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Opinion columns

Why DEI investment makes good business sense.

Posted by Rachel Scheel |

When the D, the E, and the I come together... 

I'll dive into this vast question in a few seconds, but first, I'd like to clarify the concepts and realities behind DEI. So, when we talk about Diversity, we talk about representation. It's all about appreciating and recognising differences related to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, beliefs, etc. Equity supports fairness, which means breaking any barriers that stand in the way of diverse individuals or groups being included. And finally, Inclusion supports a welcoming environment where all voices are heard and valued. To me, the three are intertwined, and power happens when combined. Together, they can profoundly transform workplace cultures, drive innovation, enhance more equitable practices internally and externally, and boost a company’s performance returns. Happy employees make healthy companies. The D, E, and I are interconnected, and they are all three equally critical to supporting a culture of belonging and psychological safety where all individuals, no matter their differences, can thrive.  

Beyond diversity, instilling such values in a workplace directly impacts business performance, employee engagement, and overall company culture. Over the years, I've come to experience how compelling it is when DEI comes together. You empower people to take some distance and rethink their behaviours and actions to build a culture of safety and inclusion. It helps us be more humanised workers as we become more humanised humans. I've seen the change in me, to begin with. My background mainly involved generalist HR leadership, specialising in talent, culture, and development. Specialising in DEI several years ago was the best move I have ever made, both professionally and personally. What makes my role special is the feeling that I help make a real difference by supporting underrepresentation and driving a stronger focus and awareness towards fairness, equality, and safety throughout Criteo's culture. It's funny looking back... Had you asked me over a decade ago whether this is where I’d be today, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible. Perhaps the imposter syndrome in me didn’t feel that this role was ever possible for me. 

Suppose I had to take one significant and concrete example of how Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies can significantly impact someone’s feeling of belonging within an organisation. In that case, I'd go with pay parity. Any company demonstrating a genuine commitment to achieving pay parity will positively influence employee engagement and retention of diverse talents. Employees feel valued and respected when they are paid for their actual worth. This is particularly important for those who feel nervous about salary negotiations or who have taken time off work for family responsibilities. Knowing you are being paid fairly compared to your colleagues in similar roles gives you a sense of comfort and equality, where skills and experience are weighed equally. Privilege can't be the rule in DEI! 

DEI: A vital enabler of employee well-being? 

Can we provide an inclusive and safe workplace without investing in DEI? Employee well-being is about focusing on happiness, purpose, and a general feeling of balance at work. Doing this involves investing in DEI initiatives that will support feelings of psychological safety and inclusion. When employees feel valued, respected, and included, they also think they can be open and authentic to bring their ‘true self to work’. They are, therefore, more likely to be satisfied with their job and purpose, thus feeling higher levels of well-being and satisfaction at work. The virtuous circle starts there! By investing in DEI initiatives, you send a clear message to your existing pool of employees and those to come that you value diverse backgrounds and experiences, focus on fairness and respect, and are committed to a working environment that fosters inclusion and safety. A safe environment promotes a healthy working atmosphere for all, and so, in essence, well-being and DEI go hand in hand.  

It is critical to create a place where people feel safe to speak up about the challenges they may face personally. It has even more significance now that we navigate the after-effects of the pandemic. We are still writing our post-covid chapter. Mental Health is something that all companies should prioritise alongside their DEI agenda, and it is one of the reasons I advocated bringing in our Wellbeing Program under the DEI team. In doing so, we have amplified our commitment to building awareness and support for Mental Health at Criteo. Our DEI policies are crucial in improving mental health by addressing discrimination and bias, creating a supportive environment, promoting psychological safety, increasing access to resources and support, and improving workplace culture. We proudly have fully trained Mental Health First Aiders in all our central locations. Companies prioritising DEI are better positioned to foster environments where all employees can thrive and enjoy positive mental health.  

