Valuing diversity for an inclusive society

Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) isn’t something that’s just for management and HR teams. It’s about transforming the society that we live in. Building an inclusive company means contributing to a more inclusive society. It’s about being aware of the fact that we’re all different, and that everyone can bring their own unique contribution to this collective mission. 

The pandemic has had an impact on corporate D&I strategy.  In times of crisis, they’re called to care for their employees. So how have companies kept their commitment throughout the Covid crisis and changing priorities? Which initiatives have they launched? It’s something we talked about at the online workshop Promoting diversity in the new normal organised by Comunicazione Italiana in collaboration with Lifeed.

First of all, it’s important to consider the approach that companies have towards D&I. “To evaluate the differences, we need to see them. We need to recognise the things that make each person unique, their experiences and changing roles in every life dimension, both personal and professional, explains Chiara Bacilieri, Head of Data at Lifeed. Diversity is about valuing the characteristics within a team that “can become more effective if people know how to learn from each others differences”.

It translates into people’s “role enrichment” as they transfer soft skills between their roles and life experiences (parenthood, caregiving, pandemics, a divorce, moving house, a professional change). Furthermore, Lifeed’s recent analysis on emotions and desires linked to our life roles revealed the key values that people share and hope for the future. These values also cover new ways of working and an improved work-life balance: respect, inclusion and valuing each individual. These indications are essential to consider when building a D&I strategy.


Everyone has a talent for bringing about added value

D&I can be considered “an ingredient in the recipe’ for organisational wellbeing”, suggests Alessandra Benevolo, HR Director Italy & HR Cluster Head South Europe at Ipsen, a pharmaceutical company that’s certified by the Winning Women Institute and the meritocracy forum. When we consider the whole employee, without making distinctions between their personal and working lives, it’s important to remember that “everyone has a talent for bringing added value to the business”. According to Benevolo, “we need to know how to effectively speak to them about Diversity and Inclusion”. It’s not about gender politics and quotas, but rather integrating diversity into our everyday practice.

The pandemic has accelerated D&I initiatives at work. Lina Donnarumma, Human Capital and Organization Manager at the Italian Institute of Technology, believes that inclusion over the past year has translated into the ability to keep engagement alive even when people are physically distant, when they’ve expressed the need to feel involved”. The company therefore built its D&I strategy on four pillars: wellbeing (caring for people, also through psychological support); gender equality (gender equality plan, salary equality, wellbeing); D&I culture as added value (putting the individual’s authenticity at the centre); social impact of local country policies.

If people feel listened to, they work better

Listening to people as part of an inclusion strategy was a concept highlighted by Lavinia Lenti, HR Director at Sace. According to Lenti, “team cohesion is fundamental in reaching objectives”. In fact, D&I is also a performance element: “If people feel listened to, they work better”. Aside from numbers and KPIs, the company has focused on D&I to get managers used to D&I topics and collaboration between different generations. They’ve done so by activating a reverse mentoring project between junior and senior members of the team, as well as a project supporting parenthood, in collaboration with Lifeed.

In a certain sense, the pandemic has ‘helped’ managers to better understand their people’s needs, as highlighted by Raffaella Maderna, People & Communication Director at Lundbeck Italia. She’s seen gender diversity backed up by numbers, with women making up 58% of the corporate population. “We’re working to promote virtuous behaviours when it comes to topics such as violence against women and mental health. Through the crisis, we’ve accelerated our People Care initiatives to better understand people’s problems and support their mental health. People need to be listened to and understood”.

D&I respects cultures

Gessica Perego, Global HRBP Information Services & Regional HR Director South Europe, Middle East & Africa at Coface Assicurazioni also believes that listening is a key part of D&I strategy. “D&I shouldn’t be divided into ‘silos’, it’s about listening to people’s needs more”. Perego talked about multiculturalism: “We work with lots of different cultures, and through the pandemic and period of remote working, we learnt to listen to people more. For example, we understood whether in certain cultures people preferred to work from the office instead of from home”. Respecting other cultures and ways of thinking is a key part of implementing D&I strategy too.

The pandemic and smart working have broken down some traditional barriers, such as the gender division of roles in the family sphere. According to Luca Miglierina, HR Business Partner and D&I Lead at Sanofi, “the emergency has also stimulated new initiatives and increased inclusion”. Within the pharmaceutical company, this means focusing on four main areas: gender balance, disability, LGBT, Ageing. “At a global level, we’ve launched the ‘All in’ strategy based on 3 pillars : reflect on the diversity within the areas we work in; unleash our employees’ potential; transform society in a positive way”.

Finally, we can ask ourselves whether we need to implement ad hoc D&I initiatives. It’s something that Antonella Zaghini, Responsabile CSR, Peace Manager at Guna asked: “We haven’t needed policies, we don’t live Diversity because we’re always trying to put people at the centre, without having to balance different D&I components, such as gender or salary equality. Through the pandemic we’ve helped those working from home both with psychological and organisational support. Internally, we’ve favoured the use of portable devices to boost inclusion even when we’re working remotely. Ethics are at the heart of what we do”.