Distinguishing between equity and equality in the workplace

December 2, 2022, 8:55 PM UTC
Michelle Weese, executive vice president, corporate affairs at Bristol Myers Squibb, speaks at Fortune's Impact Initiative summit in Atlanta, Ga. on Nov. 29, 2022.
Erik Meadows for Fortune

ESG is a critical factor in the future of work. It aims to help companies improve employee recruitment, satisfaction, engagement, and retention. However, it’s often a point of contention for companies, investors, stakeholders, and employees who sometimes see the guidelines as “woke.” As all three aspects—environmental, social, and governance—are essential, clumping them together often hinders their efficacy and creates problematic expectations that can override company goals.

So, rather than making ESG a north star, many companies are integrating it into well-established values. For Edward Jones, it’s a matter of aligning ESG to its company purpose via three areas: advancing inclusive growth, partnering for lasting financial strength, and promoting a healthier future.

“We’ve made that framework really authentic to us based on the feedback we’ve gotten from our stakeholders, clients, and colleagues in our communities,” said Tina Hrevus, member of the managing partner’s office at Edward Jones, while speaking on a panel at Fortune‘s Impact Initiative in Atlanta on Tuesday. “And the output of our materiality assessment showed us what was most important to them, and that’s how we built our purpose impact areas.”

As the panelists discussed the three tiers of ESG, most leaned on social to grow values within the company. For example, when unrest arose after the murder of George Floyd, many companies made new and bold commitments to diversify and become more inclusive. Edward Jones, for instance, established a scorecard, including community impact, inclusive leadership, and continuous learning that involves acumen building and activities like “courageous conversations” that span cultures, sensitive issues, and other topics to nurture diverse thoughts and perspectives.

“To be a little bit provocative,” said Michelle Weese, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Bristol Myers Squibb, a global biopharmaceutical company. “It goes beyond gender and race, because you don’t get innovation without diversity of thought, which can sometimes be really hard because people’s values and the way they feel about certain topics may be different than other people in the room.”

But, to address this, initiatives like courageous conversations, impact-driven activities, and evolving practices and protocols are helping companies and employees evolve. “We say that diversity will get you to a better decision,” Weese said. “But it’s only going to get you to a better decision if you let the different ideas out and know how to engage with them in a constructive way.”

In order to hold social initiatives in place, however, accountability is vital and that spans full representation (gender, race, and ethnicity) and, again, alignment with company values. But it’s also rewarding social development the same way meeting goals would be rewarded.

Samantha Wellington, TriNet’s executive vice president of business affairs and chief legal officer and secretary, mentioned assessment templates that help guide evaluations across all levels, each built into the company system so leadership can pass principles on while ensuring accountability. TriNet and others ingrain that value set as early as recruitment, ensuring a candidate is already aligned with in-place values.

When it comes to ESG and remote work, empathy and intact community remains increasingly important. Whether reconnecting personal and professional purpose via daily scrums or honoring office time when it’s needed for in-person connection, a balance is necessary.

Our new weekly Impact Report newsletter will examine how ESG news and trends are shaping the roles and responsibilities of today’s executives—and how they can best navigate those challenges. Subscribe here.

Read More

Brainstorm HealthBrainstorm DesignBrainstorm TechMost Powerful WomenCEO Initiative