Healthy Companies, Healthy Communities: Unlocking the Hidden Benefits of a Diverse Workplace

Many of us are aware of the benefits of adding berries, spinach, olive oil, and garlic to our diets—in addition to being delicious, these ‘superfoods’ can help us avoid illness and improve well-being. What if such a thing existed for the workplace as well?

Good news: research shows that such a booster does exist to help companies become more resilient, improve performance, and cultivate stronger and healthier relationships in the office and in their communities. That booster is diversity.

Recruiting and retaining women and people from diverse backgrounds can make companies more productive and efficient while also creating a healthier operating environment. Creating a diverse workplace can start a virtuous cycle: recent surveys have shown that the more women that are on a company’s board, the more attractive other women find that company. And companies with greater gender diversity can be more attractive to shareholders as well—in 2017, for instance, the $330 billion investment fund Hermes EOS said it would vote against any FTSE 100 board with less than 25 percent women and without a plan for improving gender diversity.

Recognizing these potential corporate health benefits, BHP Billiton has set a goal to have a gender-balanced workforce by 2025. Rio Tinto has undertaken a range of gender equity policies ranging from offering 18 weeks of parental leave to either parent, regardless of gender, to introducing support systems for employees who experience domestic violence. Tullow has made a reduction in the gender pay gap a key performance indicator in its internal corporate scorecard that determines senior management bonuses; the company has also set a goal for at least 25 percent of its board members to be women. And in Chile, Anglo American initiated a program to specifically attract and accommodate women truck drivers. As a result, the company has observed a strengthening in team dynamics as well as improved relationships with the community in which it operates.

Companies can also thrive from increased gender diversity across supply chains. Ensuring that women-owned businesses and female workers are in the supply chain can strengthen competition and drive down costs between vendors; facilitate collaboration with smaller suppliers on more customized products; and improve relationships with communities. International Finance Corporation (IFC) research has shown that companies that prioritize supplier diversity have a 133 percent greater return on procurement investment and have considerably smaller procurement teams than those with lower supplier diversity.

And healthy relationships are key to any measure of well-being: improving how companies listen to a diverse range of voices—including women and girls—in community outreach and investment can improve trust and outcomes in company-community undertakings and investment.

As companies become more aware of the potential benefits of a diverse workplace, an increasing number of executives are asking how they can follow suit. To help meet this growing demand, IFC has published a new toolkit for oil, gas, and mining companies with practical, concrete tools to help companies reach their gender goals. Unlocking Opportunities for Women and Business: A Toolkit of Actions and Strategies for Oil, Gas, and Mining Companies includes guidance on four themes: increasing gender diversity across the workforce, within the supply chain, and in community engagement, as well as addressing gender-based violence and its impact on the workforce. For each topic, the toolkit includes a business case packed with evidence on the benefits of gender diversity and inclusion, followed by practical, concrete, and easy-to-use techniques and tools. These include tools to help companies understand and assess their own challenges and progress, to take action to reach their gender goals, and to monitor and sustain progress.

We think this new toolkit could serve as a vitamin cocktail for companies seeking to boost their resilience and sustainability. As with any body, superfoods are no quick fix—but for companies who are willing to make these commitments and changes, gender diversity can be a powerful tool. Prioritizing a diverse workplace can help companies operate more efficiently and head off challenges,  and be better partners in their communities—all important signs of a healthy company.