Africa has a diverse blend of culture and tradition. No one country in the continent is the same with each having unique experiences that define it, shaping its citizens’ worldview and mindset. As the world becomes more of a global village, themes of inclusion and diversity are recurring in the business world and beyond. We are seeing both private and public sector players take active steps, in the form of regulations and workplace policy statements such as in Nigeria’s “Not Too Young To Run Bill,” Kenya’s annual “Board Diversity and Inclusion Report,” Rwanda’s 2003 and 2015 Constitutional Decree for Women’s Participation in Government and Ethnic Discrimination, and South Africa’s “Standard on Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.”

Indeed, we are seeing positive momentum in achieving gender balance in senior management levels. South Africa, for example, is now one of the top 30 countries in the world with respect to gender equity in senior management. Kenya is reported to have an average of 13 percent women representation in boardrooms (one of the highest on the continent) and, in Rwanda, 60 percent of the country’s parliamentarians are women. The 2017 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Rwanda fourth in their rankings of countries that are successfully closing the gender gap.

These are positive examples; however, much needs to be done to improve inclusion in the continent, particularly in the workplace. Beyond blanket statements that organisations use to describe their work environments as one which is “inclusive and provides equal opportunities for all,” we are yet to see significant progress across all measures of diversity.

At Dow, Diversity is who we are as a company – A workforce of different backgrounds including gender, race, capabilities, ethnicities, life experiences and more. Inclusion is what we do together. We are a workplace enriched by different ideas, perspectives and ways of living, harnessed to inform better decisions and to create business value. As the saying goes, diversity is being invited to the party – but inclusion is being asked to dance. Without inclusion, the value of diversity is not fully realized.

There is a tremendous and indisputable business case for inclusion and diversity. Research indicates that companies with greater diversity and inclusion show an 80 percent improvement in business performance over those who don’t, they are 45 percent more likely to expand market share, have a 26 percent higher return on invested capital and 33 percent higher earnings. There is, in other words as research calls it, a diversity dividend.

Great performance requires great people and this can only happen if companies foster an inclusive culture that values diversity – not just in words but, in behaviours and actions. That is why at Dow, we are being incredibly deliberate with inclusion and diversity:

  • We have put in place a global and comprehensive inclusion and diversity strategy that is integrated into our overall business strategy.
  • We have defined inclusion and diversity behaviours, actions and objectives that are aligned with our overall strategy. We lead with inclusion because, without an inclusive workplace, diversity is just a numbers game instead of being a powerful force for Dow winning in the marketplace.
  • We have established a governance structure that begins with the top of our company. Our President’s Inclusion Council, an executive-level team led by the CEO, is responsible for defining and driving our overarching strategy from the top and sets the tone for the organization. Our Senior Leaders Inclusion Council influences change through senior mid-level leaders and our Joint Inclusion Council proactively engages with our ten Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Inclusion focal points in each of our businesses, functions and geographies help embed, sustain and implement the strategy across the company.

It is for this reason that we made inclusion and diversity, the central theme for one of the main events Dow held recently to commemorate our five-year journey in West Africa. The anniversary celebration was a two-day event, which marked five years of Dow’s official business presence and operations in West Africa and the opening of our new office in Lagos. It featured a panel session in which business leaders, MBA students from the Lagos Business School of the Pan Atlantic University and Dow representatives had a conversation about the power of inclusion and diversity to drive economic development in Africa.

As highlighted in my keynote address delivered at this session, if diversity is who we are – the collection of all our unique differences, then inclusion is the intentional and deliberate action taken to create a culture that embraces and values those differences.  Diversity alone is not enough, therefore, we must fully engage people through inclusion; it is about bringing out the best in our people and creating an environment of trust where they can contribute their best.

Our ambition for New Dow is to be the most innovative, customer-centric, inclusive and sustainable materials science company in the world. “Inclusive” is part of our ambition – it is a critical component to the success of New Dow. This is why our inclusion and diversity strategy intentionally leads with inclusion because we know that without it, we cannot attract a talented, diverse workforce, retain this workforce, fully engage this workforce and reap the full human and financial benefits of a diverse workforce.

At Dow, we have 10 Employee Resource Groups for our diverse workforce; including WIN (Women Innovation Network) which supports the professional development of women around the world. WIN offers mentoring and networking opportunities, and providing access to professional development tailored to the unique needs of women at critical career stages. DEN (Disability Employee Network) focuses on improving perceptions about people with disabilities and raising awareness about the contributions they make – both at work and outside of work – and fosters the success of people with disabilities.

We are taking active steps in this regard. For example, we recently partnered with LEAP Africa, a youth empowerment organization to equip high potential young people with entrepreneurial skills and opportunities to jumpstart SME employment creation in Nigeria. Through its skills development and youth employment project, it is helping youth acquire the right skills to compete for jobs. Throughout these and other interventions, an emphasis is placed on community-driven and participative processes to ensure citizen engagement as key channels for inclusion.

At Dow, we are committed to unbiased talent recruitment and development. We are committed to expanding and diversifying our supplier network, which will bring financial benefits to our bottom line and to the communities where we work. And lastly, we are committed to building a workplace culture where employees of all ages, races, religions, genders, countries of origin, languages, social orientations, styles, and abilities are focused on our ambition – to become the most innovative, customer-centric, INCLUSIVE, and sustainable materials science company in the world. We are not simply setting metrics and tracking progress. It is far bigger than a numbers game; it is making the numbers count. Why? Because we believe that a best-in-class customer experience can only be enabled by a best-in-class employee experience. Simply put, inclusion is a business imperative.

Dow also combines the power of science and technology to passionately innovate what is essential to Human Progress. 

Karen is the Chief Inclusion Officer at The Dow Chemical Company with the global responsibility for enhancing the integration of inclusion and diversity across the company as a key driver and enabler of the Company’s long-term growth strategy.

Elsewhere on Ventures

Triangle arrow