Diversity and inclusion key to productive and resilient recovery, says ILO

According to a new report on diversity and inclusion from the International Labor Organization (ILO), one in four people feel unappreciated at work and those who feel included are in higher positions.

High levels of equality, diversity and inclusion go hand in hand with increased innovation, productivity, performance, recruitment and retention of talented recruits and employee wellbeing.

However, the survey conducted for this report shows that only half of respondents say diversity and inclusion are sufficiently identified and benefit from adequate resources within the culture and strategy in place. Currently only a third of companies measure inclusion within their organization, but it is really essential to do this to make progress.

Previous studies on diversity and inclusion have mostly focused on large companies, often multinational corporations, in Western and high-income countries. The new report, titled Transforming business through diversity and inclusion targets companies of all sizes in lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income economies, gathering insights from diverse samples of workforce, executives, and senior leaders. It reflects diversity in terms of age, gender, sexual orientation, different ethnic/racial/religious groups, people with disabilities and people living with HIV.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities

The research shows that the sense of inclusion in the workplace is more often associated with seniority than with personal background or criteria such as age, gender or ethnic origin, race or religion. 92% of executives say they are well integrated and say diversity in the workplace is respected and valued, compared to 76% of respondents at lower levels. Employees of medium-sized companies, large companies and multinationals are also more likely to see things positively than those of small companies and national companies.

Diversity and inclusion play “a critical role (…) in the performance of the workforce, businesses, the economy and society as a whole,” the report states. “If inclusion remains a privilege that concerns only those in leadership roles, companies risk depriving themselves of…significant benefits.”

Only a quarter of respondents believe that women represent a significant proportion (40-60%) of management positions and a third of them indicate that there is no person with disabilities at the management level. Some minority groups also consistently report less positive experiences with inclusion, and these groups are also often relegated to lower positions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities within the economy and society. Having workplaces where equality, diversity and inclusion prevail is an important building block for resilience and recovery,” said Manuela Tomei, director of the ILO’s Working Conditions and Equal Opportunities Division.

The data that makes up the study was collected between July and September 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and was collected from 12,000 employees in 75 countries and five regions of the world. Two-thirds of respondents believe that the level of attention and action on diversity and inclusion in the workplace has increased since the start of the crisis. A similar proportion of people say the pandemic has raised their expectations of employers to promote diversity and inclusion.

Should you feel appreciated

The report argues that the best way to influence more companies to achieve lasting transformational change is to link the business case for diversity and inclusion to policy and legislative frameworks, as well as supporting company values.

It outlines four principles essential to achieving meaningful, lasting change that applies to all types of workforce, worldwide: Diversity and inclusion must be a priority and an integral part of the strategy and culture; there must be diversity among senior leaders; management and employees have an exemplary function; and actions should be taken at all stages of employment, including recruitment, retention and development.

“The ILO works with its constituents to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” said Deborah France-Massin, director of the Office of Employers’ Activities at the ILO. “Staff should feel valued, respected, treated fairly and empowered through inclusive business practices, an inclusive organizational culture and inclusive leadership. It is this transformational approach to diversity and inclusion that will contribute significantly to successful business outcomes worldwide.”

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