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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – A Journey of Discovery

Most leading high-performing businesses (large and small) already have strong DE&I programs. Consider the fact that companies with diverse leadership teams and workforces have been found to generate greater revenues from innovation, crucial for sustained success and longevity. Employees are also more likely to go the extra mile when they trust their employer, and DE&I creates an inclusive environment that generates higher trust. Workers, and especially the younger talent that will drive the organisation’s future success, are clearly concerned about diversity and inclusion, and want to be with companies that are working to embed this. DE&I is recognised as a top talent management priority for boards and CEOs, with both action plans and clear communications around these issues. After all, while words certainly matter, actions matter even more. DE&I is also simply the right thing to do, and companies are increasingly being measured on what they’re doing to achieve it.

Organisations are shifting their focus to inclusion and equity to advance beyond the state in which the workforce is demographically diverse, but opportunities remain unequal, and voices go unheard. In an inclusive work environment, employees feel included and valued as their authentic selves, actively engaged in the organisation, and recognised without judgment for their contributions. Equity means that systemic barriers and unfair advantages in the organisation are proactively addressed to create equal opportunities for all employees. A genuinely diverse organisation demonstrates commitment, backed by investment, to build diversity in a comprehensive multitude of forms and foster an environment that enables everyone to thrive.

Human resources leaders have a crucial role to play in preparing the leadership team, the CEO, and the board to act and communicate clearly and authentically about DE&I to drive the right change. We have received some great insights and real experiences from our HR leadership community in Europe and Asia that they have been willing to share. What follows are their perspectives from HR responsibilities, their philosophies on approaching DE&I, and their learnings from program design and implementation.

Thank you to our key contributors:

Ann Shen, VP HR IBM Greater China
Briony Hughes, HR Director News UK
Julie Zhu, VP HR of Global Sales & Applications, Texas Instruments
Jay Muthu, Former Executive Director, Virgin Media
Lilly Liang, VP HR Business Partnership, Nike Greater China
Renata Janini Dohmen, Global Head of Early Career Talent Attraction SAP

DE&I – It Is Everyone’s Responsibility

How DE&I is implemented within an organisation is something up for constant debate. Should it be solely within the HR team, or should it sit throughout the business? Is there a requirement for a specific individual to drive the strategy and implementation or should it be part of the role of everyone within HR and the greater business?

IBM believes fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion is important to our company’s success. This year, IBM published our 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Report in April 2021 to publicly provide an annual update on diversity, equity and inclusion at IBM. So, Diversity & Inclusion at IBM is every IBMer’s business and every IBMer is asked to uphold the values of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Ann Shen, Vice President, Human Resources, IBM Greater China.

IBM has been transparent in what it does for D&I as proven by the company’s annual report. D&I sits within Transformation & Culture team, a newly established structure under IBM HR organisation to emphasise the important role of corporate culture. However, the importance of this has been embedded into every function with D&I missions so that all can contribute to creating an ecosystem which ensures both top-down and bottom-up forces to promote D&I culture.

In NewsUK D&I sits under HR Director Briony Hughes. Reporting to her she has a Head of Early Talent, a Culture and Diversity Partner and a Head of Creative Diversity (who also works closely with the Communications Director). This structure ensures that there is a focused team that lives and breathes D&I every day rather than it just being part of a role. Intrinsic to this approach is that diversity is part of everyone’s role, especially the leadership team.

Renata Janini Dohmen, Global Head of Early Career Talent Attraction at SAP explained that they have a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer who also holds the role of SAP’s Global Head of People Sustainability reporting directly to the Global Chief People and Operations Officer. The team focuses on strategies for inclusive career journeys, inclusive culture, and diverse ecosystems. It works in very close partnership with every function across regions and business councils, and with the Employee Network Groups which have been voluntarily formed by employees for employees.    

The DE&I Philosophy  

We want our culture to be a space where everyone is heard, contributes and can make a difference. No TI’ers are the same and each one brings an original perspective. Our diverse backgrounds are what makes our products more innovative and our company stronger. In talking to each of our HR leaders on the subject, what comes out loud and clear is that the philosophy and culture that D&I creates within each person in the company affects each team, each product, and the overall company results.

