Pressure from investors and customers has moved sustainability higher on the boardroom agenda, and companies have become more conscientious and strategic in how they address environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters. However, there is one key area many organizations are overlooking as they concentrate on ESG—the link between diversity and inclusion (D&I) and sustainability. We believe that a focus on D&I can lead to more sustainable business practices and contribute to a better world.
Linking D&I and sustainability begins with having the right leadership in the boardroom. As sustainability has become a mainstream governance concern, boards have largely responded by creating ESG-specific committees to oversee risks and opportunities. But they do not always review their board composition in relation to sustainability oversight. The issues encompassed by sustainability are so broad and unpredictable—environmental risks, human rights issues, resource management and more—that it is critical boards have different perspectives around the table. A commitment to D&I will help boards to bridge hierarchies within the organization, connect with different generations and communities and develop new business solutions.
A focus on D&I can lead to more sustainable business practices and contribute to a better world.
A commitment to D&I and sustainability often requires a shift in leadership models. Hierarchical leaders who are not open to ideas and feedback from employees at all levels of the organization will not be able to create businesses that can thrive over the long term without a shift in culture, processes and mindsets. We employ a transformational leadership model that uses five dimensions of transformation, including “Anchoring in Society,” where leaders connect the company’s business purpose to a long-term commitment to create social value and align the company’s outputs with that purpose. It also calls on companies to focus on “Building Next-Level Leadership,” energizing and developing a new generation to take on leadership roles.
To anchor our own firm in society, we are exploring becoming a B Corp. Our Firm’s B Corp journey has already led to several ideas for ways we can continually improve our practices. We are not only advising other companies to examine their D&I and sustainability practices, but we are doing so along with them. Our combined efforts can bring that vision of a better world one step closer.
About the Authors
Cynthia Soledad, based in Chicago, co-leads Egon Zehnder’s Diversity and Inclusion Practice and is an active member of the firm’s Consumer and Chief Marketing Officers practices. She is a respected provider of executive search and management appraisal services across all consumer goods and services, while drawing on deep experience in consumer durables, packaged goods, and retail. Prior to joining Egon Zehnder, Cynthia served as Senior Brand Director at Whirlpool Corporation with responsibility for the KitchenAid brand, which included refreshing its positioning and redesigning the main products. Throughout her career, Cynthia has been engaged in developing leadership and promoting employee diversity and inclusion, for example by leading the Whirlpool Women’s Network and P&G’s Asians in Marketing and CMK group.
Karoline Vinsrygg leads Egon Zehnder’s Board Practice in the UK. She advises boards and CEOs of industrial and b2b services companies on their talent and succession agendas. In addition to advising publicly listed companies, she has deep experience partnering with private equity clients. Karoline co-leads the firm’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Council. Prior to joining Egon Zehnder, Karoline was Chief of Strategy and Organization and a member of the Executive Board of Aker Yards (later STX Europe) – the largest shipbuilding group in Europe, where she was responsible for strategy, business development, communications, and HR. Karoline gained transactional experience from Akers Yards as well as Citigroup while based in New York and London.