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US business students visit Elsevier to learn about Pride and I&D in the workplace

Sharing knowledge, opening doors and empowering researchers to advance science are key elements that guide Elsevier in the communities we serve. So, too, are our efforts to support and encourage all employees to flourish regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, culture or sexual identity.

When Prof. Alice Leri of the Darla Moore School of Business at University of South Carolina (UofSC) contacted me last December, little did I suspect that 2020 would prove to be a catalyst for increasing conversations around inclusion, diversity and race in particular. With a looming public health scare and eventual border closures between Europe and the US, we were fortunate to host a study trip for her students in early March to learn more about Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) management in the Netherlands.

Now, I would like to share some insights from their visit.

Alice selected Elsevier largely because of our reputation and commitment to the promotion and advancement of LGBTQ+ professionals. With Head of I&D Adam Travis; Gina Walker, a strong ally in both I&D and Pride activities; and several other members of Elsevier Pride hosting the delegation, the 10 students would be guaranteed an energetic and insightful day. After the day’s events, Adam said he was humbled that Elsevier’s focus on I&D was already an area of focus in university classrooms:

Inclusion and diversity is at the heart of the way we work, think and run our business. An inclusive culture enhances our capability to better serve our customers, and it enables a high-performing and engaged workforce where employees feel valued, have equal opportunities – and of course where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.

Afterwards, we talked to Alice, who provided her reflections on the event along with those of her students. The questions and answers highlight issues businesses may consider when making the right decision to embrace inclusion and diversity. (I particularly liked the insights from the student at the end!)

Alice, you visited the Netherlands and other European countries on a fact finding mission. What was your mission about?

Each year, the Darla Moore School of Business faculty organizes a series of global classrooms for students interested in academic “deep-dives.” Our courses have an international component, and the main idea is to maximize students’ ability to understand rather complex topics through experiential learning. Different courses have different learning objectives, and in my case, I wanted to help students understand why companies today are heavily focusing on I&D in the workplace. I wanted them to understand that, even if it might seem cynical, focusing on the business case is as important as focusing on the values.

The meaning of inclusion doesn’t really change. But different organizations, different industries and different countries have very different ways of thinking about diversity because of their historical, cultural and administrative backgrounds. This heterogeneity in certain cases might bring students to think that inequality doesn’t really exist outside of certain environments. But we all know that this isn’t the case and we are all dealing with different forms of inequality that constantly shift over the course of time and space.

Exploring another country and looking at I&D from the perspective of multiple businesses in a variety of industries gives students the opportunity to exercise their contextual intelligence and leaves them better equipped to face an ever changing society. It’s also a great opportunity for students to have difficult conversations about privilege and inequality, putting some distance between themselves and the topic. I think they feel a bit safer from an emotional perspective because they are learning about the Netherlands and not the US.

Finally, I wanted students to learn about best practices in I&D, and I was particularly interested in familiarizing them with the work that established Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are doing to make organizations more inclusive. As young professionals, there is a lot they can learn from employee resource groups. Further, they can apply many of those lessons to their own student organizations, enhancing the impact they have on our campus.

How did you come to pick Elsevier as one of the companies to visit?

Picking Elsevier was easy. I was looking specifically for a Dutch multinational company committed to I&D that had a “credible” mission; students interested in learning about I&D want to see a natural connection between the mission of a company and its commitment to inclusion. Also, I was particularly interested in connecting students with an organization that was doing an excellent job supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and given these criteria, Elsevier was the best choice.

What were the big questions you wanted to cover with Elsevier about I&D and its Pride group?

Well, I had a lot more questions initially, especially once I learned Elsevier’s I&D Director was going to host our students. Six key questions were:

  • When did Elsevier start focusing on I&D – and why?
  • When the I&D function was established, what were your main areas of focus? And what were your main challenges?
  • How have Elsevier’s main areas of focus and challenges changed over time?
  • When was Elsevier’s first Pride group established, where and how?
  • Elsevier has Pride chapters in the UK, US, Netherlands, Germany, the Philippines and now India. Why specifically in these countries? And do your different chapters differ in their initiatives?
  • What are the main activities of your Pride group in the Netherlands, and how do you support your allies in the workplace?

And what did you find out? Any surprises? And do have any recommendations for Elsevier in the I&D space? After your return home what will you do with your findings?

