By the Editorial staff
In 2019, in Houston, Texas, Dow held its second conference dedicated to Inclusion, Diversity, and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). The event was an opportunity to reconfirm, in front of 500 employees from around the world, Dow’s commitment to Inclusion and Diversity, one of the pillars of the company’s strategy. This choice to elevate the value of I&D to the highest levels of the organisation demonstrates what Dow’s goal is: to be a place where people can bring the best of every facet of themselves to work and create a positive experience, as confirmed by the Great Place to Work® 2021 Certification awarded to the Italian branch. This global focus is reflected in an internal organisation at Dow that includes an I&D Focal Point for each location, and a series of internal networks (ERGs) of people who voluntarily engage in various related issues.
At Dow Italy, we have long understood that having the freedom to express oneself has a direct correlation with the expression and development of skills and talents in the workplace. People who feel included and free to express themselves within a team are just as likely to manifest and develop their resources while working towards a common goal. When inclusion succeeds in being the basis on which people act, collaboration increases, and a greater exchange of different perspectives fosters lateral thinking and innovative solutions. Indeed, a McKinsey report from May 2020 states that “the correlation between executive team diversity and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time”. To nourish this substratum on which the organisation rests – in order to include different abilities – we have always worked on three fronts, which correspond to the three dimensions that the United Nations describe as characterising the concept of disability:
– Health: with the support of internal and external professionals, we have run numerous prevention campaigns (e.g. cancer, cardiovascular diseases) and awareness-raising campaigns for various physical and psychological conditions (e.g. autism, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis);
– Environment: periodic accessibility assessments of offices and production sites, with the implementation of improvement and/or compensation measures;
– Sharing: through working with our ERGs, shared experiences create a network in which our shared humanity is at the forefront; we work together to raise awareness and break down prejudices (e.g. through internal “TEDx” style talks).
Having inclusion and diversity as our aim has changed how we identify, develop and hire talent. While Dow Italia has generally sought out professionals with particular sets of technical skills, given the specific nature of the industrial sector in which it operates, the roles and paths of individuals is actually often based more on their “soft skills” and ability to collaborate more generally. Sudden changes of department or professional role are not unusual, based on learning in the field, with the basic assumption that, with the exception of a small number of very technical situations, most skills can be developed with appropriate coaching. The choice of learning paths and methods to help people who are already on board to develop is made by leaders, based on individual specificities, ambitions and skills, and endorsed by an internal structure that provides a map for possible career development and the tools and paths for continuous learning. Leaders have regular discussions with HR, internal panels and other experts in their organisation. That is why Dow has been educating and supporting leaders on inclusion and people development for years, because leaders are at the heart of equity and change. The real key to success lies in making the right investments in people so that their skills can emerge.
In addition to this approach to skills, the issue of the inclusive recruitment of new employees deserves to be discussed separately. Although Italy has a law to protect “protected categories” in the workplace (Law 68/99), we believe that if skills are to be enhanced in order to give rise to success stories, recruiting people with different abilities requires a cautious approach. Indeed, the law as formulated runs the risk of reducing the value of diversity in the workforce to a mere economic and fiscal benefit for the company, shifting the focus away from the skills of the individual. It is up to companies to look beyond this barrier and find a placement for the disabled person that enhances their qualities, for their own benefit and for the benefit of the company. With this aim, during the pandemic, Dow Italia set up a task force within the ERG dedicated to different abilities; composed of People Leaders, members of the HR department and people with disabilities, with the aim of defining Dow Italia’s needs, and condensing them into coherent professional profiles on the basis of skills. Dow has been working for years with universities, first and foremost the Politecnico di Milano, and has participated in several editions of Diversity Day.
The road to total inclusiveness is long and filled with challenges. At Dow Italia, we are confident that we are on the right track: seeing skills in potential and human terms, I&D is no longer a goal to be pursued but a cultural substrate, a catalyst for personal, professional and organisational development; and, ultimately, a factor that can create better-performing groups of people, companies, that can increase shareholder value.