Every organisation needs to pay attention to the needs of its stakeholders and focus on meeting those needs in a sustainable way. The concept of social sustainability still remains elusive to many organizations.
Social sustainability means managing the organisation’s direct and indirect impacts on its employees and its community. As organisations affect the lives of their stakeholders on a regular basis, social sustainability encompasses all of the organization’s activities and their impact on its employees and other stakeholders.
Organisations that prioritize social sustainability can benefit from improved reputation, increase employee engagement, well-being and enhance better stakeholder relationships.
Diversity and inclusivity in organisations
Promoting diversity and inclusion is essential for creating socially sustainable organisations.
Diversity is a prevalent reality for all organisations. Diversity in the workplace refers to having employees with varying characteristics, such as race, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation and cultural background.
However, simply having a diverse workforce is not sufficient for an organisation to be socially sustainable. In addition to diversity, an inclusive workplace is crucial. An inclusive workplace is one where employees feel valued and respected, and their diverse characteristics are recognized and appreciated. Such a workplace allows everyone to be themselves without fear of exclusion.
How to promote social sustainability
Social sustainability calls for equal opportunities for everyone. The “equality of opportunity” concept, as highlighted by the International Panel on Social Progress (Richardson et al. 2018) goes beyond non-discrimination and equality before the law.
In a socially sustainable organisation, each employee should have equal access to employment opportunities, training and career development. A socially sustainable organization fosters a work environment where employees are included as equals in the community.
By following the steps below, organisations ensure that they are socially sustainable.
- Educate the employees especially team leaders by offering “diversity and inclusion” trainings to ensure that not even subtle discrimination happens within teams. By organizing such trainings, management provides a supportive place for the employees to eradicate unconscious biases, develop a sense of understanding and celebrate differences. Team leaders become more mindful of standing against discrimination. This in turn creates a positive impact on the organisation’s overall success as it promotes employee engagement within teams.
- Include everyone in the conversation and ensure that nobody feels left out. If there is a single person in your team who doesn’t speak your language, switch to the language that everyone understands. Do not exclude anyone from the conversation because everyone has an equal right to understand. By including everyone and creating a sense of belonging, the organisation can get dedicated employees, who work to a higher standard.
- Ensure that the hiring practices are inclusive. For example, use both languages when placing a job advertisement and eliminate excellent Finnish language requirement for positions where English is mainly used as a working language. By creating an inclusive hiring process, an organisation can retain diverse talent and enhance its reputation as a socially sustainable employer.
- Inculcate inclusive mindset within the organisation. Promote strategies that support inclusivity and social sustainability. Inclusivity helps in maintaining the dignity of all individuals at the organisation and acknowledges them as human beings. Build trust, empathize, respect others and be open minded.
Social sustainability in action
Haaga-Helia´s goal is to be a socially sustainable organization. That’s why we foster a work environment where we include all employees as equals in our community.
In our Sales and Communications Competence Team, we have a small group of people with varied backgrounds. We feel appreciated, respected and included in the team. As a result, this team has been quite productive and has made great effort in many areas including research, writing, teaching and team management.
We provide opportunities for our students to understand the true meaning of diversity and inclusion. We encourage them to learn about social sustainability themes as most of them will work in an international business environment, where diversity is a reality. It is important for us as educators to help students recognize the importance of social sustainability.
What is workplace inclusion? Inclusive Employers UK.
Richardson, H. S., et al. 2018. Social Progress: A Compass. In: International Panel on Social Progress (ed.) Rethinking Society for the 21st Century: Report of the International Panel on Social Progress. Volume 1, Socio-Economic Transformations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 41-80.
Social sustainability. United Nations Global Compact.