Inclusion is vital to achieving sustainability goals

The National Grid’s UK head of diversity, equity & inclusion Lisa Waterhouse looks at how responsible business strategies must include diversity and inclusion in order to promote sustainable practices.

Inclusion is vital to achieving sustainability goals

There is a growing understanding that creating an inclusive workplace and achieving sustainability goals are inherently intertwined. A number of businesses are weaving inclusion into Responsible Business strategies, recognising that a workforce which represents the communities it serves is best placed to deliver on these commitments.

On a worldwide level, the majority of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals adopted globally in 2015 are people-focused and include reducing inequality and bringing social value. For example, achieving gender equality by empowering all women and girls, promoting inclusive and sustainable growth, and achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, are all encompassed in the UN’s plan.

However, while there has been progress to acknowledge the important relationship between inclusion and sustainability, there is still a clear need for many businesses to move from intent to actively creating inclusive environments where sustainability objectives can be achieved. As more people look at green credentials, ethical stance and diversity intentions when choosing their employer, and stakeholder expectations for businesses to contribute to net zero grows, there are steps organisations can take now to benefit their people, the planet and productivity.

Increase accountability across the business

Inclusion sits at the heart of a thriving organisation. When colleagues feel that they belong and are welcomed, appreciated and connected to their peers, they will feel more confident to contribute new ideas and perspectives that can drive business success. As new challenges emerge on the road to net zero, every organisation is going to need the best people to identify new actions and solutions that can ensure their sustainability efforts do not stall.

Leaders must reinforce that inclusion is everyone’s responsibility and empower their people to feel that they can take action and achieve change. Whether this is modelling everyday inclusive behaviours, encouraging everyone to have DEI woven through personal development plans or running a campaign to encourage colleagues to showcase inclusion, increasing accountability is key to embedding an inclusive culture.

Stretch DEI targets and metrics

Diversity targets have been put in place in many businesses as companies look to demonstrate their commitment to equity to create a level playing field. Having these metrics in place to improve representation can shift organisations away from legacy hiring and outdated promotion habits, and towards thinking about the skills and talent they need to meet challenges in the years ahead.

But these can’t just be numbers on a page, they must be accompanied by tangible actions. According to a Deloitte survey, 80 percent of over 1,300 respondents said inclusion efforts were an important factor when choosing an employer. Diversity figures need to be ambitious and drive real cultural change, and this change needs to be visible both internally and externally if businesses want to retain and attract the best people.

Leverage diverse perspectives to strengthen sustainability strategies

Achieving long-term sustainability goals across different sectors and industries will require input from people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This will ensure those whole sectors will be better at taking decisions with a range of perspectives automatically built in.

Harnessing knowledge from different people is critical when designing innovative solutions for reducing a business’ carbon footprint. A diverse workforce is more likely to be aware of how environmental issues affect different areas and communities, which can enable the business to introduce sustainability strategies that reflect local needs and achieve long-term, meaningful progress.

The clock is ticking

To embed diversity, equity and inclusion into a business, and to reap the benefits in terms of sustainability goals, there needs to be continued efforts and actions across organisations – this isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. With climate change at the forefront of businesses and employees’ minds, extreme weather events and a pressing need to reach net zero, businesses need to take steps that will create a working environment in which creating an inclusive culture and delivering on their sustainability agenda go hand in hand.

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