For too long, structural inequities and short-term thinking have threatened our vision of a just and sustainable world. As we face the urgent challenges of COVID-19 and calls for increased accountability for racial injustice, now is the time to radically reimagine how business can contribute towards removing obstacles which are impeding social justice.
Our recent publication, The Business Role in Creating a 21st-Century Social Contract, details how the private sector can support economic prosperity and social mobility, and recent political, social and economic upheavals reinforce the urgency of creating a new social contract based on more inclusive models and practices.
To address deep disparities and systemic challenges, BSR believes companies need to examine failures of whole systems, identify tangible opportunities to improve their own diversity efforts, and rebuild equitable structures at both the individual and system level. This will take new approaches that move beyond diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as primarily compliance-driven efforts and transform these tools into strategic drivers to achieve social justice.
A new social contract carries much potential to reform many of the social structures and policies which compound systemic inequities; business has a critical role to play in supporting new policies which advance economic prosperity and social mobility for all.
Our paper identifies five principles to guide business action to shape a new role for business in society, and each requires a deliberate and ambitious focus on DEI to succeed:
The first principle is stakeholder capitalism and the reorientation of business strategies to focus on long-term value creation for all stakeholders. To achieve this, companies need to diversify the board of directors and executive leadership team to address long-standing insufficient participation by women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and report publicly on their efforts to do so. This will also require implementing a comprehensive DEI strategy that values differences and is embedded across all aspects of business operations. For example, eliminating gender and racial pay gaps, sourcing from women-owned, BIPOC-owned businesses, and aligning policy advocacy and participation in industry associations with a company’s DEI commitments.
The second principle is skill development and career pathways and in particular enabling all workers to achieve sustainable livelihoods. Here, it is essential that companies focus on DEI in hiring, training, and advancement. Companies can advance these efforts by eliminating bias in hiring, including those introduced by hiring algorithms, applying a diversity lens to employment decisions, including layoffs and furloughs, and creating career progression programs that build pathways to leadership for women, BIPOC, and LGBTI people.
The third principle is economic security and mobility, especially by strengthening and modernizing the social safety net. Here, companies can support public policies that provide meaningful benefits, including unemployment insurance, paid family and medical leave, and health care coverage for all. Companies also can advocate for minimum wage levels that support the ability of BIPOC, who are often in more vulnerable forms of unemployment, to achieve an adequate standard of living, and expanded access to education and communications technologies for underserved communities. In addition, companies can advocate for COVID-19 relief efforts and economic recovery plans that prioritize racial justice and women’s empowerment.
The fourth principle is a just transition to net-zero GHG emissions, creating high-quality green jobs and supporting workers and communities that are displaced in the transition to a net-zero economy. To realize this principle, companies are encouraged to create a transition plan to seize the employment-generating opportunities of the low-carbon economy and to consider how these opportunities can address structural inequalities and impacts on vulnerable communities. In addition, companies can ensure that their just transition plans support communities of color through social dialogue and stakeholder engagement.
The fifth principle is worker data protection, which aims to ensure that the implementation of new technologies is aligned with international human rights standards and protects the privacy and nondiscrimination rights of workers. To act on this principle, businesses can undertake forward-looking assessments that identify the DEI and human rights impacts of disruptive technologies. In addition, companies can use digital tools and data analytics in ways that support, rather than undermine, nondiscrimination and DEI objectives in hiring, performance reviews, and promotions.
For DEI efforts to be successful and sustainable, companies and institutions can and must take individual and collective action.
Each of these principles embeds DEI efforts as crucial tools in ensuring that a new social contract enables everyone to participate in and benefit from economic activity. For many companies, this represents an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate bold leadership and bring novel approaches and innovative thinking to their DEI efforts, and their employees, stakeholders, and shareholders are paying close attention.
A new social contract carries much potential to reform many of the social structures and policies which compound systemic inequities; business has a critical role to play in supporting new policies which advance economic prosperity and social mobility for all. For DEI efforts to be successful and sustainable, companies and institutions can and must take individual and collective action.
BSR looks forward to working with our members, donors, and partners to create actions and opportunities that meet the urgency of this critical moment and work towards a new social contract that reaches its full potential of supporting social justice.