The world of work needs to combat various forms of prejudice to be truly inclusive

Special keynote at the India Diversity Job Fair by Satoshi Sasaki, OIC/Deputy Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi

Statement | Online | 20 October 2023
The International Labour Organization, a tripartite organization and the oldest UN system specialized agency catering to the world of work and advancing social justice since 1919. The ILO has diversity and inclusion coded into our ethos to ensure that everyone is represented and no one is left behind. The ILO’s tripartite constituents are - government, employers and workers organizations, they have an equal voice in the ILO in making decisions for the future of work and employment. For more than 100 years, the ILO has promoted decent and productive employment for women and men.

We strive to promote more inclusive workplaces and address discrimination on all grounds, notably on gender, ethnicity, race, indigenous status, disability, HIV status, sexual orientation and gender identity, by ensuring equal opportunities and treatment at work. While everyone has the right to equal treatment and opportunities at work, agnostic of any attributes other than the ability to do the job, the reality, however, is mixed. Even though an enterprise may successfully attract and recruit a diverse mix of employees, inclusion is a critical element that influences equality. And the cost of exclusion and the benefits of inclusion have been demonstrated time and again.

Inclusion can be an abstract concept for many, so I would like to break it down into three categories that we can incorporate in our work environments to help us advance Decent Work with Inclusive Growth, these are gender parity, disability inclusion and freedom from discrimination basis on any social identity. Inclusion results when individuals experience a balance of belonging and individuation. Belonging is forming and maintaining a strong sense of acceptance by others and connections and stable relationships with others. And individuation is being seen, understood and valued as an individual without having to hide or adapt aspects of themselves to fit in.

An ILO research that assessed the gender gaps in the labour market found that 15% of working-age women globally would like to formally work but do not have a job compared to 10.5% that of men. Additionally, on average, women are paid about 20% lesser than men globally. The gender gap is further compounded by the personal and family responsibilities, including unpaid care work, that limits or restricts women from fully participating in the labour market. This year’s Nobel Prize for Economics winner, Prof Claudia Goldin has demonstrated the causes for this, through years of her research. Her work shows that educational decisions which impact a lifetime of career choices are made at a young age, and the earnings gap between women and men, despite being in the same profession, arises after the birth of the first child.

To combat barriers arising from domestic responsibilities and other underlying factors that restrict women from participating in the labour market, a concerted investment needs to be made in the care economy. This includes maternity leave and maternal and child healthcare, paternity leave that helps balance care and work responsibilities and long-term care services that ensure the right to healthy ageing in dignity and independent living.

While care policies can form the basis of getting more women into the workforce, flexible work modalities are crucial for ensuring women rise up the ranks and find seats at decision-making tables. A 2021 study on the impact of working from home (WfH) on women executives and managers, working with Public Sector Enterprises in India, the ILO has done in collaboration with SCOPE, found that flexible schedules would give women more autonomy over their work and help them with their work-life balance. Through years of research, the ILO has found that an equal, diverse and inclusive workplace is a crucial driver of resilience and recovery.

High levels of diversity and inclusion in the workplace can result in greater productivity, innovation and workforce well-being, yet too little is being done to promote them, particularly among minority groups, meaning that enterprises, workers and societies are missing out on considerable potential benefits. About 16% of the global population or nearly 1 billion people have some form of disability, majority of them live in developing nations. Among them, 80% are of working age. This presents an opportunity to the rising and developing economies to mainstream disability inclusion in the labour market as they make economic progress. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities advocates for the principle of reasonable accommodation which is refer to the necessary and appropriate adjustments that ensure persons with disabilities can exercise and enjoy all other human rights and fundamental freedoms.

ILO estimates have shown that if the levels of employment of people with disabilities are increased to be comparable to those without disability, then economies could benefit from between a 3 to 7% increase in the GDP. The private sector is a key actor in promoting the employment of persons with disabilities. In addition to a robust legal framework, experience shows the importance of engaging the private sector and building the confidence of companies to hire and retain workers with disabilities. Additionally, engagement of employers’ federations, including those represent small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as with trade unions has shown to have great potential to promote the employment of persons with disabilities.

A workplace should be free from any prejudice regarding a person’s gender, race, identity or ability, but the reality is unfortunately different. When it comes to disclosing a person’s gender, race, or socio-cultural identity, workers can either feel empowered in openly associating with their various identities or feel that their identities should remain private and only their abilities for the job they are doing be discussed. While this is a personal choice, it needs to be understood that a person’s various identities, especially when they come from any marginalized or minority community, inform their daily lives and work lives, and their work environment needs to be able to accommodate the various factors at play, to ensure a thriving and healthy workplace, for employee wellbeing and for its own business continuity. Therefore, more support is needed to build greater understanding of the impact of intersectionality on inclusion and how enterprises can benefit from inclusion – considering different personal characteristics, such as ethnicity/race and gender, as well as an employee’s level in the enterprise hierarchy. Steps should focus on encouraging enterprises to broaden the focus of action on diversity and inclusion, across multiple minoritized groups and hierarchical levels.

As you are aware, the UN works at the intersection of 17 intertwined Sustainable Development Goals, which means that the exclusion of some goals not being met threatens the entire SDG ecosystem or rather, the collective achievement of all the goals is necessary for a sustainable future that works for the people and the planet. We need to view diversity and inclusion as the drivers of reducing intertwined inequalities facing the global population, which will further help achieve SDG 8 of productive employment and decent work for all. Decent work provides people with the means to support themselves and their families, reduces poverty and inequality, and promotes social cohesion.

I hope you take back action points of how you can make your enterprises more diverse and inclusive, along with how you can highlight your unique qualities and stand out in front of employers which need to make their operations more inclusive. Thank you for your attention and I wish you a successful job fair ahead!