Inclusion? A value, not a label

Diversity in Business, a meeting organized by SDA Bocconi’s LGBTQ+ Club and sponsored by Amazon

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Diversity&Inclusion is the crucial issue or certainly one of the key elements of the social dimension of sustainability. SDA Bocconi’s FT MBA Director Stefano Pogutz stressed this while greeting the audience at Diversity in Business 2022, which was large and diverse (even in terms of nationality). The conference, in its first edition, was organized by SDA’s LGBTQ+ Club, and brought together professionals from the most diverse sectors – and this was perhaps no coincidence – from consulting to entertainment, from fashion to tourism and tech giants. “As an ally of the LGBTQ+ world,” Mattia Quaresmini, MBA student and president of Club Out, commented, “I seriously think that the first step should be taken by us. With this conference, I am convinced we have started a tradition that will dramatically increase awareness in Italy in the next 5-10 years, with SDA Bocconi as a leader.”

Diversity is now fully acknowledged as a strategic value-production and innovation driver within organizations. Yet often, not enough attention is given to creating an inclusive and psychologically safe environment, an essential condition if people are to express their full potential. This was precisely the atmosphere at the meeting, also due to the much appreciated discussions with the panelists during several socializing and networking opportunities. A type of environment that certainly results from a synergy between individual journeys, social culture and institutional initiatives – and where business schools should be at the forefront. But one that, like many other goals in the UN 2030 Agenda, looks on companies as important drivers of change.

“At Amazon, D&I is among the foundations of our culture, it’s part of our Leadership Principles: It’s simply right,” Amazon Prime Video Italy’s Brand Marketing Manager Felice Testa highlighted, quoting Jeff Bezos. “Change is made up of concrete actions – and collaborations –, regarding for example parental leave, part-time return to work, or gender gap; and, outside the company, the work with various associations in families and schools, e.g. to promote STEM subjects to female students.” Luciano Cantoni, Head of Cross-Product Ads Solutions Google Italy, continued in the same vein: “Google has introduced a policy whereby 20 percent of work time is free from assignment, so it can be invested in D&I. This is also included as an integral part of the selection and onboarding processes for new hires.”

Actress Cristina Bugatty also addressed the point of access to employment for LGBTQ+ people: “Although I sometimes encounter a lesser and more biased understanding of the LGBTQ+ world than in the past, colleagues and ordinary people are not the problem. It is the people with decision-making roles who prove to be less open, and keep the doors closed to those who are not ‘like them.’ We still feel a need to pigeonhole people and have not realized that this is not possible. Also because we can all change over time.” Radio Deejay speaker Diego Passoni confirmed, in another perspective: “I have come up against stereotypes in the workplace too. It is true that television simplifies reality (radio is freer, it travels under the ‘radar of power’), but it makes no sense when I am invited to talk shows, perhaps on topics I don’t know much about, just to ‘guarantee gay presence.’” An idea of inclusion that is distorted and reduces people to labels.

Alessio Virgili, co-founder and CEO of the international LGBTQ+ tour operator group Sonders and Beach, picked up the baton: “Even in my industry I have often found that clients are not as prejudiced as some operators fear. In any case, the LGBTQ+ economy is worth 1.3 trillion, and more and more industries are developing targeted products.” Virgili is also very keen on networking, particularly within the international trade association, whose global convention will be held in Milan next fall.

For Los Angeles-based fashion designer NiK Kacy, this ability to detect customer needs that is crucial to the entrepreneurial spirit is rooted in personal history. “I wanted shoes that fitted both my feet and my identity (and that weren’t maybe just brown or black). I left Google to start my own gender-neutral accessories brand. Even a detail can help you find your voice, a process that was not easy for me, partly because my Asian culture of origin teaches you more about serving others than looking after yourself.”

“Of course, when you can be yourself, you feel better and work better,” Arjen Iwema confirmed, who is a former strategy consultant at McKinsey&Co in Geneva, and the founder of W-focus Inc. “People need to be in a position where they don’t need to tell the first lie, or they may risk getting trapped in an inauthentic persona. Corporate protection policies also help employees to avoid another risk, that is excessively focusing on gender and/or sexual orientation at the expense of other aspects of the person. Let’s teach ourselves to have a holistic, non-surgical approach to identity.”

It is clear – as Emanuele Veratti, partner at Bain & Co. in the Milan office, pointed out – that introducing policies is not enough, you have to manage them as well. “This is also to maintain a healthy balance between a commitment to inclusion and the pressure it might put on LGBTQ+ members of the organization, who may feel ‘used’ to that end. While the importance of their role modeling remains, the support of ‘allies,’ of all those who actively step up on D&I issues, is crucial.” Especially if they are in charge. “We consultants are used to getting executives to do disruptive things,” Iwema concluded. “In this respect, too, companies can be drivers of cultural and societal change.”

Catherine De Vries, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Bocconi University, summed up the spirit of the meeting and D&I policies very well: “Diversity is a fact, inclusion is our practice, equity is the goal.” And every personal and organizational experience that is shared contributes to (and motivates) taking another step in this direction.

SDA Bocconi School of Management

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