To merge DEI and Wellbeing or not? That is the question!


A particularly lively roundtable discussion at this year’s MAD World Summit focused on whether or not DEI and wellbeing should merge as one team and function.

Delegates around the table were divided on this, with some arguing for the “efficiency” and consistency” of integration and others saying a move like this would inevitably dilute the expertise in both specialisms. Ocado’s representative Plamena Solakova , global inclusion specialist, revealed that the brand had just made the move to merge the two (for more on that see here).

Both DEI and wellbeing are “massive” agendas

We caught up with Lucile Kamar, head of diversity and inclusion at ITN, who facilitated the discussion for her thoughts…

At ITN there are dedicated heads of department for D&I and Wellbeing and Rewards, but both come under the same ‘People Team’ in HR. This means Kamar and Jo Fairweather, head of wellbeing and rewards, work closely together and have regular meetings.

In her opinion “both are really massive and increasingly important agendas, and fundamentally interlinked” and she agrees that “the likelihood that someone would be an expert in both [DEI and wellbeing] would be pretty rare, considering both fields are so vast and complex”.

DEI and wellbeing must be integrated into wider business strategies

She finds that leading on DEI is a huge brief in itself, which means she has to prioritise her time carefully, and speculates that if one person, without the support of a well-resourced and specialised team, were given both remits, the efforts might inevitably “only scratch the surface”.

“These topics are very complex, increasingly important for organisations and constantly evolving,” she says. “Similarly, as D&I is increasingly integrated into organisations’ wider strategies, so too should the wellbeing strategy also be considered from the outset, and not just as an add-on, to help guarantee its success”.

However, as long as the merged function is properly resourced and the strategy is “ambitious” yet also “realistic”, Kamar doesn’t see a problem with bringing the two together. But adds:

Merging shouldn’t be a cost-cutting move

“There is a danger that, especially in the current cost cutting climate, that merging is used as a way to save on resources and just have one person doing both. But, ultimately, as long as there’s open and transparent lines of communication, that’s what really matters.”

Another danger of the wellbeing function not working closely enough with diversity and inclusion is that – in Kamar’s words – “without an awareness of inherent biases, there’s a risk that you’d have a wellbeing strategy that is catered to the needs of the majority, the more vocal or more visible, without taking into consideration the increasing diversity of needs of an ever-changing workforce”; so, understanding the intersectional nature of needs is fundamental to successful wellbeing campaigns that resonate with, and accurately support, the needs of their audience.

Collaboration is fundamental

Regardless of which option a company chooses – merged or separate – Kamar points out that the overriding determinant of successful campaigns and communications will be how well each specialism collaborates across the board, not just with each other, but also with HR, external communications, internal communications, learning and development as well as the team leaders and heads of departments etc.

Carrie Grogan, principal, Mind Share Partners, which specialises in workplace mental health culture, echoes much of what Kamar says, pointing out too that there is not a “right” answer or “one size fits all” solution to this question – it completely depends on the organisation’s unique situation. She suggests organisations grappling with this question ask themselves:

Where is wellbeing positioned in the corporate hierarchy? 

“Can all functions be supported with enough resources (time, talent and funding?). If your infrastructure cannot support separate functions, you may need to merge efforts. Regardless, neither of these functions can be effective in a silo and will need teams and allies to be successful.”

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However, she cautions companies to be aware of the message they are sending employees about the importance of the wellbeing function, and where this sits in the corporate hierarchy. This can be influenced by the title of the role, or how it is integrated into the organisation or whether – like some have confided with us – they are out on a limb, working alone on the periphery of the business having to “sell in” wellbeing to other disciplines.

“Creating a role focused on mental health and wellbeing communicates a commitment to employee wellbeing,” says Grogan. “Whereas tacking it on to another role as ‘other duties assigned’ shows staff and potential hires that it may not be a priority.”

Clear accountability for ownership and measurement

Another non-negotiable of the wellbeing function, however it operates, is that there is clear accountability and ownership for tracking and measuring activity. Data gathering firm Gallup has vast experience of analysing employee data and, again, comes to the conclusion that – whether DEI and wellbeing are merged or not – it’s essential they work together closely on data analysis.

According to Hannah Lomax, senior business solutions consultant, Gallup:

“Wellbeing and DEI are, of course, interlinked. For example, somebody may experience poor wellbeing as a result of not feeling included. However, the metrics that we would use to measure each of these would be separate, but we’d recommend solutions that integrate DEI and wellbeing and synchronise the approach. It is very difficult to improve either in isolation, they are intertwined.”

Aligning DEI and wellbeing in measurement

Based on Gallup’s research and insights, there are three target areas leaders should focus on to align their wellbeing and DEI strategies:

  • Your employees have different access to health and wellbeing resources
  • Your employees have different experiences with healthcare systems
  • Your employees have different daily experiences that affect their health and wellbeing

Ultimately, regardless of how a company decides to carve up the wellbeing and DEI remits, perhaps the most important consideration of all is whether this positioning of them gives credibility in the eyes of senior management.

Pulling together to get senior management support is vital

Again, regardless of how the two functions organise themselves, the ability to pull together to make their voice stronger is vital, more important than ever now that we are facing an economic crisis and budgets are at threat of being slashed across the board.

It’s down to DEI and wellbeing, together, to prove to the c-suite why creating psychological safety of all its employees, so they can work to their best ability, should be a top priority. What a department is called has little bearing on this.

Kamar sums it up when she says: “Really having that support at leadership level is essential if you want the agenda to progress, especially when resources, human or financial might be under pressure- we’re fortunate at ITN to have that support, as well as a great consistent trust and collaboration between our D&I and wellbeing functions. Diversity and inclusion is my job title but ultimately , at the end of the day, actions- and impact- speak louder than words.”

You might also like:

Ocado Group case study: how do you ensure alignment between health and wellbeing and diversity and inclusion?

How inclusive employee benefits can better support equality and diversity





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