make decisions he does not morally agree with — such as not opening a new country hub in a country where LGBTQ+ rights were not upheld, even though from a business perspective the country fit the bill.

He also put up a post following the racism faced by some players on the England team in the Euro 2020 football tournament.

“Frankly I was so cross it took me a day to collect my thoughts but the important thing is to have the barometer — its not about politics and belief, bigotry is just self-evidently wrong and speaking out against it is self-evidently right.”

The CEOs on the panel also discussed the importance of having a consistent narrative inside the company that matches what is said to clients and what is said to the public, otherwise credibility is lost.

The advice from Leendert den Hollander, VP & general manager, Northern Europe, Coca-Cola (KO) Europacific Partners, was that leaders cannot speak up about every issue.

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Instead, they must pick the key issues that matter the most to them, their colleagues and their community and then become an ambassador for those.

It's not enough to speak up, he said, there also needs to be specific course of action. As for negative reactions, he said "people might not like what you say or how you say it, you might not always strike the right tone, but that’s ok. What is important is intent and the ongoing action behind that intent."

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