Top management commitment, cross-cultural agility and the importance of partnerships with the external world were among the engaging topics covered in IMD’s two-day event titled Changing gears: how organizations can better drive EI&D for LGBTQ+ people and People of Color.  

Ranging from business-driven strategies to human rights advocacy, the two-day event was aimed at sharing impact-driven, best practice cases with delegates from a range of organizations to kick-start ground-breaking conversations on the topic within organizations. 

Led by IMD Professor Misiek Piskorski and Josefine van Zanten, IMD Senior Advisor, Equity, Inclusion, & Diversity, the event brought together EI&D panelists from the corporate and grassroots activist worlds, to share insight and experience on their respective spheres of expertise, and to initiate and foster coalitions of interest among participants.  

“We are constantly asking ‘how can we improve?’” 

Day one focused on accelerating EI&D initiatives for LGBTQ+ communities. Panelists included Talita Ramos Erickson, Chief D&I Officer (Global) at the Barilla Group, Luca Condosta, D&I LGBTQ+ Global Project lead at ABB, Daniel Cancela DEI Program Manager at Amazon Luxembourg and Activist Leila Lohman, Co Executive Director at Eurocentralasian Lesbian* Community (EL*C). 

For Ramos Erickson, Chief D&I Officer (Global) at the Barilla Group, the impact on employee productivity was a key reason for the organization to engage in its EI&D strategy.  She referred to data that shows there is a 20% jump in productivity when a previously closeted member of the LGBTQ+ community feels enabled to come out to their colleagues at work. 

Ramos Erickson described how Barilla followed employee calls to set up employee resource groups (ERGs) in every country to enable PoC and LGBTQ+ communities to share experiences and engage on topics of concern. She also described Barilla’s approach as being “global but locally relevant”, in that it works to foster empowerment and engagement, while also being sensitive to regional specificity in terms of laws and culture around LGBTQ+ issues.  

“In every market where we have a significant business, leaders have to work on LGBTQ+ inclusion, and even if in Russia and Turkey it is a little more difficult, we still do something, we still work in it,” she said. 

Condosta, said that ABB’s EI&D strategy was initiated as a result of talent attraction opportunities. In the engineering and manufacturing business, he said, there was a marked difference in the workforce’s responsiveness to diversity initiatives.

To address this in positive ways, Condosta’s team plans to launch an engagement program aimed at ABB’s wide employee population. Significantly, the company also partnered with Stonewall, a prominent LGBTQ+ British activist charity that offers workplace support and training.

Cancela, DEI Program Manager at Amazon Luxembourg, emphasized that Amazon’s approach to its EI&D strategy was grounded in its mission, which is to be the most customer-centered organization in the world. As such, Cancela described how the company’s ERGs are all employee-led assemblies but are also encouraged to engage with the local community. In this regard the chapters are also coordinated to draw out themes that can be shared across regions.  

“We are constantly asking ‘how can we improve on, let’s say, race and bias’ to make sure that its inclusive for all. So that any employee that works at Amazon feels free to be their true self in the workplace,” he said.  

Activist Leila Lohman, Co Executive Director at Eurocentralasian Lesbian* Community (EL*C), was keen to emphasize the real-world violence and aggression that LGBTQ+ communities face. Lohman said engaging with activist organizations was a powerful way for organizations to not only signal commitment but to also profit from the agility and risk-taking that activist groups bring to the table.  

“Equity must be built into our organizational systems” 

Day two of the event focused on PoC and EI&D. Speakers included Natalia Alvarez Vice President, Client Programmes Consultant at Swiss Re Institute, Francesca Scott, Diversity Equity & Inclusion Lead, European Broadcasting Union, Joëlle Sambi Nzeba, writer, film maker and activist for BLM Belgium, and Jean-Pierre Comte, President Region Americas at Barilla Group. 

Scott was keen to emphasize the importance of empathy as an organizational tool to engage the whole workforce with the issues that PoC face both within the workplace and outside it. She said, empathy could be used to build understanding and the impact of each organization’s role in engaging in EI&D initiatives. Instead of focusing on what has already been achieved, she said, it was important to think about potentials that could yet be realized. 

For Alvarez, the time for tokenism is over. The Swiss Re executive said that appointing PoCs to give the impression of diversity at prominent levels does not serve the organization because without a organization-wide shift, the individual will inevitably be forced to adjust to the prevailing culture. “We need to make sure that we are taking care of our own house before we make that commitment. Since George Floyd’s killing, we saw a lot of US corporations coming up with those messages, but then, when you looked inside the corporations [there was very little diversity],” she said. 

Sambi Nzeba stressed the importance of safe spaces for PoC to share their experiences of work with one another. The importance of enabling conversations to occur around workplace bias, microaggressions and related issues were, she said, vital to understanding, empathizing, and addressing the issues at a strategic level across the organization.  

Comte shared his experience at Barilla with delegates. Three foundations for creating a progressive organizational culture were to firstly recognize that culture change comes from the top. Therefore, senior management commitment is crucial. Secondly, a business project approach was needed to create robust strategies, metrics and core capabilities around the EI&D topic. Finally, Comte stressed the need for bringing in support to facilitate uncomfortable conversations that would invariably need to occur for a cohesive cultural shift to be initiated.  

Van Zanten made the case for a move away from ally-ship and towards robust advocacy. While the former was an important step towards EI&D, it was by no means enough.  “What is clear is that silence is no longer an option. Equity must be built into our organizational systems, and we must remember that coalitions are vital. The triad of academic, NGO/activist and business is the way forward,” she said.