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Diversity and Inclusion: Drivers for Business Innovation

By Oswaldo Bernal - Bristol Myers Squibb México
General Manager


Oswaldo Bernal By Oswaldo Bernal | General Manager - Fri, 10/13/2023 - 09:00

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In the last decade, the terms diversity and inclusion (D&I) have become common. Some companies have adopted D&I to enhance their identity, but it is important to recognize that these aspects within work teams also have a positive impact on productivity and innovation.

In 1999, the International Labor Organization (ILO) approved the concept of “decent work,” which referred to equal treatment and opportunities for access to productive employment with a fair income, security, and social protection. 

Since then, mechanisms have been established so that workers can engage in conversations with their employers, where they can express their opinions, organize themselves, and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and their environment.

Inclusion, regardless of the industry to which one belongs, makes it possible to identify and put under the spotlight the obstacles people face in obtaining decent employment. To achieve this, decisions must be made along two lines: on the one hand, to mitigate poverty and inequality, and on the other hand, to improve production and the health of companies. 

It is important to define that diversity and inclusion aren’t the same thing. The former focuses on the groups to which employees belong, differentiated by age, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, nationality, and more, which would provide a broad set of thoughts and ideas.

Conversely, inclusion is the act of treating differences fairly and making them part of the organization's culture and values. It is understanding the unique traits of each person, encouraging them to bring their “authentic self” to work, and ensuring that everyone feels safe, integrated, rewarded, and part of the success. It's about prioritizing talent and skills beyond gender. As Vernā Myers, author, lawyer, and vice president of inclusion strategy at Netflix, would say, “Diversity is about being invited to the party; inclusion is about being asked to dance.”

In its most recent report on inequalities, labor inclusion, and the future of work in Latin America, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) states that changes related to diversity and inclusion in the region are associated with economic globalization and the reorganization of international trade; population aging and migratory movements; the digitalization of the economy and technological substitution processes; climate change; and the challenges of a just transition in the labor market.

Challenges arise particularly for women, youngsters, people with disabilities, persons of African descent, and Indigenous people. Therefore, countries, organizations, and their employers must consider these areas to contribute to achieving the SDGs in this area, ensuring full, equitable, remunerative, and equal pay for all.

While a company can be successful in attracting and hiring a diverse mix of employees, inclusion is a fundamental element that influences recruitment, development, promotion, and retention in an environment free from discrimination. As an indicator, up to 76% of candidates take these parameters into account when deciding to accept a job offer.

Not long ago, it was published that David Kenny, CEO of Nielsen, recently assumed the position of diversity manager to define, measure, and communicate diversity objectives to demonstrate to the board of directors the financial benefits of their implementation. This speaks to the fact that the D&I strategy should not remain only within the human resources area but should permeate all levels of the organization to measure its scope for continuous improvement and present and future decision-making.

A study by the Boston Consulting Group highlights that companies with diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues. This finding mainly affects technology companies, emerging companies, and those where growth comes from innovation, as is the case in the pharmaceutical industry.

As the leader of a biopharmaceutical company in Mexico, I believe that in this sector we have a commitment and challenge to accelerate and improve our equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts while reducing inequalities through the discovery, development, and access to transformative treatments for those patients in need. In this regard, the issue should also not be foreign to our workforce, our suppliers, or our research because, to help patients overcome serious illnesses or meet unmet medical needs, everyone must be represented, including in clinical trials. 

Ensuring the racial and ethnic diversity of trial participants is critical to increase understanding of disease prevention and treatment, to have data on how diseases impact them, and to drive the progress and discovery of new therapeutic options.

In the US, for example, the Equitable Advances in Drug Development initiative is a comprehensive collaborative effort to get underrepresented patients more involved in the research and development of future treatments. I am convinced that expanding and improving diversity in clinical protocols is key to achieving health equity.

Inclusive leadership has been proven to generate a virtuous circle that impacts the lives of employees, people, and communities where our industry operates: it enhances creativity, accelerates innovation, and increases productivity; it attracts the best talent and identifies new market opportunities by having a more profound understanding of the needs and desires of different groups of customers/consumers/patients, enabling them to create high value-added products and services.

Although organizations with diverse teams can be up to 25% more profitable than those where inclusion is not present, few in our country have spaces open to all. Only 3 out of 10 companies are intentionally inclusive. Failure to identify leaders to promote change and the low priority assigned to these actions now of truth are often barriers that catapult them to failure. Therefore, homogeneous companies must move to the heterogeneous category, keeping in mind with whom they work and for whom they work. 

I close by saying that, as leaders and entrepreneurs, we have the power and the will to start generating changes that truly make a difference in people's lives, boost competitiveness, and, at the same time, impact the sectors in which we participate. Embracing diversity and inclusion is not a nice to have activity; now, more than ever, it is a must.

Photo by:   Oswaldo Bernal

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