Today’s organisational world is characterised by heterogeneity: cultures, generations and experiences that make individuals unique. Promoting diversity and inclusion has become a competitive factor for companies. But is this a passing fad or a real priority?

As Robin Ely and David Thomas mention in their article Getting Serious About Diversity (Harvard Business Review, 2020), the risk of current diversity rhetoric is to fall into clichés, or into “Diversity washing”, without achieving the desired results.

Among the main clichés are: confusing correlation with causation (for example, no significant relationship has been found between gender diversity on boards and company performance); or claiming that a diverse workforce improves financial performance (there are no studies that demonstrate an automatic link); the same applies when claiming that a diverse team makes better decisions (on the contrary, this can increase tensions and conflicts).

It is not enough to ‘add’ diversity

So how can D&I be transformed into real value? According to the Harvard Business Review researchers, it is not enough to ‘add’ diversity: what matters is how an organisation works on it, in particular along three tracks: power, equality, and learning.

When people from different identity groups are able to reflect on and discuss how the team and the way of working functions (power), when they have equal access to economic, decision-making and status resources (equality), and when they are enabled to recognise their differences and learn from them, rather than minimising or denying them (learning), then diversity can truly become a resource.

70% of talents emerge from personal roles

On the other hand, as the reflections of the participants in the Lifeed’s MultiMe® Finder, self-discovery exercise revealed, an average of five roles coexist in people on a daily basis (of which only 1.5 are work roles) and each of these roles is expressed on average through five character traits. Furthermore, it emerged that 70% of people’s talents are to be found in personal and family roles. A hidden potential that, compared to the percentage of talents expressed only in professional roles (12%), makes us realise how much talent risks being wasted at work.

This talent can be harnessed through life-based learning that enables people to express their full capabilities in every life role, personal and professional. For companies, there is an improvement in what Lifeed has defined as the “Diverse Talent Index”, which measures the percentage of overall available talent that is used at work.

All this was discussed during the Caring Company Digital Talk “The Strength of Diversity” promoted by Lifeed, through the data presented by Martina Borsato, Lifeed Data Strategist, the testimonies of experts from the HR world, who shared corporate best practices in the field of Diversity&Inclusion, and the moderation of Chiara Sivieri, Lifeed Customer Executive.

D&I as a business driver

First of all, it is essential for the values declared by companies to be acted upon concretely and consistently. Valeria Icardi, Customer Team Director & D&I ERG Leader at Barilla, a company that understands inclusion as an integral part of its culture and code of ethics, is convinced of this.

Furthermore, for Barilla, D&I is also a strategic imperative that supports the company’s business model. In fact, by creating a link between diversity initiatives and company performance, it is possible to overcome possible managerial resistance and demonstrate the usefulness of D&I programmes also in terms of profit.

To do this, an organisation must carry out some planning and action work on the subject. In addition to structuring itself internally with a dedicated Global D&I Board and roles such as a Chief Diversity Officer, Barilla has introduced Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), voluntary groups of employees who actively promote an inclusive culture and promote change in the company, dialoguing with their counterparts abroad.

To reach this maturity, Barilla initially partnered with specialised companies to lay a solid foundation of D&I culture, then introduced specific metrics to measure the effectiveness of inclusion programmes.

According to Icardi, having a deeper understanding of the company and valuing the uniqueness of people allows this culture to be transferred both within the company and to customers.

Measuring and listening are fundamental

A company’s reputation and its ability to attract talent also require a concrete Diversity & Inclusion strategy, as pointed out by Teresa Mancino, Talent & Learning Lead at ING, a company that has professionals who promote Diversity & Inclusion in all countries where it operates.

For the company, what made the difference in the success of its D&I policies was adopting a concrete approach to translate values into personal behaviour and corporate initiatives that promote real inclusion.

Constant measurement and listening through surveys have proved useful in making people feel involved, putting in place bottom-up action plans and monitoring their effectiveness over time. In Italy, for example, ING has built a HR dashboard to measure the level of diversity in various company areas.

According to Mancino, every employee has a talent, but only a healthy and inclusive environment can help people to bring this talent to the surface.

Inclusion and performance: a positive relationship

Creating a deep and positive relationship between inclusion and performance is possible if D&I is properly embedded in an overall project. But, as Andrea Rubera, People Caring & Inclusion Manager at TIM, points out, in Italy, much still needs to be invested in communication (especially in small and medium-sized enterprises) to increase management awareness of the fact that D&I has a direct relationship with business.

For example, TIM discovered a positive effect on the involvement of its employees. Through research carried out in collaboration with the La Sapienza University of Rome, the company verified the impact of D&I initiatives on people, noting that those who said they felt more included also had the highest engagement values (the average level increased by 20 points over the last three years).

One of the many initiatives put in place by the company to promote diversity is the “TIM For Inclusion Community” through which people can suggest actions to the company, form working groups and develop projects to be approved by a special internal committee.

The community is based on three main drivers: to make needs emerge from the bottom up, because the person must be the protagonist in the expression of his or her needs; to value the uniqueness of the person, in order to bring out all aspects of his or her identity; to leave traces, i.e. asserting the company’s commitment to D&I both through internal documents and through external communication.

Inclusion is one of the main areas of impact (along with well-being and talent development) of actions focused on care for people by companies. On this topic, Lifeed has produced the whitepaper “Care as a driver for inclusion, well-being and development of talents”.

The Unipol Group has been committed to Welfare services for many years that aim to make life both deeper and lighter, through programmes focused on the two fundamental pillars of care: parenting and caregiving.

In order to expand and strengthen its initiatives to support parenthood, in 2017 the Unipol Group introduced the Lifeed Child Masters’ course, aimed at colleagues who are new parents.

The aim was to unlock, both on a personal and corporate level, the wealth of benefits from the development of transverse skills that the parenting experience generates and to create a positive exchange between the two areas.

The data on the Child Master’s programme highlight the enhancement of the ability to combine the identity of parent with that of professional, the increase in energy, skills and positive exchange between the two spheres. This is further enhanced by an increase in identification with the company.

“With Lifeed, we wanted to legitimise even more in the company the fact that caring for children releases positive energy and makes people thrive, and the results prove it,” says Sabina Tarozzi, Head of Welfare Programmes at Unipol.

Today, the situation in the world of work is radically different from the pre-pandemic period. People’s priorities have changed and organisational arrangements have been radically transformed, probably forever. As a result, the labour market is also no longer the same.

Smart working has become increasingly widespread and people have often found themselves working from home. In this context, as shown by the 2021 Annual Survey of the Lifeed Work-Life Observatory, which surveyed 1,258 participants in its training programmes, there has been a shift in people’s focus towards their own well-being.

Among caring roles, 40% of participants recognise that they take care of themselves, a 90% increase over the 2020 figure (where only 4% per cent recognised that they take care of themselves). This figure could indicate an increased focus on personal well-being and increased awareness.

Caring trains leadership

The pandemic remains the most significant transition for people for the third year running (74%). However, all participants in the Lifeed Survey say they are also experiencing other personal transitions, such as becoming a parent or caregiver, changing jobs, homes, etc.

Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that the leadership figure is higher for those who care for someone at home or at work. While, in general, 77% recognise that they have improved this ability, the figure rises to 84% for new parents, 80% for caregivers and 79% for parents.

Caring for someone at work also increases leadership skills, as shown by the figure of 83% for managers (6% higher than the average). These data suggest that leadership in companies today must put the word “care” at the centre of their actions.