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Maximizing the Common Goals of Diversity & Inclusion and Sustainability

Together, D&I and Sustainability create a common purpose that inspires employees, sparks innovation, and builds trust with consumers and communities.

Stack of hands showing unity and teamwork

Today, many employees can cite a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) or Sustainability initiative that makes them proud. These Corporate Responsibility functions often provide the meaningful purpose their companies serve, in many cases becoming the heart and soul of the business. This purpose is a motivating factor for employees, an engine for innovation, and an important factor for building trust with consumers and communities.

Despite their commonalities, the Diversity & Inclusion and Sustainability functions have sometimes operated very separately. They speak to many common stakeholders— Employees, Clients, Consumers, Suppliers and Affiliated Merchants, Investors, Institutions and NGOs—but often communicate using different messaging. 

Subscribe to Work Reimagined GIFIt has taken many years of hard work by these Corporate Responsibility professionals to become strategic partners within their organization and demonstrate their contribution to business performance. But there is more work to be done. The next stage of evolution has the potential to deliver even greater value for stakeholders, through alignment and close collaboration of the different functions.

For business leaders, a natural next step is to focus on the common opportunities and better align the work of the two teams. They certainly have distinctions and independent legacies, but as each has become more integral and impactful, they share more mutual ambitions. 

Common Opportunities

The business case for both D&I and Sustainability is strong and both offer common benefits to the organization. These can be grouped into five primary categories: Talent, Innovation, Supply Chain, Brand, and Community.

Common Opportunities graphic

1. Talent

The value that employers experience from D&I and Sustainability in terms of recruiting, retention and engagement is well documented.

Research continually supports the value of diversity & inclusion in recruitment. For example, Sodexo’s Global Gender Balance Study found that when management was made up of a balance of both genders, teams performed better across five indicators. Similarly, Harvard Business Review research has found that diverse groups make better decisions than homogeneous groups.

Sustainability efforts have also proven to be a powerful draw for attracting and motivating top talent. In a 2019 global Sustainability survey conducted by HP and Edelman, 58% of respondents said environmentally conscious practices are key to engaging the future workforce, and 46% said they would only work for companies with sustainable business practices.

2. Innovation 

Business team meeting at table with lightbulb in foregroundWhen it comes to innovation, D&I and Sustainability create a virtuous cycle.

As consumers and the public are increasingly conscious of corporate values, businesses are designing successful marketplace strategies around Corporate Responsibility commitments. Companies are finding that these efforts lead to internal changes, such as broader thinking and innovation, that in turn lead to enhanced product and service development. 

Sustainability helps businesses better understand the context in which they work and connects them with the economic, social and environmental issues that need attention, thus sparking innovative product and service solutions. 

Researchers have also demonstrated a correlation between diversity and innovation. Bringing unique viewpoints together can spark breakthrough thinking, and the most innovative organizations often have diversity of thought embedded into their foundation. 

“Every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise.” 

Peter F. Drucker, Management Guru

3. Supply chain

The D&I and Sustainability functions help broaden and develop supply chains that are not only reliable and efficient, but also innovative and responsible. 

In an environment where brands are increasingly held accountable for the actions of their suppliers, a responsible and sustainable supply chain helps to deliver innovation opportunities as well as risk management for the enterprise.

D&I professionals can be instrumental in helping business leaders identify a broad range of small and diverse businesses that can fuel them with products and innovations. These efforts also promote inclusive growth and expand equality of opportunity in their communities. Meanwhile, the Sustainability function can help monitor and assess supply partners, adding value particularly in terms of environmental impact, transparency and risk management. 

4. Brand

Both D&I and Sustainability represent powerful components of the brand and can be drivers of increased brand recognition, trust and consumer choice in the marketplace.

The 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study found that 87% of consumers would purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about, and 75% would refuse to purchase from a company that supported an issue contrary to their beliefs. Younger generations have an even stronger connection to brand purpose. 

The issues consumers care about cross the lines between people and planet—bridging D&I as well as Sustainability and broader Corporate Responsibility. They include being a good employer, managing environmental impacts, issues of equality and more. These are all part of the brand promise and therefore serve as a unifying connection between companies and their customers.

5. Community

Team of volunteers planting a treeUltimately, the results of effective D&I and Sustainability efforts are felt in the community. 

Separately and together, these functions work to support underrepresented communities in a variety of ways. There are many overlaps here, with D&I often emphasizing job growth and community relations and Sustainability emphasizing localized philanthropy, volunteerism and environmental impact.

With effective stakeholder engagement the functions can also help organizations enter and sustain business in new markets, especially in different parts of the world. Both teams can help the broader business understand cultural nuances, comply with local laws and regulations, and build trust within local communities.

Common Approaches

Given how much the Diversity & Inclusion and Sustainability functions already have in common, the question is no longer why work together, but how.

Sodexo’s research identifies four approaches already being used by top companies to align the work of their Corporate Responsibility teams. Most organizations are using some combination of these, and they can work in many configurations.

The Many Paths to Alignment

Organizational structure

  • Place the D&I and Sustainability functions under a shared leader 
  • Bring them both to the table as part of cross-functional governance councils

Strategic roadmap

  • Include both the D&I and Sustainability teams in broader Corporate Responsibility strategic planning sessions
  • Create a roadmap that reflects the priorities of both functions

Information sharing & collaboration

  • Encourage regular meetings between the D&I and Sustainability teams
  • Encourage collaboration on shared activities, for example community engagement opportunities

Communications & reporting

  • Include D&I and Sustainability in broader Corporate Responsibility reporting and communications
  • Share a communications lead to support alignment

There is not a one-size-fits-all playbook for further integrating these two distinct and essential functions. Some of these tactics are adaptable across all geographies, others less so. The routes to working together have much to do with workplace culture, governance and business priorities.

But wherever there is will, there is a version that will work. The common ambitions of both Diversity & Inclusion and Sustainability will be closer in reach when they work together.

Creating a Better Tomorrow at Sodexo

At Sodexo, Corporate Responsibility is part of our brand promise under the Better Tomorrow 2025 roadmap, which is founded on the shared principles of D&I and Sustainability. The strategy emphasizes how we can improve quality of life as an employer, service provider and corporate citizen. Progress in all areas is tracked against measurable targets, and our Corporate Responsibility teams work together to achieve these goals.

Reimagine Your Positive Impact with Sodexo

Diverse business team holding a standing meetingWe are always seeking opportunities to collaborate with clients, and design sustainable solutions for the next generation of business. From food to facilities management, our services can help companies reduce their carbon emissions and environmental impact. Learn more about the Positive Impact we create through our work with clients.

Sodexo also supports companies in their D&I efforts, because like us, our clients believe that there is strength in diversity. Our Global Office of Diversity offers a variety consulting solutions and learning workshops designed to help clients prepare for the diverse workforce of today and tomorrow.

Ready to get started? Contact us to learn how Sodexo can help you succeed in your Corporate Responsibility efforts.


December 29, 2019

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