How a D&I (diversity and inclusion) culture can create meaningful impact for employees

With commentary from Marcelle Stewart, People Director, UK & Ireland at Gi Group Holding, and Felipe Iotti, HR Head for Brazil at Gi Group Holding.

Change Lives

It may seem cliché to certain audiences but statistics increasingly show that diverse company teams and inclusive work policies are becoming an important competitive advantage for businesses. Not only do diverse teams (be it based on gender, age, ethnicity, nationality or some other factor) offer diversity of opinion, they also provide varied approaches to problem-solving and drive business innovation. In some cases, diverse and inclusive leadership and project teams also deliver greater resilience; for example, reporting from the S&P 500 highlights that companies with greater diversity fare better in times of crisis. During the 2008 financial crisis, inclusive companies listed on that index saw a 14% increase in their share prices, whereas the index as such had a 35% decline overall. So what is it about diverse, inclusive business structure that makes companies stronger?


Stronger corporate culture and sense of belonging

The most demonstrable value of diversity and inclusion programmes in businesses is their contribution to development of a corporate culture; a company identity that employees can identify with and rally around. “At Gi Group Holding in the UK we have placed D&I front and centre in our value proposition to our employees. In a recent internal survey across all our UK brands and central functions, our teams told us they feel that diversity and inclusion is a strong part of our collective culture and something to be proud of. Our new benefits package also has D&I at its heart: providing practical and tangible support to our people through innovative and inclusive benefits for families with young children, women going through the menopause or undergoing IVF treatment, and for our LGBTQ+ colleagues and those of different faiths and ethnicity. We have been awarded trailblazer status by Race Equality Matters, and we are partnering with the charity 10,000 Black interns to provide opportunities for young black talent; thus increasing their representation in our organisation.  We have trained all our employees in D&I and have built an inclusive leadership module into all our leadership training programmes to ensure that our leaders are cognisant of what it takes to create an inclusive environment,” explains Marcelle Stewart, People Director, UK & Ireland at Gi Group Holding.

Such efforts as those described above serve not only to attract new recruits for company teams, but they also play a strong role in employee retention. According to the 2022 EY US Generation Study released in autumn 2022, 92% of employees say that company culture has an impact on their decision to remain with an employer. This same survey also highlights important generational views and shows a strong commitment to organisational culture among GenZ and millennial age groups. An equal portion of both those groups (39%) said that a shared, supportive culture is important for them. Likewise, they said that establishment of functioning impactful D&I/DEI programmes is critical. 76% of millennials surveyed stated they would leave an employer if DEI initiatives were not offered.

The team at Gi Group Holding is aware of the importance placed on well-structured, meaningful DEI efforts and has integrated D&I planning and strategy coordination into its global management structures. 

We have a company-wide D&I strategy created by our D&I Manager. This document has the support and backing of our executive management team and includes inputs from stakeholders across the business. We have a D&I Committee which our people can apply to join. It consists of employees across all brands at all levels, including our executive management. The D&I committee is involved in proposing initiatives in line with the D&I strategy and generating interest in these initiatives,"

Well-structured, intentional D&I efforts are also a critical part of employees’ experiential and engagement programmes at the country level for Gi Group Holding. In this regard, Gi Group Brazil leads by example. For its various divisions, the company has targeted initiatives for different employee groups and demographics. Specific pillars include programmes such as Together (for the LGBTQIA+ community); SHE (dedicated to women’s and gender issues); Plural (for assisting and supporting differently-abled persons or persons with disabilities); and Mixes (for colleagues of different races and ethnicities). During last year, the Gi Group Brazil team also launched a programme to combat the impacts of ageism through a new initiative called Senior.


Felipe Iotti, Head of HR for Gi Group Holding in Brazil, explains how these efforts play out in the everyday work lives of employees. “Since 2020, our offices in Brazil have worked to encourage our teams to discuss D&I-related issues openly. As in other country offices, we have standard policies approved; we share publications on good practice; and we host various types of events (monthly webinars, conversation circles, corporate trainings, etc.). In 2022, at our offices in Brazil, we hosted our first D&I Week, which included two events per day focused on open discussions with employees from across the business. Beyond that, we ran an employee census that helped us establish KPIs for diversity and ensure our teams were doing more than just talking. Also during last year, we launched a ‘Be You’ programme which encourages employees to be their authentic selves in the workplace. This means they did not have to feel stigmatised or concerned about matters of religion, race, sexual orientation, body decoration, etc. While these efforts began with an emphasis on internal employee teams, we hope this year to involve external workers and freelancers in these efforts to make Gi Group Holding Brazil a truly inclusive workspace.”


Walking the talk

Critical to the impact and long-term functioning of good D&I programmes is authenticity. This is an issue the company employees and teams follow closely. The EY survey previously mentioned said the 75% of respondents monitor their employer’s DEI strategies and feel they are authentic. This, according to a global industry giant in the food retail industry, means in real terms focusing not just on planning and implementation, but more importantly on follow-through, which brings us back to references above to company culture. Successful DEI must derive from the organisation’s behaviours, beliefs and culture and be grounded in trust alongside understanding of individual experiences. This is a message that needs to be communicated to employee and management stakeholders up front. “At Gi Group Holding, we have released our local version of the Global EVP through a brochure setting out our promise. This document has D&I at its heart and is also directly tied to our More than Work and Change Lives philosophies. It is directly connected to our benefits rollout. When we share news on social media about our D&I events and initiatives, we include the #morethanwork and #changelives hashtags to promote our EVP and build awareness of our commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace,” concludes Marcelle Stewart.

We have had great success with our D&I initiatives. Employee engagement at our D&I events so far has been very high, with over 60% of our team members taking part in most events. A lot of our discussions in this area are run as virtual sessions online and it has been inspiring to see how active our employees are in team chats and in event opinion- and thought-sharing exchanges. Ideas and concerns raised during these discussions fuel the programmes for future D&I events. Plus, we can see through employees’ openness and active participation how proud they are to work for an inclusive organisation like Gi Group Holding where we all follow a common mission to #changelives.”

Ultimately, DEI initiatives will succeed provided there is true employee buy-in and commitment to making such programmes work. As stated above, this takes a good amount of trust. That’s why businesses like Gi Group Holding have put building this trust at the heart of their efforts to develop inclusive workplaces within their company.

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