DE&I – three key building blocks for your ESG strategy

Tea Colaianni, founder of WiHTL, highlights how diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives can support the ‘S’ in ESG strategies.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) has risen in importance for businesses in all sectors. Stakeholders, both internal and external, are more aware than ever of a company’s policies, approach and commitments in this area. Alongside more and more investors insisting on robust ESG credentials, many consumers use it as a driver for purchasing decisions while jobseekers use it as a tool to identify their compatibility with a company’s values. With this in mind, a focus on ESG (or lack thereof) can have a major impact on your brand perception and company performance. 

Environmental issues have dominated news agendas for years, and focussing on these policies has become both important and perhaps more straightforward for many businesses. However, as headlines around diversity, equality and inclusion have increased, so has the impetus for brands to make ‘social’ as important as both environmental and governance.

The premise of ESG is that it will make companies more sustainable, resilient to economic challenges, and more successful, but also more connected to the communities they serve. DE&I is a fundamental building block to this as companies and teams that are more diverse and inclusive are more innovative, are able to serve a diverse customer base more effectively, and are more productive. Therefore, there is a clear case for hoteliers and hotel brands to give equal importance to DE&I in their policies and strategies. 

Building on the potential of a diverse workforce, at every level, can only be achieved if the working environment is inclusive and leaders create a workplace where people feel valued, respected and are able to bring their true self to work. This means creating a space where in order for your employees to thrive they should feel there is no need to mask any part of their identity, whether this is their sexuality, a disability or even being a parent, to ‘fit in’ at work to avoid judgement or assumption.

The topic of DE&I can sometimes feel overwhelming, particularly for smaller operations. Interestingly however, smaller operations can often take small steps more quickly in the right direction that can make a great impact. So, what can hoteliers do to improve their approach to DE&I and address the essential element of ‘social’ in ESG?

All strategic initiatives, action and commitment has to come from the top. The senior team leading the operation have to be seen to be leading DE&I and ESG initiatives alike – DE&I is not an HR initiative; it should link to, and be part of wider business strategy. The next step is to focus on inclusion and your culture and to find out how inclusive the business really is. The best way to get the answer is to ask your people. This can be done as part of an existing engagement survey or a stand-alone anonymised questionnaire. If you are able to collect some demographic data beyond age and gender, this will make the outcome even more powerful.  

Once the results have been collected and analysed, look at opportunities for further feedback and learning such as listening forums/groups to find out more from the team. Since this information will form the basis of the vision and approach for DE&I within your organisation, the better you understand your business’s current position, the more you can effectively prioritise and the more impactful your plans will be. 

Once you have listened to your employees and built a vision, leaders must then take action – if your teams share their thoughts and nothing changes as a result, the trust to make any real change will be hampered. And, of course, from this point communicate and review on a regular basis to maintain business-wide visibility and engagement. Collaboration is also key, proactively connect with other organisations to better understand what great practice is taking place in the sector and what you can learn from the experiences of other companies. 

A key element to success is ensuring someone on the senior or executive team is made accountable for making change happen. Accountability should sit with the most senior person in the company and not be a default response to give to HR as DE&I is a business and strategic imperative. In addition, appoint someone in the organisation with direct responsibility for delivering the work needed with an appropriate budget. All of these steps are critical in delivering meaningful and lasting change. 

Building an inclusive culture where anyone can thrive and reach their potential will help support organisations in becoming more diverse at all levels, particularly at senior level. It is important to recognise that DE&I is a journey that is continually evolving and has no end destination. Ultimately, with small steps, commitment and focus, championing your DE&I strategy as part of a focus on ESG can help your business attract the very best talent, appeal to and serve widened customer pools, and therefore sustain an operation through potentially tougher times ahead. 

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