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Trend 20 February Feb 2019 0730 20 February 2019

Company diversity? A business opportunity

Smart working, youth/senior relationship, and the gender gap – problems that can become an opportunity for companies. Provided that...

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A better business climate. 95% of companies said this is the main lever for the adoption of diversity and inclusion policies. The second need is the promotion of diversity at all hierarchical levels (84%). Objectives mentioned by companies included a need to exploit differences in the decision-making processes (71%) and cost decreases associated with turnover (61%).
The survey conducted by Istud Business School and Wise Growth involved 55 large companies (with an average of 7,400 employees) and various industrial sectors. 70% of the sample were foreign multinational subsidiaries.

Within those surveyed, there are some differences, especially between multinationals and other companies. For example, the possibility of increasing competitiveness was indicated by 79% of multinationals against 53% generally. The decrease in appeals and disputes by employees was a goal only for 17% of companies that adopt diversity policies.

University of Milan researcher and scientific representative Alessandra Lazazzara said: “Our research went beyond mere reporting to understand what logic and criteria guide the choice of diversity and inclusion practices and whether they were effective. Results measurement was not yet part of general practice.” Istud Business School general manager Marella Caramazza said: “The management of diversity in the company is an essential necessity in an increasingly complex, globalised, interconnected world.” Wise Growth founder and president Maria Cristina Bombelli added: “The research results were comforting, there are many companies that deal with diversity and inclusion, but few connect their actions to practical indicators. A precise analysis of the organisational problems and responses based on individual realities will be necessary. Every company has its own culture that must be understood and interpreted. It will be possible to make diversity and inclusion a true vehicle for social and entrepreneurial innovation.”

The practice map

How to create inclusiveness. The most widespread practice is flexibility/smart working which was adopted by 76% of sample companies. The next method uses networking aimed at sharing knowledge with other companies (58%), empowerment programmes (55%), mentoring programmes (53%) and maternity support initiatives (53%).

Training for managers to raise awareness on diversity and inclusion is the most widespread practice (73%). The creation of plural leadership models is the next most popular (55%). In 42% of companies, quotas, numerical targets, or Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are used to accelerate change In 11% of cases, management training is followed by a formal assessment of the objective achievement i.e. create an inclusive environment.


The diversity and inclusion actions target women as their main interest group. Gender differences are the number one target for 82% of companies (the percentage rises to 93 for multinationals). The next to be targeted are young people under 30 (55%) followed by those with disabilities (53%). Despite substantial workforce ageing, little attention is given to those over 55 years. According to Lazazzara, this might be because “the topic began to appear only after the recent pension reforms.”

Business organisation

58% of those sampled had formal diversity management roles mostly for Personnel Management. 44% of companies had a diversity board/committee/council or an equal opportunities committee while 40% had a dedicated diversity management budget. The survey highlights a progressive shift from a HR-focused management to a more transversal perspective.

Diversity Management is crossing the boundaries from being a human resources function to something, which is more decentralised. The researcher commented: "If HR representatives once had a directive function in diversity and inclusion adoption, the approach has now become more complex. “We can say that we live in a transition phase because there is no longer one person in charge of the organisation. We expect that the attention to the KPI measurement of objectives’ effectiveness will increase. It is now possible to understand, for example, how much female presence has grown and its value."

Future challenges

The three major diversity management challenges in the next five years are:

  • the age/generation theme (enhancing younger employees, engaging seniors and the intergenerational exchange);
  • work and life balance tools (Smart working and parenting);
  • gender issues (achievement of the top management by women, removing the "glass ceiling" and the gender pay gap).

The research suggested that to enhance diversity and inclusion promotion, the will of top management was indispensable. It also needed the active involvement of second-line managers through a variety of methods that support the inclusion leadership model and training when using KPIs and evaluation objectives. The researcher said “There are various strategies to be adopted – smart working is not enough. The companies which seem more satisfied about their business competitiveness are those which build their identity and reputation on diversity.”

Finally, there is the chapter on small and medium businesses, which make up the majority of Made in Italy companies. For them, diversity and inclusion are still to be discovered. This is a new frontier to be conquered, especially on the gender gap front and female empowerment. Finally, Lazazzara said: "The attention on this issue at the level of public opinion is strong. I believe that no production company can avoid dealing with it."

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