Connecting diversity to employee engagement

posted on December 3, 2021

HR exec at AstraZeneca discusses company’s evolving initiatives, including a speak-up, listen-up culture

An engaged and inclusive workforce can be key to an organization’s success. Canadian HR Reporter spoke with Gena Restivo, vice-president, HR, communications and sustainability – Canada at AstraZeneca, on the relationship between employee engagement and diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies.

Q: What can a successful D&I strategy bring to an organization?

A: “Inclusion and diversity are good for any workforce and business but, more importantly, it’s the right thing to do. Good D&I strategies drive innovation, creativity, and better decision-making.

“If I take the AstraZeneca example, we are an organization with the desire to push the boundaries of science and deliver life-changing medicine. We are an innovation-based company and we believe that by harnessing D&I effectively, it allows us to bring different thinking and opinions to work and empower people to keep innovating.

“We know that innovation requires breakthrough ideas and that only comes from diverse workplaces where people bring different experiences, different perspectives, and different points of view. They’re empowered to challenge conventional thinking a little bit.

“The second element is a that if you have a commitment to D&I, you increase employee trust and ultimately drive engagement. Engaged employees bring fresh ideas to the table, they feel safe, they feel happy at work, they feel like they have the ability to reach their full potential.

“And the last one is all-around stronger talent acquisition. At the end of the day, great talent wants to thrive in a place where they belong. They want to be part of that magic that I believe really great cultures create. If you build them thoughtfully, with true commitment to inclusion, development of your people, cultivating culture, and cultivating safe environments, people come to you, you attract the best and the brightest, and you ultimately thrive.”

Q: How can D&I tie into and promote employee engagement?

A: “Engaged employees build teams that have fresh ideas, they’re happy at work, they go the extra mile, and they have the space to reach their full potential.

“But that only happens if there is genuine progress and commitment to cultivating an inclusive workforce that reflects the communities in which you operate and embraces diversity of thought.

“We just had a recent employee pulse survey and 95 per cent of our employees say that AstraZeneca is a great place to work. Similarly, 94 per cent say our managers support diversity and inclusion. I would say that those two are definitely linked.”

Employers need to have difficult conversations about diversity, says an expert.

Q: How important is feedback and listening for D&I initiatives?

A: “A key part of our D&I strategy is to foster this speak-up culture, where safety to challenge the status quo is a key component and we really want people to be able to voice their own opinions.

“You also need to have a listen-up culture, so when people share their ideas, they’re heard by other team members and leaders. We’ve really doubled down on developing our leaders over the past couple of years. We’ve put them through unconscious bias training and now we’re taking them through conscious inclusion training. We’ve given them each an inclusive leadership assessment that comes with 360-degree feedback from their peers, their direct reports, and other people that work within the organization.

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