Angela Berg
By Angela Berg

Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consulting Leader at Mercer

Article originally published in the World Economic Forum’s Agenda blog.


  • Social justice and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are now foundational business capabilities for global organizations.

  • Organizations are embracing new and different social justice actions to meet an evolving workforce’s shifting priorities.

  • Leaders are pivoting to more holistic social justice frameworks which value the voices of new types of stakeholders.

The events of the past year and a half have forever altered how business leaders approach DEI. As our society is slowly emerging from the chrysalis of the global pandemic, many leaders are discovering that a fundamental transformation has taken place — from which there is no turning back. A focus on DEI and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) values was once the purview of the most enlightened organizations. It has now become table stakes for every business.

The ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on the global workforce — and the concurrent attention brought to racial justice and accountability — have catalyzed what had previously been painfully slow, incremental progress toward diversity and inclusion worldwide. In the crucible of recent events, it has become a top business imperative for leaders not only to transform their organizations to try to enhance DEI — but to center DEI in a way that helps transform society at large. Leaders who fail to understand and act on this change will not only lag behind — they will put themselves and their companies at risk.  

DEI, which historically has occupied a less prominent seat at the corporate table, has become intrinsic to and synonymous with organizational health in today’s world. This is partly because wider social forces have encouraged organizations to listen to and empathize with a broader group of stakeholders whose interests they affect — from investors to customers, employees, suppliers, vendors, communities and governments.

Align with a new stakeholder model

This broader, more diverse stakeholder model also means we are using new criteria to evaluate performance success for organizations. Moving beyond simple financial metrics, organizations are now incorporating different dimensions of stakeholder capitalism — such as reporting both internally and externally on the representation of different demographic groups across career levels, job families, business units and geography.i

Traditional financial investors and external shareholders are also beginning to formally include DEI criteria in their investment approach. For example, in the US, the SEC has begun to require disclosures on human capital metrics, including DEI. Likewise, prominent investors such as BlackRock have prioritized diversity and inclusion,ii and financial firms like Bloomberg have built investable indices based on DEI and broader human capital management.iii

To document and explain this shift in how companies and their stakeholders are approaching DEI, Mercer has partnered with the World Economic Forum to publish a new white paper — Pathways to Social Justice: A Revitalized Vision for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workforce

In this paper, we break down the forces that are driving change and offer leaders a roadmap for hardwiring DEI into business processes — including outlining five steps leaders can take to accelerate the DEI journey within their organizations.

Establish DEI as a strategic business imperative

Repositioning DEI as a strategic business imperative must start at the top of the organization. Engaged leadership — and, in particular, an engaged CEO and even the board — can expedite organizational buy-in and hardwire DEI into the business — helping to ingrain the values and behaviors that will resonate with the diverse populations of workers and communities they serve.  

Unilever offers a powerful example of this principle in action. One of the organization’s key business imperatives is to help build a fairer and more socially inclusive world. The CEO and leadership team stepped in to craft a plan that included ensuring suppliers earn a living wage or living income by 2030; spending €2 billion annually with suppliers owned and managed by underrepresented groups by 2025; and equipping 10 million young people with essential skills to prepare them for job opportunities by 2030.iv

Five steps for an impactful workforce DEI strategy

To build a workforce strategy that is both impactful and actionable, Mercer and the WEF have proposed a strategic framework that builds on research — purposefully measuring and analyzing experiences through multiple lenses:



Create an aligned and committed workforce and leaders



Root your strategy in proof, data and analytics

Take action 

Take action

Integrate DEI into policies, practices and programs

Be accountable 


Set goals, mesure progress and share transparently



Here’s a summary of how this looks in practice, drawn from the recently published white paper:

  • 1. Engage: Create aligned and committed leaders and workforces

    A business-wide issue with significant impact calls for engaging all senior leaders to drive DEI efforts via a holistic strategy permeating the entire organization — including the supply chain, customer demographics, shareholder expectations and workforce needs. To do so:

    • Ensure that senior leaders engage in DEI efforts to the same degree as every other business imperative.

    • Combat reliance on stereotypes about any given group or what makes for effective leaders.

    • Train and equip people managers to lead DEI efforts.

    • Design mentorship and sponsorship programs and create networks of champions.

  • 2. Diagnose: Root the strategy in proof, data and analytics

    With the ever-expanding array of DEI interventions available to leaders, organizations too often fail to implement those that would have the most positive impact. Similar to how virtually all critical business decisions are made, leaders should rely on comprehensive DEI data and insights to develop the strategy, set goals and measure progress:

    • Analyze internal labor market (ILM) dynamics, including hiring, promotion and turnover rates by population, along with critical dimensions of rewards — including base pay, incentives, benefits and distributions of performance ratings. 

    • Conduct DEI benefit assessments to understand where there may be gaps in current policies and processes against best practices.

    • Capture and measure employee experience through focus groups and surveys.

  • 3. Take action: Integrate DEI into policies, practices and programs

    Hardwiring DEI into day-to-day operations across the enterprise ensures effective and sustainable results. While many organizations have taken ad hoc actions, leaders seeking to accelerate their organization’s DEI journey should consider the broad range of opportunities:

    • Update key strategic business processes in light of the broader range of social and political issues — including establishing anti-racist, anti-sexist policies, removing bias in decision-making, enacting robust pay equity and eliminating barriers to equality.

    • Ensure equal access to reskilling and upskilling initiatives.  

    • Provide equal opportunities for career development and growth.  

    • Strengthen grievance procedures through training to help employees feel safe raising concerns without fear of retaliation.  

  • 4. Accountability: Set goals, measure progress and share transparently

    Developing and enforcing a DEI strategy is critical — but one of the most critical indicators of success will be establishing accountability:

    • Treat DEI goals similar to other business goals. An increasing number of organizations are setting qualitative and quantitative DEI goals that are linked to executive rewards, a mechanism which is sure to drive the right level of action and accountability.

    • Measure progress and outcomes. DEI dashboards and scorecards are typically used to monitor workforce representation. These tools are powerful aides in tracking and measuring key drivers of representation and inclusion, which can provide valuable leading indicators of how the DEI journey is progressing and help forecast where adjustments need to be made.

    • Share results openly. Proactive and transparent communications, both internal and external, establish credibility and commitment with stakeholders — and drive continued accountability for making progress.

  • 5. Change management and communication: Establish a strong foundation

    Creating a holistic DEI strategy is not just a one-off project, but a whole system change. To make it work, build a culture of DEI that is reinforcing and sustaining. Consider the culture broadly and take into account how employees experience the impact of policies and programs that might be changing. Training managers to effectively communicate and support change will help foster an inclusive environment where employees are better prepared to embrace and positively participate in the change process.

To read more about the Mercer and WEF recommendations for keeping your organization current with DEI norms, we invite you to read the full white paper.


[i] World Economic Forum. Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism: Towards Common Metrics and Consistent Reporting of Sustainable Value Creation, 2020, available at

[ii] BlackRock. “Racial Equity and Inclusion,” available at

[iii] Bloomberg. “The Evolving S in ESG,” available at

[iv] Collective action is needed to build a society that promotes cohesion. See Unilever. “How We’ll Help Build a More Equitable and Inclusive Society,” available at