For these questions I thought it would be best to ask my students to provide the answers. We collected the answers using an online form, so the entries were anonymous, but each of the students indicated their majors.

“Elsevier taught me about psychological safety …” – Accounting major

Elsevier taught me about psychological safety and the importance that employees need to feel safe. It was nice to see such a great push for LGBTI inclusion and events that Elsevier provides. I think that the discussion around psychology safety resonated with me due to my psychology minor and my data analytics concentration. Using this information that Elsevier provided me, I will be able to go into the workforce with knowledge that will help me with the company’s I&D strategy or possibly help them create events surrounding inclusivity!

“I learned how a multinational company supports and encourages their employees to be themselves.” – Business Adminstration major

I learned a lot about how a multinational company supports and encourages their employees to be themselves. It was really shocking: they seemed very vocal about their support of the LGBTQ community, and in the US, it is still often something that is shamed or supported in a quiet way. I really liked that Elsevier also encouraged and informed those who were allies, and focused on fun and educational events for all. I think it would be interesting to learn more about their efforts in protecting queer employees from legal discrimination or violence in less accepting places. I would recommend that they connect more with the younger generation as we care greatly for companies that value everyone. I will use what I learned in my future employment as a blueprint for creating or developing a welcoming program for a minority and/or discriminated against groups.

“Something that resonated with me in a deeper way was the amount of resources Elsevier dedicated towards I&D and how much it meant to each person who spoke to us.”Business/Managerial Economics major

I learned the main differences between I&D in the US and in Europe. It was very interesting to see the history of these differences. I do think there is a slight cultural shock, but nothing more than I expected. The main thing that caught my attention was how gender is treated as such a priority here over race or ethnicity. I think something that resonated with me in a deeper way was the amount of resources Elsevier dedicated towards I&D and how much it meant to each person who spoke to us. There wasn’t anything I wish to have seen addressed that wasn’t. I will use what I learned to help impact I&D in the US in my future jobs.

“What we learned here I can apply to not only my career path but also my everyday life.” – Risk Management and Insurance major

During our visit I felt that I learned a lot about LBGTQ inclusion in the Netherlands. At the other companies we visited, the discussion was primarily focused on gender. One thing that surprised me was the emphasis on different minorities’ rights in the countries. For instance, America focusing on African Americans and the Netherlands seeming to focus less on race at the moment and more on LBGTQ and gender. I also really enjoyed hearing about how in Australia aboriginal rights is a big focus. Hearing Adam speak about it, you could tell he was very passionate, which made it a very engaging conversation. … What we learned here I can apply to not only my career path but also my everyday life.

“I enjoyed learning how I&D is incorporated into the workplace and having the conversations that may be difficult.” – Marketing/Marketing Management major

I knew companies were trying to improve LGBTQ relations, but I didn’t know the extent of what some companies are doing. It was interesting to learn all of the events you attend and host for education and support purposes. I enjoyed being able to learn about the way I&D is incorporated into the workplace and having the conversations that may be difficult. The use of the survey that does not keep or track data seems like a really good way to get a read on employees comfort and areas that can be improved. I’m about to enter into the workforce, so I will be able to assess if a company I’m interviewing with is one that I would want to work for based on their I&D policies and activities.

“I learned that to have psychological safety throughout the workplace, everyone needs to talk and have conversations.” – Accounting and Management major

I learned that in order to have diversity you need to have inclusion. I have always wondered how to measure I&D in the workplace, so I found it very interesting to hear about the psychological safety. I learned that to have psychological safety throughout the workplace, everyone needs to talk and have conversations. I think talking and having conversations is extremely important to have I&D. I wish that Elsevier talked more about how to have or start those conversations.

“I think it’s important to get everyone involved in I&D activities.” – Business Administration major

I think it’s important to get everyone involved in I&D activities. I appreciate Elsevier taking the time to speak with us, and I really enjoyed hearing their insights and what their I&D strategies are. I will use what I’ve learned from Elsevier to help others feel included in my future workplace as well.

“I learned that Inclusion and Diversity in the workplace – and encouraging all employees to participate – increases overall employee engagement and productivity.” – Business major

I learned that including Inclusion and Diversity in the workplace and encouraging all employees to participate increases overall employee engagement and productivity, which can be implemented and should be in every company. I think the events and fundraisers that Elsevier arranged around I&D were unique and inspiring! Hopefully neighboring companies will follow in the footsteps of Elsevier to better the company as a whole.

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