Elisa Lanciani, Head of Organization, People and Culture at Bitron, talks about the strategy behind the combination of implementing a DEI corporate culture and business impact within a large multinational organisation.

Read her article for The Business Management Review below.


We constantly talk about DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) policies and the need for companies to become more inclusive. However, we often overlook the origins of the stereotypes which cause the discrimination. This analysis is crucial for creating effective DEI strategies that address the underlying issues. So, let's take a step back and examine the historical roots that have contributed to the creation of these stereotypes and which continue to underlie the negative subculture we are striving to dismantle through various plans and strategies today.

Stereotypes accumulate over time due to a combination of factors. We have to consider their causes the cultural, psychological, and social factors which are cause of negative stereotypes about specific group: the lack of knowledge and information, the competition for limited resources (jobs, education, healthcare, etc.) and the unequal power dynamics where a privileged group strive to maintain their status. Additionally, we cannot overlook the impact of social influence, where individuals often conform to the expectations of the groups with which they identify. It's a lengthy list.

Why is all this relevant? Well, if we fail to consider these factors and their profound impact on the organization, the market and the people involved, we will be unable to effect meaningful change. But here's the catch: when it comes to DEI, we must remember that all companies and managers primarily focus on business goals and results. In simpler terms, they prioritize concrete, measurable outcomes over lofty theories of peace, harmony, and creativity. Let's be honest about this.

Returning to a concrete and tangible dimension: we have a historic European legislation, we are trying to develop the United Nations' sustainable principles and following the guidelines put in place by the uropean Institute for Gender Equality. However, the big question is: how do all of these align with the demands placed on companies? Especially the Italian companies appear to be lagging behind. They are not prepared to embrace the change that is no longer "coming in 15 years" but is now imminent. Many of them are not ready to meet the expectations of the younger generations.

I firmly believe that if we do not help our managers understand how these factors are interconnected with the company’s values and, consequently, with its business outcomes, we are essentially doomed from the outset. We may have good intentions, but without a clear set of specific objectives, actionable best practices, and the necessary tools to measure results, we are merely spinning our wheels.

It would be wonderful to live in a world where it is enough say, “it’s the right thing to do” wholeheartedly support, regardless of the financial implications. However, let’s discuss reality: can you imagine me going to our CFO and saying, “it’s the right thing to do, no matter what is the cost”? Sometimes, it seems like we are engaging in a lot of discussions but not presenting enough data. For example, if we all knew how much an inclusive environment could enhance company productivity, we might start thinking differently. This is a significant matter for many companies, not just mine.

The key to initiating these discussions undoubtedly lies in the future. Imagining what lies ahead can be quite challenging, particularly in these tumultuous and ever-changing times. However, we must do it if we wish to help the companies to stay competitive in the market.

How can we do this? By developing strategies, ideas, and visions that consider all aspects, mechanisms, and influences that have shaped our society as we see it today, and it all begins with understanding ‘why’ we are pursuing a particular goal before delving into the ‘what’ or ‘how’. Today, more than ever, it is crucial to value the company culture, behaviours, the sense of community it fosters, the organization’s purpose, the positive impact it has on society, the market and other communities - all the while being supported by data. By embracing these values, we can create fair, creative, and appealing work environments with tangible, positive effects on productivity. However, we must not forget that the ethical plan should always align with long-term economic and business objectives; otherwise, these concepts risk becoming abstract ideals that seem disconnected from the business world.

"To ensure the success of your change management strategy, it is essential to equip your managers with the tools to change themselves first."

We need to prioritize DEI not only for the ethical aspects but it is beneficial for business. The good is also useful, and the useful is also good. It enhances the bottom line, reduces employee turnover, improves customer understanding and has a genuine impact on the final products and services. In a nutshell, it benefits businesses in several ways.

All of this can only happen if we make DEI a priority and work on company culture. This entails creating a respectful environment where people feel safe to unleash their potential and promoting a culture that makes people learn from mistakes, recognize their own limitations and biases to make fair decisions, accept diverse ideas, and collaborate constructively. It also involves having the courage to challenge the status quo and question what may be considered ‘normal’ and widely accepted.

So, when you begin implementing DEI changes, the first step is to identify what needs to change and why. During this phase, it is essential to analyze and understand the organization through questionnaires, focus groups, data and more. Then build a business case that includes the potential business impact, the busness risks of not implementing these changes and the return on investments.

Next, it is crucial to gain the support of management by explaining the reasons, the expected outcomes and the necessary steps through a clear communication strategy.

To ensure the success of your change management strategy, it is essential to equip your managers with the tools to change themselves first. In my company, for example, we have designed a comprehensive training program that focuses on the behaviours expected of inclusive leaders, how to acquire these behaviours and especially how to address their own biases. Speaking of biases, it is important to delve into the ‘available leadership model’ and the ‘fragmented culture’ to identify the key barriers to DEI, such as gender distribution among employees.

The final step to ensure the success of your change of the management strategy is to track progress through measurable goals. Creating practical metrics is crucial for monitoring, guiding and adjusting your strategy.

In conclusion, by understanding the cultural change that is necessary and how to achieve it through a combination of actions and initiatives, we can make a substantial impact on the business.

In my company, we are working diligently to elevate business leadership through DEI transformation, creating a culture of equality and authenticity rooted in the power of diversity. This is our challenge for the coming years: a rich and intense journey that will result in a better internal atmosphere, innovative processes, and a workforce that wants to work with us and stay with us.

From business strategies to cultural transformation, we have a long and rocky road ahead. I'm eager to embark upon this journey which I'm sure will be a rollercoaster of emotions and challenges. How about you?