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Diageo executive says diversity and inclusion must be a ‘business imperative’ if they are to make a difference

By Karen Peattie

COMPANIES that view diversity and inclusion as a “business imperative” will be more successful and able to create a mindset for change than those organisations that look at the issue as a “tick-box exercise”, according to a senior executive at drinks giant Diageo.

New York-based Danielle Robinson, director for alcohol policy and corporate reputation management at Diageo North America and a passionate champion for diversity across society, said that while embracing diversity and inclusion was previously considered the “right thing to do”, companies and organisations must “really understand why they’re doing it”.

Ms Robinson, speaking to The Herald ahead of Scotland’s largest diversity conference on Thursday when she will give a keynote address, said: “It is a business imperative. In business today it is not just about selling products or services – it is about growing your bottom line and your business.

“And people want to support the brands that support them. However, there are still companies that look at diversity and inclusion as a tick-box exercise and do it because it’s the right thing to do,” she pointed out. “It’s good that they recognise it but it’s really important that they do it the right way and support local communities – you can’t be located in a community and not support that community.”

Ms Robinson, who has worked for Diageo, maker of brands including Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Guinness, for 15 years and was responsible for developing and delivering inclusion and diversity strategies prior to taking up her current role, said: “It is about recognising our differences but also celebrating our similarities – it is about giving everyone a voice because diversity, inclusion, equity really do matter … people from different backgrounds with different beliefs will make your organisation stronger.”

Drawing on her own experience in business as a woman of colour, she said that the changes she had witnessed in the last 20 years were hugely encouraging. “In the USA, black women business owners are growing our business numbers and here we are no longer invisible,” she said. “We are no longer the minority – we call ourselves the new majority and I include many other ethnicities who no longer have to fight so hard to get a seat at the table.”

In her presention to the conference Ms Robinson will also discuss the impact on businesses of the Black Lives Matter protests and how the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on racial inequality and social injustice.

Diageo, which has a long-established presence in Scotland through its whisky-making activities, is well-known for its diversity and inclusion initiatives. The business was named the top company for gender equality in Equileap’s 2019 Global Gender Equality Report and Ranking, and ranks highly in the Refinitiv Diversity & Inclusion Index.

Now in its fourth year, this week’s The Herald and GenAnalytics Diversity Conference takes place online for the first time and will feature keynote pre-recorded presentations by Danielle Robinson and Steve Collinson, head of UK HR at Zurich Insurance.

Q&A sessions will include live sessions with Emma Francis, diversity and inclusion manager at Zurich Insurance, Loganair pilot James Bushe, Naziyah Mahmood, a gender equality expert at Scottish Engineering.

There also be live sessions with Usman Tariq, founder of Scottish Ethnic Minorities Lawyers Association (SEMLA), CIPD research adviser Melanie Green, and Helen Tabeshfar, vice-president, EMEA diversity and inclusion, JP Morgan.

The Herald and GenAnalytics Diversity Scotland takes place on Thursday, October 1, and is supported by BAE Systems, CIPD, Diageo and JP Morgan.

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