Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – A Time for Action

Michaela Gstöhl

As the USA celebrates Women’s History Month, EcoVadis reviews the progress achieved by companies throughout our global network with regard to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). To achieve gender equality, it is critical that companies continue to work to expand DEI best practices through global supply chains, and provide opportunities for employees of all genders, across sectors and geographies. EcoVadis ratings data reveals that 60% of companies have implemented policy commitments on DEI, but only 14% reported on their DEI progress in 2021. This gap shows that DEI leaders globally have much to do in terms of implementing meaningful DEI management systems – not only in their own operations but also in their supply chains.

March marks Women’s History Month in the USA - a month to celebrate women and their achievements all over the world. This includes all persons who identify as a girl or woman, or who struggle from biases, discrimination and harassment against girls or women. In the past year, women remained at the frontline of the COVID-19 response and led critical research that facilitated vaccine rollouts around the world. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman to head the World Trade Organization, and with 45% representation for female athletes and adjustments to promote more equitable coverage of women’s sport, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing signaled important progress  in terms of gender equality on an international stage.

The Gender Gap Still Remains

But while it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that gender equality is advancing, it is equally important to recognize the enduring inequalities that persist and that  require remediation. Companies have begun to understand and yield the benefits of promoting women and providing them with career opportunities in the workplace. Yet a gap remains; therefore, it is necessary to interrogate critically the myriad social, economic and cultural factors that are preventing us from achieving full equality.  

To cite a “lack of ambition” as the key causal factor underlying gender inequalities in the workforce  seems reductive. Indeed , 60% of the almost 30,000 companies that EcoVadis assessed in 2021 have established commitments and objectives on diversity, discrimination and harassment. However, when looking closer, we identified that only 3% of the companies rated last year have implemented tangible, quantitative targets to promote DEI.

And commitments alone – be they qualitative or quantitative – are not enough. In an effective sustainability management system, tangible actions need to follow suit. When looking at the trend over the past five years, the number of rated companies that have not implemented any measures on diversity and inclusion whatsoever has remained regrettably consistent. In fact, companies that already had DEI initiatives in place are the ones that improved and implemented additional actions, while companies that had no actions in place five years ago have not evolved to the same extent. 

Clearly, those 60% of companies that have yet to implement any DEI actions are poised to play a crucial role in reducing the gap between ambition and action that is manifest in the EcoVadis ratings data. Consequently, more companies around the world need to implement actions to promote women. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a topic that concerns every company – no matter their size or industry. Only a global and collective effort will bring equality.

In addition to setting objectives and implementing actions towards gender equality, companies are also expected to report on their progress. This is a major improvement area EcoVadis identified in many companies we assessed over the years. One specific trend is an increasing lack of corporate reporting and disclosing when it comes to women in executive positions. In 2021, only 14% of rated companies disclosed this figure. The goal of achieving gender pay equality or gender parity in top management positions will remain outside of  reach, unless companies demonstrate greater transparency on the issue.

Best practices of DEI leaders

With companies’ diversity and inclusion management systems evolving, EcoVadis has obsereved an important shift: Corporate commitments and actions no longer aim at merely avoiding discrimination and harassment against women. Instead, companies proactively enable and promote women at every level of their careers. DEI leaders develop actions to promote gender inclusion and equal opportunities in job promotions; they establish women mentorship programs, they support women in local communities that are affected by the company’s operations, and they implement other key actions to promote diversity and inclusion.

In addition to their internal DEI programs, companies are leading the way by building meaningful global supplier diversity initiatives. Such programs include actions to engage with trading partners and to advance diversity and promote gender inclusion throughout the supply base. 

Time to Act

March is a month to celebrate women and the progress that global companies drive towards Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. At the same time, a gap remains. In fact, March 15 marked the occasion of “Equal Pay Day”, the date to which women needed to work in order to earn the same amount that their male counterparts made in the previous calendar year. In other words, women needed to work the equivalent of 14.5 months in order to earn the same amount as their male counterparts did in the space of 12 months. This gives us cause to ponder the measures needed to implement the necessary steps to achieve gender equality.  Closing the gender pay gap will require further and stronger involvement from all companies around the world.

Women’s participation and leadership drives progress for everyone. Yet women are underrepresented in decision-making and corporate strategies. To achieve an equal future, women of all colors, backgrounds and ethnicities should be sitting at every business table (or in today’s world: virtual meeting), where decisions are being made. 

And although we are celebrating Women’s History Month, diversity comes in many forms and gender is not binary. Equality is for everyone. Companies that acknowledge that there is room for everyone showcase the highest level of productivity, agility, innovation and the necessary competitive edge. The benefits of empowering and uplifting women, as well as historically underrepresented or minority groups, is undeniable.

For more information on how you can support your supply chain partners in engaging in DEI, get in touch to learn more about the EcoVadis sustainability rating. EcoVadis provides the tools your company needs to move from ambition to action and put your supply chain diversity targets to practice.

About the Author

Michaela Gstöhl

Michaela Gstöhl is a Senior Sustainability Analyst at EcoVadis dedicated to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in global supply chains. Prior to joining EcoVadis, she worked as a Global Responsible Business (CSR) senior project manager at a large travel management company. Michaela holds an MSc Sustainability from the University of Nottingham Business School.

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