The Big Blend
Why we need to blend DEI and CSR/ESG efforts for a more open, inclusive and prosperous future for all
By Luis Augusto Nobre
When we observe the history of human rights, we should look beyond the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established by the United Nations in 1948. Today, the concept of human rights can be extended to include the push for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and it can be contextually connected to discussions surrounding the environment, sustainability and social responsibility.
They’re all interconnected. Let’s look at a bit of history to understand the common undercurrents.
Following the 1948 UN Declaration, it was only in the 1990s that various other global initiatives really started gaining ground. This included the UN’s Millennium Declaration, which addressed challenges tied to poverty with an aim of reducing extreme poverty by 2015. The ambitious plan, approved in 2000, outlined eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that included everything from halving extreme poverty rates to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.
Professionals working in corporate social responsibility (CSR) tried to incorporate these MDGs into their agenda where possible. The eight goals guided the CSR agenda for years, even before companies and organizations started using the more modern-day nomenclature of environmental, social and governance (ESG).
Unfortunately, the MDGs didn’t achieve their objective by their stated deadline, and in 2015 they were replaced by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – aset of 17 new, amplified objectives outlined in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
One of the main differences between the MDGs and the SDGs was that accountability was now extended to all social players and not restricted to governments, corporations or organizations. Given the rise of social inequity, climate change and overall economic hardship, the world needed more commitment at an individual level. As a result, there was a stronger focus on external stakeholder engagement.
Soon the concept of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) began to make its way into this renewed push for more corporate social responsibility, but everything was still in its early stages. Certainly, it wasn’t given the weight we’re seeing today, at least not in terms of gender, race and 2SLGBTQIA+ concerns.
Initial discussions to promote DEI were limited to gender equity in the workplace (i.e., equal pay for women) and benefit policies (i.e., recognizing the benefit extension of 2SLGBTQIA+ professionals to their families). There was a fair amount of corporate greenwashing, and businesses were still exhibiting a stronger drive to build their sustainability reputation and focus on sustainable development initiatives and social investments.
It was easier for CSR professionals to sponsor external social projects than to focus on internal initiatives that engaged their own employees in DEI projects. They had a better understanding of return on investment (ROI) from a social responsibility standpoint, rather than one highlighting diversity and inclusion, although they could have worked on both at the same time.
In the past five or six years, however, there has been a perceptible shift. Businesses have started to improve internal policies and engage their internal stakeholders in Indigenous, gender, race and 2SLGBTQIA+.
Yet while businesses today understand that DEI helps their reputation and bottom line, there are those that still don’t consider it as important as their ESG initiatives. We’re seeing massive investments being made in external social inclusion projects and environmental protection, but we’re still just learning to walk when it comes to DEI. Businesses aren’t always appropriating the best practices and learned lessons in this area.
DEI departments and organizations could possibly have a stronger voice and more investment if our initiatives were noticeably connected to the UN’s SDGs, or if we had the direct support of CSR/ESG departments. Then again, it could be there is a lack of investment because we are still fighting for basic issues like genderneutral washroom access.
Stakeholders working in efforts tied to DEI, CSR and ESG continue to work separately, even though we share similar goals. We could – and should – learn from each other and exchange best practices to improve processes and procedures.
The takeaway from this is that by combining DEI and CSR/ESG efforts we would create better opportunities and working environments for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and their intersections. All marginalized communities could benefit from collective collaboration.
That’s why CSR/ESG and DEI need to work together. We share the same goals, and together we can get much further in our journey toward a more inclusive and sustainable world.