The concept of diversity and inclusion (D&I) remains a topic of debate. Starting with the feminist movement, many organizations have made great efforts to promote progressive and liberal ideologies in the last 50 years. The discourse has shifted significantly from addressing women as one group, to recognizing the heterogeneity of experiences and addressing the inequalities that people experience at home, in the workplace, or in society.
While there is an increasing awareness on how D&I provides a basis for creativity, innovation, and economic success, there is often a lack of effective action brought about by our unconscious biases. We have achieved remarkable progress and fueled social justice movements to redefine equality as a basic right, yet long-held and deep-seated societal beliefs continue to dominate and challenge what we have achieved. Because of this, the fight for equality is far from over.
THE SYNERGY BETWEEN DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
Our identities extend beyond traditional considerations, such as those based on ability, age, culture, race, gender identity, socio-economic background, and more. On the one hand, diversity is about representation or the make-up of an entity. Diversity allows the exploration of individual differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment, as in Southeast Asia, one of the most diverse places in the world — a rich mosaic of people, ethnic groups, languages, and beliefs. On the other hand, inclusion is about how well the contributions, presence, and perspectives of different groups of people are elicited and integrated into an environment. In other words, inclusion is a culture that gives everyone a seat at the table.
Diverse and inclusive cultures allow people to feel respected and valued for who they are as an individual or as a group. In the workplace, inclusion is one of the most important tools for employee retention. It is when employees feel that their ideas and contributions are taken seriously by the organization.
To put it simply, as one author noted, “Diversity is the mix and inclusion is getting the mix to work well together.”
WALKING THE TALK
In 2021, the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD) was one of the few, if not the first, among major business organizations to achieve a gender-equal board. Aside from gender parity, the ICD Board is made up of trustees with varied industry experiences and coming from different age groups. With this profile, you can imagine the level of discussion that takes place in the board meetings. Certainly, the perspectives of all board members are given due course. Moving forward, the recent ICD board election will enhance the other dimensions of diversity as the new trustees who are serving their first term are relatively younger and are “tech savvy” with strong IT backgrounds. Indeed, D&I initiatives should be led from the top and must begin in the boardroom.
Another best example is Lamoiyan Corp., the manufacturer of the beloved Filipino brand Hapee Toothpaste. President and CEO Cecilio Pedro implemented the “Equal Employment Program” for the purpose of providing opportunities to persons with disabilities. The program includes free housing for more than 30 deaf-mute staff, and training in sign language for company managers as a means of communicating with the disabled staff. The company’s values are deeply rooted in the belief that businesses should not only focus on making profits but should also contribute to the greater good of all. Lamoiyan Corp. was recognized for having the Most Outstanding Program for Equal Employment Opportunity by providing employment to the country’s hearing-impaired community members.
THE ROAD TO D&I
You may ask, “Where do I start?” Here are some practical tips that you may consider to jumpstart your D&I journey:
1. Figure out your “why” and identify what you want to achieve. A deeper examination of motives and goals is necessary. You need to know why such initiatives are critical for your business.
2. Use company data to measure, monitor, evaluate, and improve policies and practices on D&I.
3. Dive down to the team level. Each industry should look at the diversity of teams, not just the company as a whole. What matters is that each team is diverse and that under-represented groups are distributed across the company. The team level is where you are going to feel the impact of D&I. As they say, “A diversity of perspectives makes better decisions to arrive at better outcomes.”
4. Most importantly, to make these happen, lead change from the top. Make it clear to the employees, investors, shareholders, and consumers that D&I is a key principle of good corporate governance.
I spoke recently about D&I in ICD’s Masterclass Series as a preview to a full-blown course scheduled at a later date. I discussed the basic concepts of corporate D&I and how business leaders can ensure that their leadership style promotes a culture of belonginess. Likewise, MAP, in partnership with IBPAP, is organizing a webinar on “Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace” to rally business leaders to personally commit and promote D&I, not just as a good thing to do, but as a business imperative for an organization to work better and thrive.
There is more to learn about harnessing the power of diverse and inclusive teams but one thing is clear: leaders who consciously and purposefully practice D&I will reap the benefits of the superior performance of their teams.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.
Ma. Aurora “Boots” D. Geotina-Garcia is a member of the MAP D&I Committee and the MAP ESG Committee. She is vice-chair and president of ICD. She is founding chair and president of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN) and co-chair of Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE). She is also president of Mageo Consulting, Inc., a corporate finance advisory services firm.