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Diversity a key factor in workplace sustainability

Friday, 27 May 2016   (0 Comments)
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Austrian-born Frank Brueck is an expert in the field of Intercultural Competence, Management, and Training. He is the director of Be the Change Consulting and he also leads Golden Sustainability, a programme with more than 60 research centres worldwide which develops experimental projects with companies to accelerate the development of sustainable business concepts. In this Q&A he explores the value of bridging cultural differences in workplaces in order to create more diversity and sustainability in organisations.  


What is diversity and why is it so important in the workplace? 


Diversity is a fundamental reality of life. It deals with the dimensions of ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, etc. used to differentiate groups and people from one another. Most importantly, it refers to the respect and appreciation with which we address these differences. This includes our private lives just as much as our work life. At the workplace the different perspectives, experiences, and values employees bring in represent an invaluable asset. An important pre-requisite to realise this potential is to create an atmosphere of inclusion. This is a state in which individuals are valued, respected and supported. Such conditions need to be established to allow and encourage each member of the organisation to contribute their best in accordance with their individual abilities.


What strategies can companies with fairly homogenous staff / teams use to foster diversity?


Homogeneity is fine where the work is highly repetitive and monotonous. However, a diverse work force is of particular value at workplaces where the tasks dealt with are higher in complexity and allow for a certain amount of creativity. In these contexts, the management is well advised to release the potential already embedded in their diverse staff. The first step is to assess the degree of existing diversity and to encourage contributions reflecting that diversity. In case the level of diversity is not satisfactory it becomes a matter of targeted talent acquisition. Research also indicates that talent retention is easier in more diverse working communities.


Is there a link between diversity in the work place and sustainability?


This link certainly exists. Since sustainability consists of environmental, economical, and social aspects, diversity and inclusion are direct sustainability issues. This is also reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals passed by the UN in 2015 where gender equality and reduced inequalities are prominently placed among the 17 goals. There is however another important link: sustainability issues tend to be complex and involve many different interest groups. These are the conditions where creativity, the ability to change perspectives, and empathy play a most important role to find multi-faceted solutions suitable for a different stakeholders. These are exactly the strengths functioning diverse teams have to offer.


What are the main trends we are seeing in corporate sustainability at the moment? How has it shifted in the past decade? 


There is a very promising overall development across industries of increased public sustainability reporting. Interestingly this does not only include the large corporations who are obliged to report, but also an increasing number of SMEs. This is particularly promising since many studies show that the publication of sustainability goals leads to higher sustainability and economic performance. In terms of content the biggest trend we have noticed in the analysis of close to 40,000 corporate sustainability initiatives in the GOLDEN Observatory – a database for the assessment of corporate sustainability reports –  involve job creation, the environment, health, as well as education and training. Overall companies put more and more emphasis on the improvement of their internal processes than on pure philanthropy and donations. This is a very welcome development which needs to be accelerated however.


What are the main areas that need to be addressed for companies to become more sustainable?


Sustainability is a vast field and there are so many important and relevant aspects to it. Companies easily get lost in the jungle of stakeholder requests, regulations, and ambitions. Doing a little bit everywhere is much better than nothing, but more often than not the results are unsatisfactory. The one sure way to improve corporate sustainability performance is to embed the necessary principles and values into a company's processes and culture. In combination with a sincere stakeholder dialogue this will ensure a competitive advantage and lasting sustainability in every aspect of business. Only once the main business functions (like operations, finance, HR, etc.) act in accordance with a comprehensive sustainability strategy, a company can be considered a sustainable firm.


What are you really excited about by what you are seeing in the sustainability ecosystem at the moment? 


There is a new development towards the 'flourishing corporation' that is very promising. More than simply sustaining a certain state, the focus here lies on the production of benefits for all groups who are in contact with the organisation. It became evident that a company can only flourish from inside. Health and wellbeing of the employees are therefore a pre-requisite for a flourishing company. When the staff is balanced and in a good frame of mind also the outside interactions will be improved and all can benefit. I believe this goes in the right direction and brings a completely new perspective to the discussion.


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