ESG, Culture and the Workplace: insights from our expert panel
Adam Gates, Becky Mackarel and Richard Plaistowe from the Odgers Interim Financial and Professional Services Practice recently hosted a stimulating and informative evening client event featuring a brilliant panel of experts.
The confluence of some major trends has brought us to a reset moment in which organisations must reshape the workplace so that it is fit for purpose. This intersection of ESG, Culture and the Workplace was the topic of our recent ‘An Evening with Odgers Interim’ and as the evening progressed it became clear that many organisations are wrestling with major issues in this context and have an appetite to learn more.
There were several reasons for us to feel particularly excited about the event. For a start, it was the first in-person Odgers Interim Financial and Professional Services Practice event since 2020, which was warmly received and well attended.
Secondly, we assembled an excellent, high quality panel of experts. Given that the event took place on International Women's Day, it was fitting that all three speakers – Tracey Groves, Marlies Hoogeboom and Eniitan Page – were female:
- Tracey Groves, a main panellist at previous Odgers Interim events on ESG and the Workplace, is a Partner and Head of the ESG & Sustainability Advisory Practice at law firm DWF, while continuing in her role as CEO and Founder of the award-winning consultancy Intelligent Ethics, which specialises in ethical business conduct, business transformation, inclusive leadership, and culture change interventions.
- Marlies Hoogeboom, who has held Managing Director roles in Sodexo, The Instant Group and Mace, founder of Hogeboom Ltd Management Consultancy to help clients shape and optimise their Corporate Real estate, Company culture and organisational performance. Specifically, transformational change for optimisation in ‘new ways of working’ and target operating models.
- Eniitan Page is Director of Workplace and Sustainability at investment manager Brooks Macdonald. A workplace transformation specialist and Sustainability expert, she was previously Property Service Director (Global Real Estate and Facilities) at media conglomerate Discovery, Inc;
Adam Gates, who chaired the event, opened with a thought provoking question: why is it important that businesses connect Culture, the workplace and the overarching ESG agenda?
Tracey picked up the baton by making the point that while risk, compliance and stakeholder expectations are factors in the growing interdependence of ESG, Culture and Workplace (ESG-CW), there is an opportunity to drive value in a more “strategic, horizon-scanning” way that unlocks talent, performance and long-term value creation.
Leaders, she added, have an obligation to ensure ESG-CW is a force for good and provides a transformational platform for positive change and growth by ensuring the constituent parts of ESG are not separated into silos due to reporting and/or regulatory requirements. “We as leaders have an obligation to integrate all of the risk factors across the end-to-end ESG strategic agenda because without bringing our people with us, without empowering them and inspiring them to be part of this, we will never meet our long-term environmental or wider sustainability goals,” said Tracey.
The pandemic, needless to say, had a huge impact on working patterns, cementing hybrid working in countless organisations and leading to a reassessment of how office space is utilised. There is little point in people coming into the office to spend all day on Zoom calls.
“You have to be really clear about what you want people to achieve when they come into the space,” said Marlies. “And that has been a big change in how we work post Covid.”
Eniitan highlighted that ‘hybrid’ working means different things to different people and questioned whether it was even the right word to use. “There is this vision that you either work from home or from the workplace, whereas in fact people work in lots of different ways. Not everybody has an office or the luxury of working from home either.”
Clearly, it’s important to understand this when addressing Culture. Likewise, there must be an appreciation that Culture is not an amorphous mass. Tracey argued that there is no such thing as 'bolting a culture' on to an ESG strategy. Culture, she elaborated, is a collection of choices and behaviours. Only by identifying the desired behaviours linked to an organisation’s values and purpose, is it possible to create mutually beneficial outcome that drives both financial and non-financial prosperity over the longer term
One common problem at the intersection of Culture and Workplace is poor communication from leaders about what they expect in terms of hybrid working. This vacuum encourages employees to interpret the message to suit their preferences and once this happens it is hard to reverse.
Marlies is working with one large client that is planning a relocation to a new global headquarters building in central London. One insight from focus groups around change is that many employees in traditional roles struggle to see how they will be effective in a new kind of space designed with wellbeing and collaboration at its heart. Obviously, more engagement and education are called for, albeit this should not be a reason to rethink plans. “I keep saying to stakeholders, you are designing this building for the future generation, not the people who have been with you for 20 or 30 years, even though you need to retain them.”
Sometimes there is a need to overcome resistance to change. Eniitan had to push for an organisation to provide free period products in its toilets, arguing that not doing so was contrary to the organisation’s values in relation to dignity. She wryly observed that men were not asked to bring toilet paper into the workplace.
This illustrates the point that people should stop and think about why certain proposed changes are important, even if their first impulse is to dismiss them. Those who thought it wasn’t important heard the feedback about free period products being life-changing and shifted their mindset. “It’s those small things, it does not cost a lot,” said Eniitan. Of course, this ties into the Social dimension of ESG – which has gained greater attention and emphasis in recent years – together with Culture and Workplace.
Our event covered a huge amount of ground (too much to recount in a short piece) and provoked plenty of informed and interesting discussion. As organisations look to reset, we in Odgers Interim are keen to continue facilitating and contributing to the debate as this confluence of ESG, Culture and the Workplace gathers strength.