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MEIG Highlights, Latest News 14 novembre 2022

Highlight 47/2022 – Diversity and inclusion – a real strive for equality or just a modern trend?

Svetlana Ryzhik, 14 November 2022

Today, diversity, equality and inclusion are familiar topics. This is a fairly recent achievement of the last few decades. The first equal employment legislation was introduced in the US Congress in 1943.  In the 1960’s, social and political changes resulted in the adoption of civil rights legislation that prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, and later on, age. Since then, the pursuit of diversity, equality, and inclusion have become rallying points for the protection of human rights and the struggle against unconscious biases. Although it has been a long journey with noticeable progress, there are still a lot of discussions in society on these concepts and whether they hold substance.

Today, in many European countries, the rights of the LGBTQ+ community are well protected; legislation was adjusted accordingly and the level of acceptance in society increased significantly. There are still some areas for improvement, but the basic foundations have been set. At present, reporting on the progress in LGBTQ+ rights protection and organizing supporting events is a popular trend for many public trading companies. This is a positive indication; however, does it bring about a substantial difference to LGBTQ+ rights protection or is this now a “low hanging fruit” for corporations to build their reputations as “responsible employers”?

Another example is the struggle for gender equality. Currently, a mere 37 Fortune 500 CEOs are women, all but three are white.(1) In this regard, there is need of a long-term strategy to achieve greater gender balance to address disparities at their source. For instance, the overall business culture should be tailored to support gender equality with pragmatic recruitment, training and promotion policies that address the causes of gender disparity. Many public companies have already begun this transition. Unfortunately, to demonstrate quick results, many companies have established quotas for women representation in top management. While quotas may help to combat gender disparity in top management, they may lead to gender-based promotions without addressing the underlying issue of women being denied promotions despite their merit. The introduction of quotas for women may lead to an unhealthy professional atmosphere and can create greater pressure for women from the stigma associated with the quota, suggesting that their promotions were not merit-based. Another consequence of the introduction of such quotas is that it could lead to gender-based discrimination against men.

Age discrimination is less discussed in the media, but the problem exists and is particularly evident in countries with strong social protection systems. There are two main reasons behind ageism – firstly, concerns regarding skills gap and secondly, the financial implications of hiring elder employees. As employees age, the employers’ social and insurance contributions also increase and this discourages them from hiring persons in higher age groups. The problem, therefore, requires redress at the governmental level to incentivize the employment of older persons and to protect persons in age groups that are vulnerable to discrimination in the employment market.

Building a society grounded in equal opportunity is an important objective reflected in the 2030 SDG agenda. The achievement of this objective must be pursued through pragmatic solutions, prioritized over short-sighted and unbalanced initiatives.

Svetlana Ryzhik, Highlight 47/2022 – Diversity and Inclusion – a real strive for equality or just a modern trend?, 14 November 2022, available at www.meig.ch

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.

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