Reaping the Rewards of Diversity

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Whilst looking back on Voice At The Table’s first 10 years and how EDI has developed in that time, we have also been reflecting on some global organisations that have made great strides over the last few years. These businesses have started to really benefit from a Diversity-minded approach to business and the opportunities that this brings.

As you will see below, once we move past the proactive phase of increasing Diversity within our companies, we start to realise that a mindset that believes in the rewards of a more diverse employee population also starts to reveal opportunities for enhancement of business success.

Here are a few examples of organisations that have done this.

Deloitte US: an employer of choice  

Given the level of importance that young people attribute to a company’s stance on EDI and belonging, an organisation that stands out with its approach to the promotion of members from underrepresented groups will attract and retain more talent than others despite the current fierce competition.  This is what Deloitte did.  In the noughties, Deloitte introduced an Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women.  The focus of the strategy was to improve retention of professional women, as the existing high turnover of female employees was costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 1993, only 7% of all partners were women.  By 2013, this had increased to 23% and at this point, Deloitte set up an ongoing organisation – their Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) – which remains very active ten years on: ‘By providing an empowering space for our people, WIN aspires to contribute to the attraction, development and retention of the best people, regardless of gender.  At Deloitte, advancing women at all levels is a business priority. We are taking a number of positive actions to ensure that women are encouraged to achieve their full potential and career goals.’

Deloitte has recently been voted one of The Times’ Top 50 Employers for Gender Equality again in 2023 and their EDI progress continues to impress.  Recent initiatives include building “conscious inclusion” into their succession, progression and promotion approaches at all levels, allyship toolkits, and the launch of a Future Leaders programme to help improve representation of women and underrepresented ethnic groups in their leadership teams. The breadth of thought and contribution (and staff retention!) this approach brings has helped Deloitte to build its talent pool and consolidate its position as one of the Big 4 accountancy and consulting providers.

Google: going beyond the routine 

A Diversity-minded approach to business goes beyond attracting, hiring and retaining diverse talent.  It also seeks to create a working environment that makes the most of this diverse talent.  Take, for instance, Google’s approach.  Google is well known for having adopted ‘20 percent time’, informally allowing employees to spend approximately one-fifth of their time working on a Google-related passion project, to boost innovation and allow greater freedom of creativity.

Gmail was reportedly born out of this model nearly 20 years ago, when the engineer tasked with the development of an email system asked other employees to join the testing, feedback and further development of the product, using the 20% of their time that was available for such work. The contributions from a number of different areas of the business helped the project to overcome the internal reservations about an email system that provided massive storage and a search function that allowed users to find email, but also allowed Google to target advertising to users based on keywords within their emails.

The project went on to be Gmail, which was launched as a beta version on 1st April, 2004 and was a huge success for Google, estimated to generate USD 3 billion every year. It revolutionised cloud-based email and search and has been said to mark the beginning of the modern era of the web. The concept of 20% time didn’t begin with Google, or even with IBM’s 15% time, and many other tech companies still encourage similar experimentation. These companies embrace innovative and diverse thinking through various methods such as hackathons, to tap into a wider pool of thinking beyond those people tasked with specific development projects.

Nissan, Tokyo: a novel approach to design 

It is an unfortunate fact of our society that most products used by women (as well as men) are designed mainly for men, relying on women to adapt their use of these products for our own particularities.  In recent times, this has changed.  One of the earliest changes may have taken place where some might least expect it: in a Japanese automotive company.

Back in 2006, Nissan Motor’s auto development division summoned a team of 10 women to develop a small car that would appeal to female buyers in Japan. The team was made up of designers, product planners, and advertising and marketing staff, ranging in age from their 20s to their 30s.  They came up with the Pino, a tiny ‘kei’ car to be produced in pastel colours and with a wide array of options like cushions and special ashtrays, that they felt young Japanese women would like.

When the Pino was launched onto the Japanese market, in January 2007, Nissan was hoping to sell 2,600 vehicles in the first month and carry on at a similar level. They received 5,500 orders during the first month and continued to sell above target.

‘You are able to make good products by letting women participate in all aspects of the business process,’ said Yukiko Yoshimaru, general manager of the Diversity Development Office at Nissan, at the time. ‘That way, we can meet the customers’ needs satisfactorily.’

That Nissan has a Diversity Development Office may surprise those who think of Japanese companies as dominated by men, and Japanese men at that. But the company has made visible progress in Diversity under a management team that includes executives from French company Renault. Aside from bringing in foreign managers from overseas, it has dramatically increased the proportion of women in managerial positions.

And Nissan is not the only Japanese company making a commitment to Diversity. Large employers from Matsushita Electric and Toshiba to large lenders like Mizuho Corporate Bank have set up Diversity Departments, supporting women into management positions and selecting full-time employees from overseas to work in their headquarters in Japan.


Proctor & Gamble (P&G): raising awareness across the globe 

Companies that understand the rewards of Diversity also seek to raise awareness of their current and future customers, allowing them to come along on the journey.  Take P&G for example.  With their #WeSeeEqual initiative, P&G have been focusing on EDI in a broader sense, not just within their organisation.  Internally, they are working to create an inclusive and equitable environment, while partnering with other organisations in ‘advocating for gender and intersectional equality in workplaces everywhere, so that everyone can contribute to their full potential’.  They have also used their advertising and media content and reach to tackle gender bias and to campaign for more women to have a more positive self-image, and used corporate and brand programs and policy advocacy to work towards removing barriers to education for girls (#growingupequal) and economic opportunities for women.

What makes P&G’s actions particularly effective is their global reach combined with a locally targeted approach to EDI – the ‘glocal’ approach I talked about in a recent blog.  In India for example, 70% of children believed that the household laundry is a woman’s sole responsibility. This is a belief deeply rooted in their culture, but P&G’s leading detergent in the country set out to change that gender bias. Since the beginning of the campaign, the percentage of Indian men who report thinking, “household chores are a woman’s job” has dropped from 79% to 52%.

These are but a few examples of companies that have made Diversity and Inclusion a strategic choice for their success.  Can you count your company among them?  If so, how are you harnessing the diverse perspectives and thinking within your current teams?

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