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The EDI agenda

American companies have helped to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in Ireland - continuing to progress makes social and commercial sense

A few decades ago, Ireland was almost entirely white, LGBTQ+ rights barely existed and a generation of women remembered being forced out of the workplace just because they got married. Disabled people lacked any significant presence in workplaces.

We’re still not perfect, and we have a long way to go. But a growing economy led to more ethnic diversity, LGBTQ+ people organised and ultimately led a successful campaign for marriage equality, women fought back and disabled people and their families refused to be sidelined any more.

But it’s also fair to say that the presence of US multinationals in Ireland has helped pave the way for more equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). Many of these firms have clear policies that support underrepresented groups and many Irish people, working alongside a diverse group of colleagues, have become not just more tolerant, but genuinely accepting. At the same time, employee resource groups (ERGs) - workplace clubs based around a shared interest or identity, such as LGBTQ+, neurodiversity or, for instance, Brazilian groups - have sprung up.

Andrew Campbell-Edie, communications manager at the Irish Centre for Diversity, says that diversity and inclusion have risen up the agenda to the point where a lack of progress is a liability.


“Stakeholders on many fronts - current and prospective employees, consumers/end users, shareholders and business partners - are joining and leading the calls for change,” says Campbell_Edie. “Progress has also been driven by an element of ‘money talks’. Diverse communities and groups have been able to flex their economic muscle and demand change.”

But there’s still a way to go, says Campbell-Edie, pointing to statistics from the 2022 Altrata/BoardEx Global Gender Diversity Report that show that women are still underrepresented at board level. Just 8.9 per cent of board chairs and five per cent of CEOs at more than 1,600 major publicly-traded companies across 20 countries are female, while black and Hispanic workers in the US are less likely to be in senior positions and are paid less.

Karina Howley, head of corporate citizenship and diversity at KPMG, says that the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have put equality, diversity and inclusion at the forefront, while the shift to home working during the pandemic created new work opportunities for women and people with disabilities - and widened the talent pool for companies.

“Companies have moved from a legal compliance mindset to one of social responsibility,” says Howley. “Good intentions are no longer enough and a focus on transparency, measurable progress and EDI reporting has taken on a much greater role. There is still a strong focus on gender equity; however, the EDI lens has widened to include other traditionally underrepresented groups. We’ve also seen the shift towards transparency, measurement and reporting with the introduction of things like mandatory gender pay gap reporting and the Business in the Community Elevate Pledge.”

Laura Jane Hennessy, DE & global lead at her division in PepsiCo, says that PepsiCo creates EDI guidelines based on the feedback of colleagues.

“While we usually compete against our competitors for market share, in the [EDI] space we work together,” explains Hennessy. “Our [EDI] agenda is not just internally focused as we partner with the community to sponsor events such as Cork Pride Family Fun Day, Field of Dreams and IT@Cork’s DEI conference.”

“’A space to be you’ is our initiative that creates a collaborative, equitable and inclusive space where everyone, regardless of what we look like, where we come from or who we love, has a voice. Our ERGs - Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN), ENABLE (Disability rights) and EQUAL (LGBTQ+ rights) - celebrate awareness days within their space to educate colleagues. These include Autism Awareness Day, International Women’s Week and World Aids Day, among others.”

Howley says that an inclusive culture that values diversity leads to better decision-making, drives greater creativity and innovation, better meets client needs and motivates everyone.

“We want to bring about a positive integration between work and life that not only promotes career achievement but also provides an environment that enables everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, socio-economic background or sexual orientation, to reach their full potential by being valued for being themselves,” Howley says.

William Organ, senior global quality assurance specialist at PepsiCo, says that companies should go beyond the law by providing fairness and equality for all employees.

“We are not competing with other companies when it comes to equality,” Organ says. “Equality and inclusion are not benefits; they are table standards. We will choose our competitive edge elsewhere.”