The challenges of prioritising DEI  

For most companies, the greatest challenge is getting sponsorship and investment commitments from the senior leadership. It takes financial resources and dedicated expertise to develop and execute DEI programs that prove to be genuinely effective. It’s not a side gig. The first step is for companies to understand the wide range of opportunities DEI offers them. So, it does mean diverting funds from parts of the business to support inclusive policies, programs, and training and to support the impact of employee resources. This trade-off can sometimes be difficult for companies, especially those facing financial constraints or pressure to deliver immediate shareholder returns. If you want to sustain DEI efforts in the long term, it must be considered a strategic imperative. At Criteo, we have built our DEI objectives into our company-level strategic priorities, meaning we actively demonstrate our commitment alongside our critical business objectives, which helps amplify the commitment across the business.   

DEI resources and investment can sometimes be considered an overhead cost, and some leaders may need to fully grasp the strategic importance of these initiatives and their long-term benefits. In this case, DEI can be perceived as secondary or optional to core business functions. However, the critical thing to consider is that DEI initiatives play a significant role in supporting employee morale and engagement, where employees feel more motivated when they feel their company is inclusive and fair. Instead of seeing DEI as optional or secondary, the critical focus for DEI during these times is integration into the company’s strategic recovery plan. This could be through the role of employee resource groups as a support for strengthening the culture, aligning DEI goals with business strategic priorities, and leveraging the understanding of the organisation and, specifically, its leaders to understand the value DEI offers.  

Despite some of the obstacles we face, as any organisation does, our CEO, Megan, told us she wanted DEI to remain a top priority. I can't tell you how great it feels to have the continued championship of our CEO to progress forward with our DEI mission. It is truly empowering for me and the team, and I'm very appreciative, as I know this isn’t always the case with many company leaders. From the moment I met Megan in my first interviews with Criteo, I was immediately drawn to her authenticity and her desire for Criteo to bring DEI to the forefront of our culture. This has been unwavering in my three years at Criteo. Our entire leadership team is supportive and on board to keep strengthening our DEI commitments. In doing so, they have allowed us to improve our efforts yearly, efforts that are being rewarded and celebrated now.  

The challenges yet to come. 

I believe that DEI is even more critical considering our current geopolitical context, as it fosters social cohesion, reduces conflict and division, promotes economic prosperity, and strengthens democratic institutions. By embracing diversity, promoting equity, and fostering inclusion, organisations and societies can harness the full potential of their diverse talent pools, drive innovation and creativity, and build more resilient and sustainable communities for the future. The main challenge is that, due to cost pressure and economic uncertainty, many businesses are reducing their investment in DEI in terms of resources and priorities. Investment in DEI can often be seen as an overhead cost, and there are frequent assumptions that the work can be done with limited resources or effort. Sometimes, it is purely seen as a ‘numbers game’ which misses the important aspects of inclusion and equity. The challenge here is that the impact becomes surface-level and can be seen as superficial, avoiding the underlying and systematic issues that enable lasting change to support a culture of belonging.  

The fundamental benefit of prioritising DEI and demonstrating a commitment through the company is that it becomes a part of the culture and brand. Employees are attracted to a company that is reputed to put fairness and equity at the forefront, where they can feel safe to be themselves and succeed based on their unique merits and experiences. Advancing DEI authentically is about a comprehensive and sustained effort right through an organisation’s DNA. This is the only way to address systematic barriers and promote inclusion at all levels.  

In summary, there is no isolated effort; fostering DEI values across your workforce echoes externally to future talents and clients, suppliers, and partners. By opening the minds and building awareness throughout your company, you open its culture, vision, and, ultimately, its stakeholders. Deep down, organisations prioritising DEI are better set to navigate today's challenges and thrive in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world. By bringing solid shareholder value, DEI inadvertently supports the company’s overall strategy for growth. And again, the world is a fantastic tapestry of talents, cultures, and stories. So why stick to one version? 

Rachel Scheel

SVP Global Talent, Development, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The Future is Yours.

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