The rise of intersectionality

As businesses work to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which include calls for equality to ensure a life of dignity for all; political, economic and social policies to be universal; and the needs of disadvantaged and marginalised communities to be met – the intersectionality of social, environment and economic challenges is becoming increasingly apparent.

To create sustainable outcomes, we need creative and transformative approaches that tackle challenges such as climate change and shortage of resources in an inclusive and equitable manner. And to create creative and transformative approaches that are truly inclusive, we need diverse voices and expertise of marginalised people.

To harness the true potential of adopting an intersectional approach to IE&D, however, you need a truly holistic approach.

Five steps to building a holistic IE&D approach

  1. Get to grips with your concepts

Lack of common understanding and awareness of the concepts of IE&D and sustainability, their key components and what they mean to an organisation is a major stumbling block. So, ensure everyone is aligned on the meaning, importance, and implications of each. Build understanding and support by ensuring all levels of the organisation know the company’s values, positioning, and purpose.

  1. IE&D and sustainability are intertwined

IE&D and sustainability should not be addressed individually as they do not sit in isolation. A company’s carbon impact in one country can have the greatest negative impact on the poorest at the sharp end of climate change elsewhere, for example. Each is closely entwined, impacting on – and impacted by – one other. How this happens will vary by organization, and what each organisation must do to manage them in harmony will vary, too.

With no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, focus instead on what’s universal: how a holistic approach that values all contributions to ensure equal opportunities and strives to improve the wellbeing of people and the planet has benefits for individuals, businesses, and society alike. To be clear, this is not about purpose marketing. It’s about putting in place inclusive policies and procedures that support diversity at all levels, as P&G did working with a range of stakeholders, on-the-ground partners, local communities and individuals on long-term water restoration projects for its Water Positive Future strategy.

  1. Set the right goals, and consider developing new metrics

Approaching IE&D and sustainability as one has many positive impacts.

Diverse teams drive innovation and creativity by uniting unique perspectives and ideas that lead to more robust solutions. IE&D goals can enable a business to better align with customers’ wants, needs and priorities. And it can result in products and services that better foster economic growth and stability through effectively addressing shared issues and finding common ground to tackle problems collectively.

First, understand the positive impacts such an approach can most likely achieve – and which will deliver greatest value to your business. Next, prioritise by focusing attention and investment of money and time on, say, the top three goals. Then, choose metrics most relevant to your specific goals – this could involve evolving existing metrics or developing new ones.

The success of the HSBC’s ‘No Fixed Address’, the UK’s first bank service for the homeless, was measured against various impacts including accounts created and number of charity partners as well as shifts in ‘caring about customers’, employee pride and brand affinity.

  1. Leverage creativity to drive awareness, engagement, and behaviour change

Innovation and imaginative creativity capture the attention of target audiences and encourage them to engage.

Haleon Global, the consumer healthcare company, developed a campaign – Pollution Capture Pencils – involving pencils made with air pollution residue captured from schools with the poorest air quality in India, which were distributed to children and used as a fundraising tool – is a powerful demonstration of this.

Don’t be afraid to invite ‘non-creative types’ into discussions early on. By ensuring that teams, talent and co-creators are allies and representative of marginalised groups and commitments, we develop more authentic and purposeful work. Diverse minds will only make the work stronger.

  1. Share your impact

The journey to a more sustainable, diverse, inclusive and accessible future is enriched with lows and highs with gripping narratives. No impact is too small to include in your compelling story.

The power of thinking beyond ‘just’ the environment

Organisations must re-think the idea that sustainability is only tied to environmental issues – and IE&D is only tied to human resources. Instead, the focus must be on sustainable and inclusive ways of working, functionality, business practices, creativity and people management. With this richer, multi-dimensional, holistic approach, we will all be better positioned to achieve what we all want: to preserve the future.