Article 3

2022-12-13 Simona Cuomo

Diversity & Inclusion: Beyond the Glass Ceiling

HR practices and policies that aim for inclusion of minorities in businesses are as necessary as ever, but risk favoring some types of discrimination at the expense of others. The current economic situation, that sees very strong inflation eroding the purchasing power of workers, can stimulate a new vision of the theme of inclusion in the labor market.

When speaking of Diversity & Inclusion, still today the discussion implicitly and prevalently addresses the development of workers who represent minorities in businesses. Implicitly means that all of those who are interested in and lend their voices to this cause, because they are a part of those same organizations and minorities, have promoted the theme starting from their own experience (there is interest for: women on the part of a women who have had difficulty building a career or reconciling work with motherhood; disability on the part of someone who has a child with a disability who is unable to find work; sexual orientation on the part of someone who found it difficult or impossible to come out, and so on). Prevalently means that the majority of the policies and projects until now have been aimed at discriminated minorities of salaried workers in large enterprises, especially multinational corporations.

Although this is legitimate and shared in this blog, and necessary to enhance awareness of the need to interpret HR policies and practices with a view towards inclusion, this high level of attention has pushed to the side issues of discrimination towards other categories of workers, that address problems linked for example to their social class or the status of their employment position. As has been written[1] when speaking of women and the new implications of modern and neoliberal feminism, women of color, as well as poor and immigrant women, often perform care work that is not recognized, that however allows career women to reconcile work and private life; this is feminist discourse that in the name of gender parity and women’s rights, promotes (often unwittingly) the same type of discrimination that it intends to combat.

Some recent episodes present us with the same reflection; so what is the purpose of D&I in the labor market? The facts show that we can no longer stop at designing D&I practices and policies only for multinational enterprises. In recent decades, Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving, has become an emblem of consumerism. This year many male and female workers in these multinationals that promote Black Friday asked for better salary and working conditions; starting with Amazon[2] and Zara,[3] all the way to the Foxconn iPhone factory[4] and the BBC in Britain.[5] A recent report by the International Labour Organization[6] shows that rising inflation has eroded the purchasing power of workers at the international level. According to a Eurostat survey,[7] among European countries Italy is the third most affected by inflation, that has created 760,000 new poor throughout the country,[8] half a million of whom in the South. Inflation has arisen in a work situation that is already difficult. A recent research report[9] presented at the “Inequality and Diversity” forum shows that in the period from 1990 to 2017 inequality in labor income has increased considerably, affecting above all lower incomes, that have decreased by approximately 800 euros on an annual basis. Two categories are affected in particular: young women (16-34 years of age) and residents in the South. In the last thirty years, Italy seems to be the only OECD country in which average gross annual salaries have fallen.[10]

In this context, we should recall what the role of an inclusive leader can be, a representative of a “business that declares D&I among its values.” In a recent interview given to Repubblica,[11] Brunello Cucinelli, defined by many as a humanist entrepreneur, said that “no entrepreneur wants to dip into their pocket to pay more to those who do what is considered low-level work. If you give a worker a salary of 1,700 euros instead of 1,200, it changes his life, but how much does it cost your company? One percent of greed.” This means expanding the vision beyond the glass ceiling; recognizing that D&I regards all male and female workers and thus deciding to activate policies of inclusion that are integrated and go beyond support for development and careers.

[1] C. Rottenberg, L’ascesa del femminismo neoliberista, Verona, Ombre Corte, 2020.