Societal issues cannot be left outside company offices in a post-pandemic world

·2-min read

Watch: DIAL Global Virtual Summit - Day 1

Issues that plague society, including those of race, gender and domestic violence can no longer be ignored by businesses, top executives discussed at a DIAL Virtual Summit panel on Wednesday.

“The pandemic has opened up our eyes to the problems in society and the fact that businesses can't keep their doors closed to these issues,” said Jeroen Wels, executive vice-president, HR, for beauty & personal care, talent and performance development at Unilever (ULVR.L).

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that employees play a variety of roles in their lives, from parents to carers, and businesses must address the problems they may be facing outside workspace as well.

"Empathetic leadership is fundamental for future business success," he said, adding that "we need to understand where the pain is coming from and then the solution will offer itself up quite quickly."

He said he hoped that current business leaders are able to create a new type of business model for future generations that will look very different from the one he joined.

DIAL Global Virtual Summit, in partnership with Yahoo Finance owner-Verizon Media (VZ), is a two-day free event where senior leaders from FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 Companies discuss diversity, inclusion, and belonging and how these components are essential for successful businesses.

In a session titled '2020 COVID & Economic Crisis – How does crisis impact the D&I Agenda?' software provider Alfa's CEO Andrew Denton said ignoring issues of race, bigotry, violence and prejudice among many others, especially in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the pandemic, “is ludicrous and tantamount to denial.”

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Spekers at the '2020 COVID & Economic Crisis – How does crisis impact the D&I Agenda?' session

He also pointed out one key way to improve empathy at work was via storytelling – encouraging colleagues to share their experiences through blogs, for instance.

He said reading about the experiences of how his African American colleagues interact with the police was “heart wrenching” and noted businesses have an “obligation” to keep the conversations going around race, trans, parenting and wellness.

Read more: The EMpower 100 Ethnic Minority Executive Role Models 2021

Meanwhile, Ipsos Mori CEO Ben Page, who was chairing the event, said addressing such issues can be tricky. For instance, he said some of his younger, white employees wanted him to go on camera and take the knee but he thought that "might be overdoing it."

But he also said that a majority of the public now wants CEOs to speak out about such issues, and in today's world it is simply impossible not to do so.

The panel, which also included Simon Eaves, Accenture (ACN) UK & Ireland CEO, acknowledged it was made up of white, middle aged men.

Eaves said "we are all on this mission together" and "are in the forefront of a movement seeking to drive change".

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