The role of diversity and inclusion in sustainability or ESG

Gillian McKee owner of GIRAFFE Associates Ltd uses her experience to help companies understand what sustainability means, how they can embrace it and what they will gain when they do.

When we talk or think about sustainability, all too often we’re only referring to the environment, forgetting that sustainability is actually about achieving balance between three areas of impact – economic, environmental and societal.

And when we do remember to include the (all too often overlooked) societal pillar, we tend to pigeonhole anything to do with people into that column. The same goes for how we approach ESG[1] – environmental, social and governance. Social means people and so anything to do with diversity, equity and inclusion, must fit under social, right? Wrong.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is about people, of course it is, but when it comes to developing your ESG strategy or report, considering DEI only under the social heading is both shortsighted and a missed opportunity.

At a sustainability conference I attended recently, John Ferris from the Department for International Trade talked about how diversity can help solve the climate change. John’s talk was a refreshingly different approach and one of the most thought-provoking sessions throughout the day.

Essentially, he was making the connection between diversity and innovation, with figures to illustrate the shockingly low levels of venture capital (VC) investment in both women and black founders – just 1% of the $32.9bn invested in the UK in 2021 for each group. When intersectionality was examined, just 0.09% of black women received funding. John wasn’t trying to claim that this was simply unfair. His point was that all the evidence pointed to it being poor decision-making. On exit from their companies, female founders show a return of 112% for their VC investors, compared with 48% for male founders. He also pointed to evidence that innovation is six times higher in companies where men and women are treated equally and of course innovation, at pace, is critical to solving the many climate and nature crises facing us at the minute.

At Diversity Mark, the goal is to encourage and support companies to embed diversity and inclusion and reap the wide ranging benefits it brings to your business. What we don’t talk about enough is how it can contribute to every aspect of your approach to ESG.


Considering diversity, equity & inclusion within your environmental efforts is more important than you might initially think. Particularly if you’re a company with a global supply chain that impacts on the environment or depends on materials that are mined or grown for example. Understanding how environmental issues affect different areas and communities can allow you to design innovative solutions to addressing your environmental impacts – wherever they happen.


This pillar is about your relationships with people and communities – your workforce, the communities you serve and those in your supply chain. Having a strong DEI focus within your company is great, but it resonates further and impacts more widely if you can extend this focus to your value chain, ensuring that you support suppliers from a range of ethnic and social backgrounds and embrace the value they can add to your business and the insights they can bring.


Good governance is about open and transparent leadership and diversity at Board level is obviously important here. What’s also important is procurement – where, how and from whom you source your goods and services and what you can do through your supply chain to partner with diverse organisations that add real social value through their efforts. Many public tenders now include a requirement to address social value, but whether you’re responding to a tender requirement or simply running your company, considering DEI in your value chain can only making it stronger.

Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be something that stops at the office doors. Like sustainability, the commitment to working in a way that benefits the environment and wider society as well as the company, should imbue every decision you take, every relationship you develop and every pound you spend.

When DEI and sustainability or ESG go hand in hand, they make powerful bedfellows.

[1] Here we use the two terms interchangeably as any difference isn’t material to the article.

Join us at our ‘Putting diversity and inclusion at the heart of sustainability’ event on 4 May to hear more. You can find out more and register by clicking here.

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