Bringing Davos Home, Wherever Home May Be

Author: Sabina Mehmood, US Pay Equity Leader, Brightmine Pay Equity Analytics from HR & Compliance Center

A Call to Action on the "S" in ESG

Along the rainy Promenade at Davos, the energy was palpable. From the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) tent, through Forum center, renowned global tech names, and ending with representation from countries and communities alike - a common thread united all attendees: hope for tomorrow.

As world leaders ascended to the heights of the Swiss Alps, however, the world continued to turn. Devastating headlines out of Uvalde, Texas, the ongoing humanitarian crisis across Ukraine and neighboring countries, the persistent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic all keep us grounded - reminding us that we are one small piece of an incredibly complex puzzle.

The puzzle: fostering a sustainable, equitable future for ourselves and generations to come.

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategies were top of mind on both the main stage and throughout auxiliary programming. Sitting on stage in the Female Quotient's Equality Lounge alongside peers to address just a few of the many complexities of today's social landscape, our discussion marks just a start of the challenging work it will take to overcome them.

From the lens of the "S" in ESG, there are 3 things I'm taking home with me, and the action steps you can take to drive us all forward.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a Business Imperative

"I wake up with the mission of doing the right thing and making the world a better place - but acknowledge the reality that the business imperative will get us where we need to go."

Sabina Mehmood, US Pay Equity Leader, Brightmine Pay Equity Analytics

Companies who are successfully unleashing the power of human capital have identified DEI as a clear business necessity; a consensus shared among contemporaries at Davos. With ESG strategies and impact investing on the rise and sustainability reports flooding investor relations web pages, I cannot help but question: how much of the "S" in the ESG agenda remains a check the box activity?

The business case for social strategies spans well beyond brand storytelling and investment dollars - there are costs of not stepping up. Let us take into consideration the great resignation, cracks in the employee talent pipeline and the sweeping challenge to attract and retain employees. These implications have a dramatic impact on a company's bottom line and inhibit the progress we need as a collective.

The Call to Action: Measure, Publish, and Hold Yourself Accountable

Like any business objective, you need metrics. How do you arm yourselves against, and subsequently silence, the ESG skeptics? Metrics. You have all heard it before - you cannot manage what you are not measuring.

But how do you measure social inclusion? Begin by ensuring employees are paid equally for equal work. After a fair pay assessment, measure the diverse representation of talent across organization. Lastly, take an inventory of policies and practices and ask yourself: are you providing a workplace with an equal opportunity for all to succeed, for all to develop, grow, and thrive in the organization?

Measurement and tools are unique to each organization but eliminating bias is not. Measurement allows you to identify where you are, and in turn set reasonable goals for where you want to be. Once identified, publish. Yes, publish - do not let the word scare you. Regardless of whether you decide to conduct an internal analysis of social metrics, or plan on an external publication, clearly communicating goals holds us accountable for achieving them.

My call to action to companies: take it one step at a time. Determine your goals and objectives, begin measuring, and iterate as needed. The deep cultural and systemic inequities that brought us to today's tumultuous landscape have been building up for centuries - they will not be solved in a day.

2. The Social Agenda is Evolving

"Let's bring into this conversation right now, women and girls, around the world, offer $10 Trillion dollars in unpaid care work every year - it is 10% of the global GDP…and it's not getting better."

Michelle Milford Morse, United Nations Foundation

Among the hills of Davos, flexible working arrangements were a hot topic - with arguments made for, and against, the divides between the workplace and home. Productivity is questioned by the nature of caregiving and household burdens yet equally discussed, how taking on caregiving responsibilities can lead us to be more organized and empathetic leaders.

While measurement serves as the first step of identifying organizational inequities, both quantitative and qualitative analysis are mission critical. Humans are more than their employees IDs. Our workplaces are comprised mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, first generation college graduates, caregivers and guardians - with unique and evolving needs.

"If the childcare need was met…it would at $3 Trillion dollars to the global economy."

Tara Abrahams, The Meteor

The qualitative component comes in to play when first, and foremost, we listen. Listening fosters the I in DEI. Making a conscious effort to listen to the individual voices that make up our diverse workforces moves us away from prescriptive policies, towards inclusive ones.

The Call to Action: Evolve with It

If the social agenda is evolving, our action item is clear: evolve with it. Building inclusive workplace policies is not a one-size-fits all model. Our workforces span across genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, disabilities as well as differences of thought. Listen to each of their needs and remain agile.

"There's a bunch of dimensions to this [workplace flexibility], and we should have a little humility here - anyone who thinks they've got this whole thing figured out is kidding themselves."

Joseph Ocuzoglu, CEO, Deloitte

Beyond the four walls of the organization, there sits our communities. We must look inward and ask: does our workforce reflect the world around us? Aside from our internal makeup, we must also evolve with the needs of society around us - not only fostering inclusive policies and benefits but producing inclusive products and services.

3. Technology will Fuel an Equitable Future

It was ever apparent at Davos that technology will fuel an equitable future. Reskilling and upskilling are not new themes on the social agenda and technology certainly has a place in talent development and inclusion. But much of the conversation focused on the use of technical, data-driven, and transparent solutions to drive micro and macro efforts to respectively, eliminate bias and close pay gaps and fuel financial inclusion and safety.

The Call to Action: Utilize Data-Driven, Technical Solutions to Support Efforts Towards Equality

"Today, there are 3.8 billion human beings in the world that don't have connectivity or access, when we talk about equality or parity, that's 45% of the world's population that don't have access to all of the resources that we have when we go on…our computers, they can't even communicate to the outside world."

Fatema Hamdani, Kraus Hamdani Aerospace, Inc.

My first call to action began with measurement. But does a world of disjointed spreadsheets, version control, and data security requirements hinder our ability to do just that? Take pay equity, for example, as an actionable component of the social agenda. If the first step in driving pay fairness is assessing your current state and identifying practical DEI goals as I've asserted, then the next step must be to identify data-driven solutions to accelerate your efforts to meet these goals - in this example, a data-driven approach to closing the gap.

In a world where technology sits at the helm of progress what should we look for in a technical solution? I will continue with my pay equity example to suggest an approach.

  • Transparency: Understand how it works. A data-driven approach to equity works hard to eliminate human bias, perhaps using statistical analysis and regression, machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify gaps and avenues for remediation. But if statistics are not in your remit, not to worry - simply seeking a transparent, published methodology is a good place to start.
  • Usability: While organizations must employ tools designed to meet the complex requirements of pay equity, the usability and concepts must be easy to understand and apply to the workplace. Look for solutions that support modeling and analysis and make it simple to identify and communicate pay disparities to senior leaders but be careful not to confuse succinct insights with oversimplification of the analysis itself.
  • Actionability: Utilize digital tools that drive action. Ensure the tool you implement arms you with enough information to identify, review and eliminate practices that have been shown to contribute, in my example, to pay inequity.

Your goals will inevitably run the gamut of workplace equality, but be it pay equity or otherwise, remember these three themes: transparency, usability, and actionability.

For those of us who had the privilege of joining the conversations at Davos, it is our responsibility to take our learnings home and begin the effort to create a more equal future. While the main stage themes, bilateral meetings, and networking chatter are critical for understanding the value of a purpose-driven mission, our work starts now. I challenge us all to put our ideas into action.