Using the power we hold to increase diversity

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals encourage diversity to reduce inequality and boost economic growth. From the boardroom to boybands, diversity rules

From the Magna Carta (1215) to The Constitution of the United States (1776), equality has been established in laws across the globe for centuries. But only recently in human history have laws been wide enough to support every demographic.

Now with consumer power holding weight alongside the legal system, businesses are keen to prove that they are dedicated to preserving diversity in the workplace – from offices to adverts, supply chains to the CEO. 

In the modern world, not only is diversity expected, it makes good business sense. A team that includes members from diverse backgrounds, with different experiences, lifestyles and achievements will be more prepared to solve complex problems, anticipate responses and predict outcomes, than one where all team members have the w

UN Sustainable Development Goals on diversity

Sadly, diversity is not yet universally acknowledged as a strength in the workplace, with some countries still lacking a Human Resources Department (or similar unit) to protect employees and job interviewees from discrimination due to their unique attributes. 

But some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will address inequality and push for diversity – and not just in the workplace:

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Across the world, women make up only 28% of managerial positions - it’s a good start, but there’s a way to go

Over the next decade, 10mn girls will be at risk of child marriage, which will prevent most from finishing school or entering the workforce. The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to: ‘Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation’

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

The UN predicts that the pandemic will lead to an increase in youth not in school, employment or training, 31% of young women and 14% of young men. As half of the world’s population is under the age of 30, this is huge. 

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals plan to achieve higher levels of economic productivity through: ‘Diversification, technological upgrading and innovation’.

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

By 2030, the UN aims to: ‘Empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.’

In order to reach this goal, discriminatory laws, policies and practices must be abolished, while legislations which promote diversity must be upheld.

Cultural moments in diversity

In September 2021, boyband BTS spoke at the UN, as the Republic of Korea’s Special Presidential Envoys for Future Generations and Culture - and have clocked up 5mn views in two months. Pop culture has led the way for years in pushing for diversity development and businesses have listened.

From #OscarsSoWhite to increasing diverse representation

Following the Covid-19 outbreak in China, prejudice against Asian people living outside of Asia has increased - but movies have fought back.

Parasite was the first movie to win Best Film not made in the English language, which displeased then-President Trump, who remarked that he preferred Gone With the Wind (1939) and Eternals is the first film in the Marvel universe to have included a gay kiss, a deaf character and South Asian superheroes.

David Bowie confronted MTV for lack of Black artists

In 1983, Bowie had just released Let’s Dance. He sat down with MTV’s Mark Goodman and at the end of the interview, asked Goodman: “I’m just floored that there’s so few Black artists featured [on MTV]. Why is that?”

Goodman claimed that MTV was moving forward, but the company was afraid that Prince would alarm some viewers.

Bowie asked: “Should it not be a challenge to make the media far more integrated?” 

Neurological diversity

Greta Thunberg may have lost support at COP26, after inviting world leaders to shove their climate crisis up a particularly warm part of their anatomy, but with her Asperger's syndrome, Greta has served as an ambassador for neurodiversity since her ‘School Strike for Climate’ began in 2018. 

“In this society, everyone thinks the same. If you are on the autism spectrum that makes you different. In a crisis like this, people who think differently can be a good resource”, said Greta

Like the climate protesters she leads, the neurodiverse community is growing stronger. 

Engaging with diversity

Kelly Perry, Head of ESG Client Solutions at Edison Group, found that working from home was convenient in many ways but has had its challenges, “I have missed human interaction”, she says. “It’s important for individuals to share knowledge, experiences to help build diverse relationships both in and outside the organisation.”

Global AuM’s in sustainable investment continues to grow and Edison Group recognises that a common disclosure framework would help make sense of the complex and subjective world of ESG data for companies and investors alike. One challenge in the financial markets is some still feel ESG is a PR stunt and not a real strategy to be imbedded at the core operations and the ethics and culture of a business. “Climate crisis is real, ESG is real and demonstrating ESG commitments is the direction of travel”, she says firmly. “ESG serves a purpose, it’s about corporate transparency and demonstrating a business’ commitment to people and planet. It’s hard to ignore what’s going on around the world and the need for change is imperative – while currently ESG is being driven from large institutions like BlackRock we are seeing a rise in ESG being built into the decision making of more smaller investment firms, the capital available to companies with a robust sustainability strategy is growing. With the rise of stakeholder capitalism and digitalisation, everyone has a public voice and platform and transparency of companies ESG commitments can help avoid negative press and lose out on ESG focused capital.”

Regulators and investors alike are examining company policies on diversity and inclusion. Shareholders and potential shareholders want to see how companies have responded to Covid-19. How can accountability be enforced? “D&I are key to the success of a business. It can be challenging in specific sectors that can be dominated by different diversity groups, however it is important that at a top level, business review the diversity of the board, their colleagues across all business areas to ensure they work with a diversely skilled team”, says Perry. “By being transparent on their D&I and helping to raise awareness and education and training around ESG, companies can prove that they are engaging with ESG commitments.”

Diversity is a strength across the sectors. The Sustainable Procurement Pledge wants to ensure that support of diversity is more than just a box-ticking exercise, by inviting those in the industry to get involved and make a pledge to support organisational change. 

“As far as Diversity is concerned, the same arguments around social justice and performance apply to Procurement”, explains Thomas Udesen, Chief Procurement Officer at Bayer and Co-Founder of The Sustainable Procurement Pledge. “Our organisations should mirror the markets where we operate and we should use the power we hold to reduce inequality. As so often, impact happens when ambitions are lived from the top, when things are hardwired into your decision making and when good behaviour is celebrated and rewarded.”

Moving forward with diversity 

The post-pandemic world might be kinder than the one it left behind. As the world has lost too many lives and so much time, we can grow back stronger, more willing to engage with those a little bit different to us, to be integrated and to listen, as we push to meet The Sustainable Development Goals.

As Udesen says, organisations must use their power to reduce inequality in the workplace and their supply chains. “There is a lot of work [to do] and asking questions that have not been asked before is a good starting point”, Perry adds. “and transparency is a good thing, it’s key to positive and progressive development.”


• Join global business leaders and sustainability experts taking meaningful action at Sustainability LIVE, held at Tobacco Dock, London, 23-24 February 2022. Register to attend today! Click here to learn more. 


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