Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Why workplace diversity and inclusion should not be a numbers game

diversity in the workplace gender equality

To be truly inclusive, companies must empower employees and change the corporate culture. Image: Mimi Thian/Unsplash

Gillian Tans
Chairwoman, Booking.com BV
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Education, Gender and Work

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • There's a business case for workplace diversity and gender parity.
  • To foster inclusivity, companies must make meaningful cultural change.
  • Companies can take steps to remove unconscious bias in hiring and in the workplace as well as remove physical barriers to inclusivity.

In today’s numbers-driven economy, it’s all too easy to think of diversity and inclusion as just another target to meet.

But within an organization, having a balance of gender, ethnicity or ages (for example) does not automatically result in inclusivity.

Illustrating the economy’s failure to be diverse and inclusive through numbers is a powerful visualization of today’s stark reality. Hard numbers – such as the 99.5 years that it will take to close the global gender gap – draw attention to the scale of the problem. But in searching for a solution, we must do more than just try to balance up the figures.

Have you read?

Using a system based solely on numbers to tackle diversity and inclusion runs the risk of creating a “race to the bottom” as organizations work to achieve minimum requirements. Today, the sad reality is many are using these targets as a smokescreen to real change. To unlock people’s potential and reap the rewards of diversity, meaningful cultural change must be implemented - this starts with the attitude and intentions of global business.

Why bother?

The potential benefits of inclusivity in business are overwhelmingly compelling, especially when exploring the influence of gender. In Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, closing the gender gap could add up to 15% of GDP to economieswhich for some could be worth over $6 trillion. Unlocking these benefits must begin with meaningful, positive and measurable action from businesses.

Gains from increasing the female employment rate across the OECD to match Sweden's
Closing the gender gap could be worth as much as $6 trillion. Image: PwC Women in Work Index 2019

As an industry, the technology sector has been taking steps towards the advancement of women, who accounted for nearly 30% of the industry’s entry-level workforce in 2019. Last year, 13.2% of women were promoted, compared to 12.1% of men and the overall hiring rate of women increased to 27.3%. While this progress is inspiring, it also serves as a reminder that true diversity of thought and contribution is only achieved when accompanied by belonging.

Changing the conversation

Diversity and inclusion is about more than just gender. For Booking.com, change starts in our offices, with our company values and ways of working. It can only stem from real empowerment of employees, which nurtures an environment where diversity and inclusion are the norm, rather than seen as a “tick-box” exercise.

Gender is a good point from which to measure the success of initiatives and inform progress with other communities – such as disability inclusion, bringing in people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, LGBTQ+ equality and so on.

Significantly, the focus on gender has shown that tokenism, and implementing “diversity” programs without proper thought, is almost as toxic as inequality. Quota systems, for example, are one initiative some organizations implement to appear more diverse. While the sentiment behind it is good – that we need more diverse teams and role models in business – it’s difficult to see how these systems actually empower those they are meant to support. While targets might be achieved, quotas do little to make every employee feel included.

To produce an environment that champions individuality and difference, organizations must inspire and support those previously underrepresented as well as those who have always been represented. This is the only way perceptions change, and a culture of togetherness and inclusivity thrives.

Making the change

As a leading global technology company and employer, we recognize the role we can play in championing diversity across all levels within the sector. We call on other organizations – across all industries – to do the same.

At Booking.com, 30% of our leadership team are women, and for like-for-like roles, we do not have a gender pay gap. But, for us, this is only the foundation from which we work to create a diverse and inclusive environment.

Booking.com’s recent #1 ranking in the Financial Times’ Diversity Leaders research is evidence that industries can evolve their way of thinking and facilitate empowerment. The FT surveyed over 80,000 employees in 700 global companies to understand lived experiences of issues including gender, age, ethnicity and disability in the workplace –capturing the extent to which employees feel empowered. We’re the only business to score above 9.0, which suggests we are somewhere on the road to empowering every member of our current workforce. Nonetheless, we’re acutely aware there is still much to be done to change the long-ingrained attitudes towards inclusivity and diversity.

Clearly, to change mindsets, a company must build an internal culture of equality and empowerment that focuses on accessibility.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

Evaluating access to all stages of talent management – from recruitment and benefits, to retention and advancement – reveals the unconscious bias in a traditional business environment. We are reforming Booking.com’s HR process to actively remove the unconscious bias that can exist in the hiring process as well as providing training for all managers to recognize unconscious bias in the workplace. It’s also important that initiatives enable everyone to reach their full potential – such as leadership programs to inspire the next generation of C-suite leaders reflective of the diverse communities we live in, so diverse role models emerge.

Inclusivity barriers can also be physical. As we work for disability inclusion, our offices and workspaces must be accessible, offer barrier-free movement and assistive technologies. Creating long-lasting cultural change means developing multi-faceted responses to engage, inspire and empower across the workforce.

Empowerment is a feeling, not a number – but too few businesses recognize this and continue to treat equality as a policy to be ticked off with transparent initiatives. To succeed, a company must build unique and tailored diversity and inclusion programs which are authentic to an organization and recognize that all employees have a role to play in creating a diverse business world.

Now is the time to put the “power” back into empowerment. And its effects can only be quantified once it has become embedded in an organization’s core values.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionForum InstitutionalJobs and the Future of WorkEconomic Growth
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