Creating a culture of equity

From sticker solution to accountable action. Do businesses truly get diversity?

From sticker solution to buzzword, “diversity” seems to be everywhere. In reality, the term diversity is a one-note descriptor that does not encompass its true, well, diversity.

Beyond race, diversity is a label with many faces and facets that often intersect. These can include ideology, thought, gender equality, ageism, faith and belief systems, cognitive diversity and LGBTQ+ rights, and groups on the periphery of any system, including those with physical or cognitive disabilities. Every cohort brings different demographics, thoughts, and abilities to the workplace, which are critical to innovation, company culture, and creating a space for people to thrive.

Diversity is an organic part of an ethical culture.

But, few organisations are truly engaged in creating a meaningful culture that has diversity at its core. A bare minimum would be acknowledging the need for it. As of early 2021, 76% of companies admit that they do not have diversity or inclusion goals, to begin with. To lead into the future, leaders will be tasked with understanding and taking action to reflect the vast cultural landscape — and building an organisation that reflects those values from the ground up.

It’s not a choice; it’s an expectation. No demographic is sounding the alarm more than future workers: Gen Zers. Their worldview is organically one of inclusivity and fairness, and they expect organisations they work for to reflect those values. Creating an inclusive culture starts with designing systems, spaces and teams that speak to every individual, so they can show up as they are at work.

Companies will need to expand the very definition of diversity today to encompass aspects that are merely on the fringe now, from ageism to inclusivity that embraces trans rights and disability rights to cognitive diversity and even organisational factors that drive deep-set biases.

The business of emotional, physical and mental health

Compounded by the pandemic, people everywhere need solutions to address mental health issues, from grief to loneliness and substance abuse, and overall emotional wellness. Access to such services is a barrier for many, however.

Businesses have a growing role in ensuring the wellbeing —physical, mental, emotional — of their people. A baseline nod to wellbeing is often seen in white-collar companies, where visual cues to health are offered in the form of break rooms, gym discounts or the odd office plant. That is only a start; never mind that it leaves out a vast cohort of workers. Access to being and feeling well is a privilege for the select few that will need to evolve beyond the haves and have-nots.

There’s an overwhelming demand for solutions to address the rising tide of mental health issues, and technology is stepping in. We’re seeing rising investments in the mental health space: one example is the $4.6 billion valuation of Lyra, a mental health platform for workers and their dependents, which includes things like therapy, coaching and medication support.

Emotional health leaves an imprint on our own lives and our ability to be productive and well-functioning humans. What neuroscientists call “poor cognitive function” affects how we problem-solve or approach creative tasks. Experts agree that many of the long-term effects of 2020 on our wellbeing are only starting to surface, but they will need to be acknowledged and addressed.

Welcome to the human capital era

The blurring lines between life and work, new hybrid work models, and the mainstay of technologies and AI will only fast forward the need for leadership that hones in on one thing: being human. To do so, leaders will need to forge a new relationship with their workforce. This comes when the pandemic only accelerated the racial and socioeconomic divides that had already begun before 2020, as Dr. Vivienne Ming highlights in Remote Work. We’re witnessing a shift in power dynamics at work, moving away from executives and toward employees and people in communities. All of them will have more say in the future of business.

There’s a budding demand for reskilling at the top with leadership based on empathy, ethics and a renewed focus on human development and potential. The World Economic Forum has called out empathy as a key competency for the leaders of the future. It also means leaning on technology tools that will help create the space to focus on the more relational aspects of business, with the ultimate goal of designing more nimble, successful future organisations.

Purpose for powerful change

More than ever, organisations have both an obligation and an opportunity to flatten inequities across racial, economic and technological divides. If anything, the pandemic has emphasised the divides between the wealthy and those living on the poverty line. By the end of this year, the World Bank estimates that the pandemic will have increased the number of extremely poor by as many as 150 million globally.

Where governments and institutions may be failing, some companies are stepping in on issues from voting rights to racial rights. Brands from HP to Estée Lauder and Under Armour are among 200 companies demanding that the government protect voter rights to ensure democracy. Global organisations need to recognise the threat to society — and to their businesses — that growing inequities cause, and do their part to address them.

Designs for a resilient future

Creating a more resilient world for everyone is up to people and organisations alike. Companies of all kinds will have to shift the focus from what they sell to how they show up — it’s expected of them. According to Gartner, some 74% of employees expect their workplaces to engage more actively in cultural debates. 

Resiliency will demand better infrastructure and standards to counter environmental disasters and climate change, the effects of which are becoming more evident by the day as floods decimate European cities and the smoke of fires burning in Oregon reaches the East Coast. By 2070, some parts of the world will be unsuitable for human habitation, The Economist projects.

The leaders of tomorrow will have to dare to look beyond their walls to understand their part in a societal structure — and strategically create positive effects in the world.

To remain competitive and succeed, having a firm interest in local communities and environments is a way to strengthen and thrive for a better future for all.

Download “The Equity Effect” report here

Anna Sofia Martin is the Editorial Director at sparks & honey.

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