Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging:
Catalysts for a Thriving World
It's astonishing how frequently the significance of engaged and thriving individuals is overlooked. The simple truth remains – without thriving, motivated people, businesses face immense challenges in competing effectively and surviving over the longer-term.
Have you ever wondered why organisations often overlook the significance of engaged and thriving individuals in their sustainability strategies? It's astonishing how frequently this critical aspect is forgotten, as the simple truth remains – without thriving, motivated people, businesses face immense challenges in staying afloat.
In this article, we will explore the profound connection between diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), wellbeing of people and long-term wellbeing for business and society, drawing upon the work of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.
Sustainability, Wellbeing and DEIB
Amartya Sen, a renowned economist, introduced the concept of wellbeing as a multidimensional approach to measuring individual and societal progress, a link that can be seen in many sustainability frameworks, like the SDGs, BCorp and the Future Fit Business Benchmark. 
According to Sen, an individual's wellbeing is not solely dependent on economic factors but also on social and psychological factors. This aligns closely with Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, which suggests that individuals have a hierarchy of needs, including physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation needs.
In the context of DEIB, the concept of wellbeing and Sen's framework highlight the importance of creating environments where individuals feel a sense of belonging, have their voices heard, and have equal opportunities to thrive. One could argue, that meeting those needs can be considered a fundamental human right.
"The responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate...[It] exists over and above compliance with national laws and regulations protecting human rights."
UN Human Rights Council
In Aotearoa these rights have been defined under the Human Rights Act and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and are fundamental to our society.
The Vital Role of Well-Being
Sustaining an organisation for long-term wellbeing requires the system it operates in and with to be well. Prioritising the well-being of employees is a fundamental aspect of genuine sustainability. Ultimately, this does include a healthy environment and thriving communities as well. The interconnections often remain underrated, but they shouldn't be. Our approach must evolve, and as emphasised by thought leader Josh Bersin, well-being must become as central to our measurement of organisational performance as profit and loss.
According to research by Gallup, in line with Sen’s work, organisations that prioritise employee engagement and well-being also experience higher levels of productivity and profitability, along with lower turnover rates. This extends beyond workplace benefits; well-being initiatives contribute to a more sustainable society, as happy and healthy employees are more likely to engage in sustainable practices both at work and in their personal lives, further drawing out the interconnectivity of all aspects of our world.
Diversity and Inclusion support long term wellbeing
To achieve long-term sustainability, embracing diversity is paramount. Diversity refers to the variety of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives people bring to an organisation. Inclusion, on the other hand, focuses on creating an environment where everyone feels respected, valued, and able to contribute their unique perspectives. By embracing diversity and fostering inclusion, organisations tap into the full range of talent and ideas, leading to innovation, creativity, and problem-solving.
Research supports this notion, revealing that diverse teams provide better problem-solving capabilities and increased innovation. Also, research, like the Diversity Works case study of 2019 shows that diversity alone is not enough: “workplace diversity can lead to three types of positive outcomes if, and only if, cultures of inclusion are fostered.”
These positive outcomes relate very much to overall long-term wellbeing and include social equity, co-production and cohesion, employee productivity, motivation, innovation, creativity and team performance.
Equity and Belonging in a corporate sustainability context
Equity, in the context of DEIB, means ensuring fair and just opportunities and outcomes for everyone, regardless of their background. It requires addressing systemic biases and barriers that hinder the progress of under-represented groups.
When individuals experience equity, they feel a sense of belonging, where they are accepted, supported, and valued for their authentic selves. This creates a positive and inclusive work culture that enhances collaboration, cooperation, and overall long-term organisational performance.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that companies with diverse and inclusive cultures, where equity and belonging are embedded systemically, outperform their competitors in financial metrics, talent acquisition, and employee retention.
Redesigning Leadership Models for DEIB
In nature, the interconnectivity of long-term wellbeing, supporting diversity and belonging is not in question. Leadership to support that in nature takes shape in diverse forms, challenging traditional hierarchical models. Alpha leaders, whether male or female, exhibit traits of care and community, acting as healers rather than mere commanders.
It's high time we take a page from nature's book and veer away from top-down leadership paradigms. Embracing a more inclusive, communal approach to leadership can foster a thriving organisational culture, where individual strengths are celebrated and nurtured, leading to sustainable success and long-term wellbeing.
Organisations that have implemented inclusive leadership practices have witnessed positive outcomes.
The Center for Creative Leadership conducted research on individuals who had been exposed to inclusive leadership, finding that they reported higher levels of psychological safety, job satisfaction, commitment, and innovative behaviour. Exactly those areas pointed out in Sen’s work leading to a thriving workforce and more sustainable organisations. Furthermore, organisations with inclusive leaders experienced higher employee engagement and retention rates.
The Indisputable Value of Women Leaders
Research consistently demonstrates the positive impact of women in leadership positions on sustainability and long-term wellbeing. Female leaders have shown a higher proclivity towards transparency concerning environmental footprints, while organisations boasting a higher percentage of women on their boards are more likely to accurately report greenhouse gas emissions.
It's no coincidence that the world's three most sustainable cities are spearheaded by female mayors. Yet, despite more corporations committing to net-zero emissions, few are taking the necessary steps to include women in climate action plans and decision-making. Empowering women with the resources they need for success and ensuring their representation is vital to unlocking a more equitable and sustainable world for all.
Various studies also found that women tend to make more environmentally friendly choices at work and home. These studies reveal that women in leadership positions were more likely to prioritise long-term goals and make decisions that consider broader environmental and social impacts for long-term wellbeing.
Additionally, a report by the Global Reporting Initiative noted that companies with a higher representation of women in leadership roles are more likely to implement sustainable business practices.
Diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging are not just buzzwords in the context of a sustainable future; they are the driving forces behind it. The success of any organisation hinges on engaged and thriving individuals, making inclusivity and belonging indispensable.
By championing diversity and female leadership, emphasizing employee well-being, and adopting communal leadership models, we can lay the foundation for a thriving world.
It's time for organisations to step up, prioritise people in their sustainability strategies, and actively work towards a future that amalgamates diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging for the betterment of all.
Drawing upon the wisdom of Amartya Sen and the benefits observed in successful businesses, it is clear that prioritising DEIB is essential for creating a thriving world. Together, we can create a world that is both sustainable and supportive of the beautiful diversity that makes us unique.