For Aniela Unguresan, founder of Edge Certified Foundation, challenging the status quo is what got her to where she is today. Her foundation provides a certification platform for companies to measure their progress in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I). She says awareness of the importance of DE&I in the business world has accelerated since just before Covid.
Founded in 2009, Switzerland-based Edge today counts more than 230 organizations in 56 countries representing 29 industries that have received one of the three levels of its Edge Certification. This highlights a strong commitment to integrate and assess DE&I standards within a growing number of firms and institutions.
Among the certified brands and organizations are L’Oréal, Philips, Allianz, Engie, Deloitte, Ikea, Chevron, UNICEF, Nestlé, Standard Chartered Bank, European Investment Fund, AXA Investment Managers, Red Cross, The World Bank, The International Monetary Fund, and many others. Both private and public companies, as well as international institutions, have achieved or are in the progress of getting the Edge Certification.
“Companies hold the keys to the prosperity of our societies,” said Unguresan. “We are very used to think of for-profit organizations as being the causes of some of the most difficult problems that our world is facing. But at the same time, my conviction is that also companies hold the secret or the magic ingredients to also solve the problems of our time.”
How can companies solve the problems?
Unguresan says it’s through the value creation process: “How value is created, how value is shared with the multiple stakeholders and shareholders of organizations – this is central to companies’ and organizations’ impact in economies and in societies.”
With this idea that companies hold the keys to prosperity and inclusive and sustainable growth, Unguresan founded Edge in 2009.
“Because of the types of professions that I was having – there were not so many other women in commodities trading back then – I developed this passion for the topics of intersectional equity and gender equality in the workplace,” she said.
She pointed out that people got used to the idea that “the world is diverse, but the world is not equitable, and the world might not be inclusive – that’s a fact of life. And we kind of grew accustomed to this. … If something happens frequently enough, we come to think of it as normal. But it’s anything but normal.”
So, she started researching the key elements for DE&I to become central to the value-creation process within organizations.
Instead of looking at DE&I as an “art,” which was a common belief, Unguresan viewed it as something that can be measured in a rigorous and disciplined way across companies.
Just as with financial reports, which require standardization and third-party verification, DE&I could also be objectively measured via global standards and independently verified: “And this is how the idea of Edge Certification was born.”
The certification looks at metrics such as representation, pay, and the solidity of policies and practices to ensure equitable career flows and the inclusiveness of the culture. The organizations then go through a third-party verification to be certified.
There are three types of interested parties in the Edge Certification. Traditionally, the first type was a female CEO, board chair, or other highest-ranking women in an organization who would want a very diverse and equitable workplace for the employees.
“They would champion this,” said Unguresan. “They would say ‘these are the reasons why we should be engaging in it. And because of the nature of their power, being senior leaders in the organization, they had the capacity to kickstart the change. That was what happened in the early years. This is how we started in the first five years.”
The second category of those interested in pursuing the Edge Certification is when companies come to Edge under pressure from institutional investors: “Our institutional investors ask us to report on where we stand on equal pay, on ethnic origins, on paid care for our employees.”
The third element is when the talent itself that is being hired by organizations outlines their expectations of what they need from the workplace in terms of DE&I. With the post-Covid hiring wave and a general lack of qualified employees available for work, companies have had to provide equitable and inclusive environments to motivate new talent to join and stay with those organizations.
The certification looks at metrics such as talent representation, responsibilities, jobs, speed of promotions and hiring, and equal pay for equivalent roles. It also verifies what policies and practices are in place for equitable opportunities. Finally, it evaluates the inclusiveness in the corporate cultures: how do employees feel and experience working there.
Those elements are equally weighted to arrive at a score. And companies can pass Levels 1, 2, and 3 as they progress through the stages. The scores also generate an action plan and provide a rank on different pillars.
“There is a lot of interest in the market for products, services, solutions in the sustainability space in general,” said Unguresan. “I think that it’s one of the things that is really very important and it is our job in the foundation to make sure that there is a very clear recognition of what is an independent third-party certification, what is involved in the rigor of that, what some of the other initiatives can bring.”