Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and diversity and inclusion (D&I) at first appear to be difficult concepts to reconcile. The former refers to broadly held practices in business and society, including recognizing talent regardless of background, eliminating discrimination, and promoting the interests of minority groups.
On the other hand, CSR can be nebulous to define, potentially encompassing a variety of undertakings, ranging from philanthropic donations to making public statements on political issues. To that end, HR leaders are faced with the challenge of uniting these ideas and building them into a coherent HR strategy that can meet senior-level expectations, be accepted by employees, and can show positive, tangible results.
The last few years have seen certain businesses blasted as ‘pinkwashing’, ‘greenwashing’, and ‘blackwashing’ their brand identities by associating with LGBT, environmental and racial causes in a superficial way, such as briefly updating their social media profiles with relevant imagery. Not only does this only suggest a weak approach to CSR and D&I, but actively causes brands harm and forces them to act further to mitigate the damage.
To that end, businesses face the challenge of effectively integrating D&I measures with CSR, and then communicating their activities to demonstrate a genuine commitment. If successful, businesses will be able to improve their internal functions and public image, reassure skeptical consumers, and go some way to tackling pressing issues. Potential strategies include ensuring the voices of ethnic minorities are heard within a business, from the ground floor to the boardroom; offering clear and informed support to appropriate organizations when speaking publicly; making D&I integral to each company’s guiding strategy and ensuring internal processes are efficient and accountable, ranging from hiring processes to disciplinary procedures and benefits programs.
Janine Dennis, HRD Thought Leader and Chief Innovations Officer at Talent Think Innovations, discussed these issues and more, as the importance of D&I and CSR reach new levels.
Human value vs. the bottom line
Dennis begins by discussing how D&I has previously been justified in purely profit-making terms, and how corporate social responsibility could re-emphasize the value of people.
“I think a lot of the conversation initially around diversity and inclusion has really been this thing of ‘I’ll hire a diverse slate of people and I’ll include them if you can prove to me that my bottom line is going to flourish as a result of this measure.’ Corporate social responsibility puts it in a different lane because now it’s not just about putting dollar signs above someone’s head and saying ‘you’ve got to make me money if I’m going to hire you,'” she said.
“When you talk about corporate social responsibility, it’s really this idea that you have some core values as an organization that lends itself to really doing right by the people that work for you. The focus is on getting these organizations to create a true value system for how they wish to employ people, and then putting processes in place to really make sure that everybody has an equitable chance.”
Ensuring mobility for all employees
While it can be straightforward for businesses to pay lip service to diversity and inclusion, Dennis stresses that leaders must enable employees from a range of different backgrounds to thrive and to have a genuine belief in D&I.
She said: “If I hire a differently-abled person, I can pat myself on the back and say, ‘wow, I hired a differently-abled person.’ But ultimately, if I get them in, and they’re finding it difficult to be promoted, to move around to other positions, to have visible projects, to be mentored, to be nurtured, to feel like they belong, then nothing has made any difference. All I’ve done is checked the box.
“If you don’t have a genuine want to do the right thing, you’re never going to do it for the right reasons. If you’re saying ‘okay, I’m doing D&I because of the public demand,’ that’s just going to the dollar signs again because you want people to continue to patronize your business. Ultimately, you don’t believe in a lot of different people having opportunities at your company.”
Changing views towards D&I and corporate social responsibility
D&I is often spoken of as one of many trends for business leaders to contend with, along with the future of work, the push towards green processes, and others. Dennis contends that D&I should serve as a lens for businesses to judge their practices through.
“It’s really been positioned as not a part of the fabric of the company, but as this thing that you do to be highly competitive. That’s an interesting distinction, because if I make diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging, a part of my fabric, my culture, if it’s embedded in all of that then it’s not hard at all. Everybody you hire, everything you do, has that lens, but when you look at it as something in a vacuum to solve, then obviously it’s going to feel challenging,” she said.
“I think it’s really just how people position it. If we continue to treat it as some sort of one-off, then we’re going to turn a lot of people off because there are a lot of moving parts and even more so today.”
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