Julie Zhu ,VP HR of Global Sales & Applications, Texas Instruments

As Jay Muthu, Executive Director, Employee Experience and Digital People Director for Virgin Media says,

If an organisation is still asking what the business case is for a D&I strategy then don’t do it. Companies really have no choice but to reflect the society in which they live, the customers they sell to, and the ecosystem that drives profits for the organisation.

A clear D&I strategy for employer branding, talent acquisition, and retention is as important as the awareness of general benefits to employees. Jay explained that in the light of events around the world, Virgin Media employees voiced the need for clarity on Virgin Media’s position on DE&I. As a result, it is now made clear as part of the employer brand position. This increases their likelihood of acquiring the best talent.

However, as much as the focus seems to be on diversity for many companies, the area of inclusion is growing in importance. Renata from SAP explains “the key for me lies in inclusion, and how willing businesses are to embrace differences, stay curious about different perspectives and make things happen evolving from the strengths of an inclusive culture.”

Progressing DE&I

For years a metrics-driven approach that could be measured at the end of every quarter or year was what drove a diversity agenda. This is something that is changing around the world for most leading organisations.

Lilly Liang, VP HR Business Partnership at Nike China explains that initially the focus was on targets. However, it soon became clear that tracking change was more effective. It was more important to see a positive shift year on year. What’s more, it was important to acknowledge that the method of tracking the changes needs to be different depending on the region.

Companies like Texas Instruments and Virgin Media have the challenges in that their businesses have historically been predominantly male. Today, with the focus being on gender equality, encouraging young women into STEM development is a part of their way of contributing to moving things forward in this area. But equally, they still need to maintain that they are a positive environment for men. As our leaders point out, it is important to progress but at the end of the day capability to do the role is still key, and candidates need to prove themselves no matter their gender.

Key Learnings

Briony from News UK openly admits

I think getting started on this was one of the hardest things I have done professionally. It was difficult to know where to start and how to fit this into an already busy schedule. We are a fast-paced ambitious organisation but we have also existed for a long time so there are plenty of legacy ways of working. There were lots of questions about why it was taking so long, and it was hard not to take that personally.

Leadership support is another area that frequently came up in these discussions. Ensuring that the senior leadership team lives and breathes this ensures that it filters down through the organisation. Therefore, creating a bottom-up / top-down approach and embedding DE&I into the everyday part of the business is key. In Texas Instruments for example, the COO is part of the Gender Partnership programme, showing that his time and energy is also invested in a part of the business that doesn’t sit in his everyday role.

Impact on the Organisation

We have already touched upon the subject of DE&I varying from region to region. But this is also reflective in the various parts that contribute to what DE&I entails.

For example, IBM dropped the term People with Disabilities for People with Diverse Abilities, which encourages people to look at what every person can bring to work as equal individuals. Over the last four years, IBM has hired individuals in this group that have since become core members of its workforce, with their growth mindset and passion for continuous learning. They are recognised by the management team and earmarked to be retained and groomed. They truly demonstrated the real meaning of PwDA, and how they can contribute as equal members of the workforce, with unique ideas and skills they could bring to the table.

As Jay says, “Do not force fit a global DE&I strategy onto the whole organisation”. If ever a think global, act local process was required DE&I is one. “The company needs to educate everyone around the organisation about the importance of DE&I to internal culture and the impact it has to their. The actual approach needs to work for each region and needs to bond with those employees accordingly.”

For SAP, employee feedback provided throughout the year is. #Unfiltered is SAP’s organisational development program that focuses on improving the employee experiences by continuously listening, understanding, and acting on feedback. SAP collects feedback via anonymous employee surveys and pulse checks. A key measure is the Diversity and Inclusion Index, which is composed of question such as ‘Diverse perspectives are valued in my team’ Or ‘My direct manager creates an environment where everyone can be their authentic self.’ The use of data is critical to ensure a laser focus on action planning and execution that effectively promotes inclusion within the company. For years, their employees have embraced the opportunity to provide feedback as they trust the approach and every year the surveys experience significant responses rates worldwide.

What Lies Ahead

It is going to be a long journey for every organisation to truly build Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into their cultural DNA. While we are pleased to see some making good progress, instilling a philosophy that fits the purpose of the organisation, and having a positive impact on the employees as well as the customers, we do hope the others that are still trying to find ways they can draw on the learnings from some of these organisations. As Mahatma Gandhi said,

Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation – in the society, and in the workplace.


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