IDA: A direct investment in diversity and inclusion
26 September 2018
In November 2017, we launched OUTstanding Ireland. Not long after, IDA Ireland, Ireland’s inward investment promotion agency joined the network. After Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through a popular vote, the country has been swinging confidently in the direction of progress for LGBT+ rights and inclusion in what has historically been a conservative nation. As a part state-owned firm responsible for attracting Foreign Direct Investment into Ireland, IDA Ireland holds a unique position at the intersection of Ireland’s financial, business and cultural spheres – launching an LGBT+ and allies network at the firm carried with it implications and impacts across all three of these domains.
Senan O’Riain, Business Development Manager at IDA Ireland spoke with INvolve about the journey to launching their LGBT+ Ally network, and the significance of the undertaking.
A direct investment in diversity and inclusion
Companies will make decisions to invest in locations for a number of reasons including access to new markets and an eco system of similar companies. One of the main reasons a company establishes activities in Ireland is due to the availability of skilled labour. Ireland has a great reputation for being an open, safe and welcoming location to people of diverse backgrounds and this allows our clients to recruit the best and most talented workforce available to them.
IDA is a dynamic organisation. That’s why the D&I strategy that has been envisioned by our CEO, Martin Shanahan, puts a clear structure in place to ensure that the organisation will best reflect the population of Ireland as it is today, a melting pot of cultures, languages and diverse backgrounds. The goal is to ensure that IDA can support all of its people so that we can continue to work well with all of our clients into the future.
Diversity of thought and experience has been an enormous asset in IDA being recognised as one of the leading Investment and Promotion Agencies in the world and enabled us to engage at the most senior level in client companies.
Because the people that work at IDA make it a success, our new D&I strategy reinforces the commitment that IDA has to its employees, developing and nurturing an environment that supports everybody to excel.
The creation of our Network
Young professionals today do not choose positions based solely on salaries, they wish to work with companies that have strong Corporate Social Responsibility credentials. When IDA Ireland launched its D&I strategy in 2018, we decided to focus on five key areas: Ability, Gender, Multiculture, LGBT+ and Socio-economic background, with an overarching goal to ensure that we build a diverse and inclusive workforce that mirrors the diversity in our society today. Our aim is to be seen as an employer of choice so that we can continue to attract the very best talent available.
The launch of the LGBT+ Ally network took place during Pride celebrations in Dublin and was attended by almost a third of our organisation including the senior management and members of the Board. Although still in its infancy, almost 50% of the IDA workforce has already signed up to be an Ally. Visibility and Familiarisation is a key goal of the network and our colleagues wearing the LGBT+ Ally Network lanyards acts as a silent, somewhat subconscious show of support, encouraging everyone to be themselves.
Similar to other organisations, representation from certain demographics is higher than others and part of the strategy for the network going into 2019 will be to grow the network membership across all sections of the IDA workforce. However, we don’t want to stop here. We want the network to lead by example and over the next 12 months we are hoping to engage with our client base across Ireland, promoting to our clients the business case and success that can be achieved through strong D&I strategies, allowing them to achieve a competitive edge in Ireland.
The challenge of complacency
There is no doubt that one of the main challenges facing the LGBT+ community is complacency. Ireland has changed quite dramatically since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993 and there is a perception that we are doing just fine. This progressive leap forward was a surprising hurdle to the creation of our LGBT+ Ally network as it was seen to be irrelevant in the Ireland of today. However, IDA operates a global network and has employees located all around the world, including regions where being LGBT+ is still stigmatised or even a criminal offence. A key priority for this network is to allow all of our employees, regardless of location or orientation to be involved.
D&I is as much a journey as it is a challenge and it’s imperative for its success that as many people are brought along on the journey, that they understand the reasoning for a D&I strategy and that they can choose to participate.
Communication is the key
Quite often the creation of a strategy, as was our case, has been putting into words the culture that already exists. This formalisation can be seen as unnecessary and in certain circumstances it can be quite threatening to people that are not obviously represented.
Through the LGBT+ Ally Network, we found communication is the key to bringing people on the journey and to encourage everyone to participate. It is also important to respect people who choose not to join and to reassure them that they should not feel threatened, their inputs and their contributions are still equally valid.
In addition to our own internal efforts, there are a number of organisations in Ireland that are looking to affect change including the IBEC Diversity Forum, WAM and OUTstanding. Supporting these groups and organisations will support the development of strong, coherent and clear D&I strategies in all companies, creating a rising tide that raises all boats.