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Diversity and Inclusion in Business – a Driver for Economic Recovery from COVID-19

Lao businesses came together as part of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in Business Forum to gain insights into the benefits to people, performance, and profits by adopting an inclusive approach to the workplace and business environment.

D&I in business has been a growing trend in recent decades as research continues to show the advantages of a diverse workforce. Businesses that employ people with different backgrounds and unique experiences, including persons with disabilities, people of different ethnic groups, LGBTQI and young people, are proven to gain a comparative edge over their industry peers by better attracting and retaining talent, producing more out-of-box solutions, boosting their reputation with clients and suppliers and improving overall business performance.

The global evidence shows that diverse businesses are 70% more likely to capture new markets and receive 2.3 times more cash than those that do not actively recruit people from under-represented groups.

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every business in the world, with interrupted supply chains, declines in demand for products and services, government-mandated closures, and staff turnover. In the Lao PDR, as a result of COVID-19, in 2021, 5.5% of businesses had permanently closed, and 33% were temporarily closed. Among businesses that remained in operation, 65% experienced a fall in revenue.

“There is no denying that Lao businesses have been greatly impacted by COVID-19, particularly across the tourism, services, and manufacturing sectors. Many businesses have reported not only a loss in revenue but also the disruption to human resources and the loss of talented staff. We are looking at our innovative internal know-how, the international trends, and best practices that Lao businesses can adopt to help them recover from the pandemic and drive economic growth of the country,” said Mr. Thanongsinh Kanlagna, Executive Vice-President of Lao Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LNCCI).

In times of crisis, D&I can help companies navigate disruptions to their operations, plan for recovery and prepare to reimagine their business models for the “new normal.” Businesses that embrace D&I are better positioned to quickly adapt to remote work arrangements, retain staff by maintaining strong bonds and a sense of loyalty, identify post-COVID-19 markets, as well as attract new talent.

Ms. Catherine Phoung, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, said, “The pandemic pushed unemployment from an average of 2% to 22% in the Lao PDR, with more than 500,000 people either losing their jobs or simply unable to find one. Women, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI, and young people have been affected the most. As the Lao economy begins to restart, there will be an opportunity for businesses to pick up top talent from a wide variety of groups of the Lao population. Companies that have already embraced D&I will be ahead of the competition.”

The Forum aimed to raise awareness on D&I principles and benefits to businesses operating in the Lao PDR. Key stakeholders were provided an opportunity to share their experiences and good practices in adopting D&me in their workplaces, with a focus on the lessons learnt in using D&me for strengthening business resilience and recovery from COVID-19.

Businesses also had the opportunity to learn from civil society organizations about the experiences of employees from under-represented groups to overcome barriers in the market and workplace. Local organizations representing vulnerable and marginalized groups gained first-hand information into the potential employment opportunities and recruitment strategies of Lao companies looking to attract employees from under-represented groups.

“In 2019, we found that 60% of LGBTQI people in different occupations in the Lao PDR faced challenges in finding a job because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Creating awareness and giving practical guidance for businesses on sexual orientation and gender identity is good for business and essential to protect the human rights of LGBTQI people, ensuring we leave no one behind as we move forward in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” said Founder and President of Proud to Be Us Laos Anan Bouapha.

The Diversity and Inclusion in Business Forum was jointly organized and supported by LNCCI, the Office of the Embassy of Canada, Proud to Be Us Laos, and UNDP, with business members of American-Lao Business Association, Australian Chamber of Commerce, British Business Group, European Chamber of Commerce, Japanese External Trade Association, Lao Chinese Chamber of Commerce amongst many others.

Source: Lao News Agency