Business leaders, policy makers and representatives from academia met at the House of Lords to find ways to encourage sustainability and diversity in the workplace.
‘Sustainability in the boardroom’ was organised by INSEAD Directors’ Network (IDN) UK. It was in collaboration with the Global Initiative on Ageing (GIA), Recency Recruitment Ltd and with the support of UNITAR (United Nations Institute for training and research).
Naseem Talukdar, founder and managing director of Regency, which supplies seasonal workers for UK horticulture from South-East Asia, said: “This was an insightful event. Diverse and sustainable workplaces, which protect workers’ wellbeing, help reduce poverty, protect the environment and drive growth.”
INSEAD is one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business school. GIA’s mission is to support goals set by the UN and improve the inclusion of the world’s ageing population.
Sustainability in the workplace
Regency, which has aligned with several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will create an ethical charter to ensure workers’ rights are protected.
Luis Gallegos, chair of UNITAR’s board of trustee and president of Global Initiative on Ageing (GIA), spoke at the event.
He said: “We need a better planet for our children and our grandchildren. Businesses have a responsibility to be sustainable in all dimensions – from fair pay of any individual to participation in governance.”
The Ecuadorian diplomat talked about how climate change would affect his country’s cocoa production as temperatures soar.
He said: “Things have to change and they will if we have the right cause and are persistent.”
Diversity in the boardroom
Her Excellency Saida Muna Tasneem, the High commissioner for Bangladesh to the UK, also sat on the panel.
Ms. Saida Muna Tasneem, who has guided Regency on how to do business in Bangladesh, talked about the need for more women as board members, including women of colour.
She said: “Research shows women play an important role in the workplace, boosting innovation, marketability and profitability. We have to employ them.”
The Boston Consulting Group, a global firm partnering with leaders in business, found companies with greater gender diversity were significantly more innovative.
But a study found women made-up only 14 per cent of boardroom members – which has in fact doubled since 2019 – and only three per cent were women of colour.
Bangladesh has ranked first among South Asian countries in terms of gender parity, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2023 by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The report looks at economics, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.
Bangladesh has made progress in the field of political empowerment, with a woman as head of state for nearly 30 years.
Naseem, who has been awarded for his work with Projects Against Plastic (PAP), a charity working to reduce the negative impact of single-use plastic, said afterwards: “Women play an important role in the workplace and we will work to ensure inclusivity.
“We are committed to providing a safe and sustainable environment for women coming from South East Asia.”
Speaking at the event, GIA Vice President Silvia Neira called for inclusion of the ageing population in the workplace.
The advisor to various NGOs related to education, health and diversity said: “People over 50 have a lot to offer to companies in the managerial level due to their experience and knowledge and it’s important to build multigenerational bridges.”
A study found the likelihood of success as a founder increases with age until the age of 60.
And research by Harvard shows older people have better judgement, are better at making rational decisions and are better able to screen out negativity than their juniors are.
Ms Neira added: “It’s our duty to do the right thing – what’s ethical for society and the planet is also good for profitability.”
Regency recruits from commonwealth, climate-affected countries such as Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.
Naseem, who helped successfully launch a Plastic Free Ramadan campaign nationwide to reduce single-use plastic while breaking fast, said: “We work with those affected by natural disasters, caused by the carbon footprint around the world.
“It’s an opportunity for the workers to invest money back into their children’s education and economy, while ensuring they are treated fairly.
“The UK, which has a labour shortage in the farming industry, benefits from those with an agriculture-rich background. It helps reduce waste and the carbon footprint in production.”
Bangladesh has experienced more than 185 adverse weather events over the past 20 years. Seventy-five percent of the country is technically submerged.
Naseem, who is also the director for social responsibility and sustainability for UK Curry Connect (UKCC) campaign group, added: “We are looking at holistic approaches to sustainability – from using plastic-free products to reducing our carbon footprint.”
Data driving change
Jeff Scott is a board member of INSEAD IDN. He is also chair of NatWest Trustee and Depositary Services (TDS) and co-founder of Rewired Earth, a not-for-profit global coalition set to make financial markets a force for good on the planet.
He said: “It’s important to have curious sceptics on board, who have the expertise and mindset to drive meaningful change with the data you have available now.”
He called for firms to look to the UN’s SDGs, be aware of their own supply chains and think about their customers’ needs as they drive profitability.
Lord Dick Newby OBE, leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords, who hosted the event, added: “Young people care about the environment and do business with this in mind.”
Speaking after the event, Naseem said: “I believe change often starts with education. It’s great to see INSEAD helping so many people around the world to achieve purposeful change.”