500 CEOs and their companies have joined The Valuable 500
Following its launch at Davos in 2019, global initiative The Valuable 500 has reached its goal, of compelling 500 CEOs leading the world’s biggest companies to each make three critical pledges on disability inclusion.
This makes The Valuable 500 the world’s biggest CEO collective for disability inclusion, and with its heavyweight cast of players demonstrates the weight of the campaign’s reach and influence and ultimately paves the way for more promising prospects for the 1 billion people worldwide (15% of the global population) living with some form of disability.
Among the leading companies that have signed up to putting disability inclusion on their board agenda are 36 of the FTSE 100 companies, 46 of the Fortune 500 firms and 28 of the Nikkei, with all 500 organisations signed up boasting a combined revenue of more than US$8 trillion, and more than 20 million employees across 36 countries.
Big-name commitments include the Big Four (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC) as well as tech giants like Microsoft, Apple Google, Sony, Twitter, Salesforce, Cisco, and industry- and region-wide organisations including P&G, Unilever, Virgin Media, Coca-Cola, Allianz, Shell, Vodafone, Verizon, Nestle and Johnson & Johnson.
The business case for disability inclusion
This comes as organisations increasingly recognise the business case for disability inclusion. A 2020 study of 120 global brands found that 80% of respondents said being disability-inclusive gave them access to a ‘wider pool of talent’ along with improved sales and employee motivation.
IBM, which has been a pioneer in supporting inclusion and diversity in the workplace, has certainly witnessed the rewards. “IBM thinks about diversity the way we think about innovation – both are essential to the success of our business,” says Ginni Rometty, CEO, IBM. “When we innovate, technology becomes smarter for clients and creates new opportunities for growth. When we incorporate diversity into our business, we create better innovations and out-comes.”
And despite the evidence, just 20% of the brands surveyed in the 2020 study had a global strategy in place.
Now, new research from The Valuable 500 and Tortoise reveals that there are no executives or senior managers who have disclosed a disability in company reporting by the FTSE 100, while just 12% report on the total number of their employees who are disclosed as disabled.
However, the research also shows that this is set to change, with 16 of the 100 companies interviewed having set credible targets related to representation of people with disabilities, and even more are looking at putting these in place.
What have the 500 companies pledged?
All those signed up to The Valuable 500 have made public commitments to advancing disability inclusion within their organisations. And some have even set targets.
By 2025, Unilever says 5% of its workforce will be employees with disabilities, while Virgin Media has announced as part of its Meaningful Connections Plan a goal to “create hundreds more employment opportunities for people from under-represented communities”.
Allianz has committed to setting up the Allianz employee network for disability inclusion globally; and Deloitte has recently launched a new inclusion strategy focused on building a culture grounded in respectful everyday behaviours.
The next steps for The Valuable 500
But it doesn’t stop here. Reaching the goal of 500 was phase 1 of the campaign, and now phase 2 has been activated where the 500 organisations work together to make change really happen for disability in business.
Part of this includes 13 Iconic Leaders from across The Valuable 500 signatories to co-fund, co-build and co-test the programmes and solutions, using their industry experience to catalyse progress for the entire community.
Spanning North America, Europe and APAC, the 13 co-leads include Allianz, BBC, Deloitte, EY, Google, Mahindra & Mahindra, LSEG, Omnicorn, P&G, Salesforce, Sony, Sky and Verizon, and joining these as Iconic partner for Inclusive Design is Apple.
Charting the rise of the chief sustainability officer
There has been a dramatic increase in the hiring of the chief sustainability officer (CSO) role among Fortune 500 companies, with demand for CSOs growing 228% in corporate America over the last decade, according to the latest report from CSO recruitment firm the Weinreb Group.
There were more first-time CSOs recruited by Fortune 500 companies in 2020 than the previous three years combined, with numbers of CSOs in corporate America soaring from just 29 in 2011 to 95 today, demonstrating the importance corporations are placing not just on reducing their environmental impacts, but also in supporting issues of social justice.
Businesses are increasingly under pressure to assume more responsible practices with customers, regulators and investors demanding increased transparency of business ESG performance.
And the past year in particular has been seen great upheaval, with increased new attention brought to “social justice, climate change, and an ever-widening political divide”, according to Ellen Weinreb, founder and CEO of the Weinreb Group, which has tracked the rising role of CSOs over the past decade.
CSO role is expanding and shifting
But it’s not just the number of CSOs that have changed, sustainability teams are getting bigger, with the average team size increasing from five professionals in 2011 to 15 today, according to the report.
This is in part due to the fact that the CSO role has expanded beyond simply ‘sustainability’ to incorporate social justice too. Sustainability isn’t exclusively about the environment anymore. The role has also come to incorporate social justice, especially with the rapid growth of, and increased attention on, environmental, social, and governance, or ESG.
And many roles recently have been renamed as such with Head of ESG or ESG Officer becoming increasingly prominent.
Women make up over half of CSO roles
What's also changed over the last decade is the percentage of women holding the title of Chief Sustainability Officer.
A decade ago, in 2011, the majority of CSO roles were held by men (72%), with just 10 of the 29 then CSO roles held by women. A decade on, in 2021, the percentage of women in CSO roles has almost doubled, now accounting for more than half (54%) of CSO positions.
However, according to the report ‘The Chief Sustainability Officer 10 Years Later’, despite the movement toward gender balance within the role and its expanded focus on social justice, in particular, in 2021 the CSO position remains overwhelmingly ‘white’.
Probably not surprising considering there are just three black CEOs at Fortune 500 firms.
How the chief sustainability officer role has grown
The first-ever named chief sustainability officer in a US publicly traded company was Linda Fisher for Dupont, who joined the chemical giant in 2004 as CSO, just at the time when innovative companies were looking at sustainability as a driver for business growth. Joining from the Environmental Protection Agency where she spent 13 years, Fisher was a corporate sustainability trailblazer, spending more than a decade as CSO here, and leading DuPont’s efforts to establish its first set of market-facing sustainability goals.
By 2006, a slew of firms had joined the CSO movement, including Mastercard, Nissan and Microsoft; and Kellogg’s became the first firm to replace a CSO with Dianne Holdorf taking over from Celeste Clarke. And by 2011, a decade ago, Coca-Cola, Verizon, AT&T and P&G had appointed their first CSOs.
In fact, it was in 2011 when Virginie Helias invented her idea of the perfect CSO job – to make sustainable consumption not only possible, but ‘irresistible’ – and pitched it P&G’s then CEO. A decade later, in 2021, and Helias is still in the job she first created.
The majority of CSOs have been internal hires, such as Peter Graf of SAP, who joined the software giant in 1996, and served as EVP for Marketing before being named CSO in 2009. The same is true at UPS, whose first-ever CSO, Scott Wicker, started at the package delivery giant 34 years before being named CSO in 2011. Increasingly, however, external hires are being made with organisations increasingly searching for more high-profile leading voices in the ESG forum.
In February 2021, JP Morgan hired former British high-profile Labour politician Chuka Umunna while just last month hotel chain Accor hired high-profile French politician Brune Poirson, who has previously championed the anti-waste law within the French government and was secretary of state for the environmental transition for three years.