The Quest for Diversity and Inclusion

The quest for diversity and inclusion gained worldwide attention when delegates from 186 countries and representatives from 811 non-governmental organizations participated in The Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development that was held in 1995. The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, a key outcome of the Summit, pledged to promote social integration through fostering inclusive societies that are stable, safe, just and tolerant, and that respect diversity, equality of opportunity and participation of all people, including disadvantaged and vulnerable persons and groups.. In the quarter of a century since then, there has been significant progress made by policymakers and practitioners to advocate and implement change so as to make the concept of social integration and inclusion a reality in practice. It is now widely accepted that policies of diversity and inclusion perform a critical role in promoting sustainable human development. International human rights law requires governments to respect individuals’ civil and political rights, such as free speech, fair trial, and political participation, and to promote economic, social, and cultural rights, including the right to education and healthcare. Governments, non-governmental organizations, supranational organizations, corporate employers, universities, professional associations, and other entities have all been actively engaged in the advocacy and implementation of diversity and inclusion practices.

There are many specific factors involved in the definition and assessment of diversity and inclusion; these include age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, culture, geographic location, and socio-economic status. Exclusion and discrimination may be found to exist in practice with respect to these factors. Active policies to achieve diversity and inclusion will typically seek to achieve a greater degree of equity with respect to these and other factors. Eliminating inherent or customary practices of exclusion and discrimination requires positive and affirmative action. Within the United Nations system, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a set of general principles for the desired objectives. There are also several United Nations binding human rights treaties for specific issues, including Convention on Civil and Political Rights; Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The quest for social inclusion and diversity is a concept that requires transformation of thinking, process, policies, strategies and programmes.

Of particular relevance and interest is the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2001. Cultural diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies constituting humankind. Cultural diversity, as a source of exchange, innovation, and creativity, is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature. It is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognized and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations. Current economic and technological change provides opportunities for prospective innovation and creativity from a diverse supply of sources. Cultural policies act as catalysts for creativity by establishing conditions that are conducive to the dissemination of diversified goods and services. In the face of current imbalances in flows and exchanges of culture-related goods and services at the global level, it is necessary to reinforce international cooperation and solidarity to enable developing countries in particular to establish industries that are viable and internationally competitive. Market forces do not guarantee the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity; therefore public policy, in partnership with the private sector and civil society, must take responsibility for implementing remedial policies of affirmative action.

The United Nations Global Compact has published some practical guidelines for companies to promote diversity and inclusion, comprising four areas for action: (a) set targets; (b) put in place formal processes; (c) make targets public; and (d) rethink the way things have always been done. For many kinds of institutions, including corporations, it is customary to set goals that can be achieved through a process of Management by Objectives, for example with respect to sales and profitability; this process can similarly be applied to achieving targeted goals for gender diversity and equality for representation in leadership and management positions. Public commitment essentially holds companies responsible and accountable for achieving diversity and inclusion objectives. The introduction of fresh innovative ideas into established operating procedures will typically provide momentum for change and accelerated efforts to reach the targeted goals. Finally, having a rigorous process of measurement for each factor in the diversity and inclusion process is of critical importance. Having access to a well-defined, robust and reliable system of metrics that is continually updated and available is fundamental to the success of the Management by Objectives process.

Ken Buffin, Editor