ED&I Conference 2023: For businesses, inclusion is not merely an act of mercy but one of self-interest (Video)

ED&I Conference 2023: For businesses, inclusion is not merely an act of mercy but one of self-interest (Video)

  • Within the European context, one should prioritise democratic values and respect for human rights as a key national agenda
  • The conference emphasised that inclusion is not merely an act of mercy but an act of self-interest, contributing to economic and political success on a global scale.
  • There are still significant gender disparities in Romania, with the female labour force declining from 57% in 2001 to 43% in 2021.
  • Challenges for people with disabilities: A highlighted concern was the low labour force participation rate of people with disabilities (15%), compared to the average workforce (64%).
  • The resistance to accepting diversity is rooted in the fear of the unfamiliar, hindering progress toward inclusive environments.

The ED&I Conference 2023, hosted by the Romanian Diversity Chamber of Commerce, provided a comprehensive examination of the economic, social, and political dimensions of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion. The speakers, drawn from diverse sectors, brought nuanced perspectives – from governmental priorities in Sweden to corporate initiatives at Kaufland and Google. The panels underlined the strategic imperative of embracing ED&I principles, while the discussions analysed the challenges and successes, offering a pragmatic view of the road ahead.

Key topics that were explored during the ED&I Conference 2023:

  • Discovering the business imperative of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion through data-driven insights;
  • Prioritising investment in areas where data suggests the greatest potential impact on ED&I;
  • Developing a global strategy for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion to effectively drive outcomes;
  • The crucial role of leaders in achieving measurable ED&I outcomes
  • Examining disability as the world’s largest diversity strand and the most neglected on the ED&I agenda;
  • Addressing the fear-based exclusion of disabled individuals and eliminating systemic barriers;
  • Real-world experience of a corporate choosing to embrace disability inclusion for employees and customers;
  • Maintaining a focus on inclusion while extremists use buzzwords to try to roll back progress;
  • Effectively dealing with backlash and exhaustion on the topic of ED&I;
  • Navigating treacherous waters while the anti-“woke” sharks are circling;
  • Helping colleagues understand that ED&I is not a temporary fad but rather an irreversible movement.

“All EU countries, all EU institutions must continue to stand up for human rights and respect for democratic and individual freedoms and non-discrimination. Because it is part of the established goals of the EU, equal treatment and fundamental rights. This cannot be emphasised enough in all contexts and at all times. We do need habits when it comes to talking about equality, diversity and inclusion for the simple reason that it does not happen by itself, not here in Romania, nor anywhere else,” H.E. Ambassador Therese Hydén of Sweden said.

Societies that focus on the promotion of ED&I values are basically more successful about the inclusion of people with disabilities, of people with special needs, Ambassador Dr. Peer Gebauer of Germany, believes.

There’s often the notion that we are doing something good for them. We don’t need them, they need us. And that’s why we are being nice and include them, and it’s more a show. Look around: the world is full of various countries; some societies are more open, more diverse, more inclusive, and others are not. But if you look at economic and political success, it’s again those countries promoting these values that are more successful. So I think we should all agree that it’s  not an act of mercy to be inclusive, it’s an act of self-interest. We are promoting all our interests to include everybody.

Ambasador Dr. Peer Gebauer

Kaufland centres its attention on commonality. They embrace diversity in all its facets, such as social background, culture, gender, age, disability, religion, and sexual orientation. The company places high value on skills, dedication, and the distinctive contributions of its team members, acknowledging and celebrating their individual differences.

“All employees, no matter the background, have the same salary levels according to their roles and seniority. Our journey with success so far includes 700 open jobs, 60 new candidates per month on average, over 1,500 job interviews held, over 500 job offers, we implemented shopping carts for customers in wheelchairs, and at the moment, more than 450 people with disabilities are part of our team,” Marco Hößl, CEO of Kaufland Romania & Moldova, said.

The female labour force, says Mark Davis, Regional Head of Central Europe, EBRD, went from 57% in 2001 to 43% in 2021. And the women who are working tend to have lower value-added jobs and lower salaries. The share has increased, but women remain underrepresented in senior and middle management positions, boards, government roles, and public institutions. When it comes to people with disabilities, labour force participation is 15% versus 64% for the average workforce.

That’s way, way too low. The employment rate among Roma lies at 32% versus 64% overall. Huge opportunity, and I think companies are starting to figure that out, particularly when they’re hurting for labour force. And only 25% of LGBT+ are often or always open about being LGBT+ in Romania. And that’s versus an average of 47% in the EU, so that gives a sense of that pressure or concern about the gender identification, which can be addressed. So EBRD would like to advance equality of opportunity, not only from a moral perspective but also as an opportunity for growth in Romania and the region.

Mark Davis, EBRD

We had the pleasure and honour to host as speakers and panellists: Perry V. Zizzi – RDCC President, Managing Partner Dentons Romania, Therese Hydén – Ambassador of Sweden in Romania, H.E. Dr. Peer Gebauer – Ambassador of Germany in Romania, Marco Hößl – CEO, Kaufland Romania & Moldova, Mark Davis – Country Director, Romania & Bulgaria, EBRD, Liliana Popescu – General Director, Romanian Diplomatic Institute, Ana Dumitrache – Country Head, CTP Romania, Elisabeta Moraru – Country Director, Google Romania, Bartłomiej Budnicki – Strategy & Insights Advisor | D&I Lead, Skanska, Estera Anghelescu – Recruiting & Employer Branding Director, Kaufland Romania & Moldova, Philip Choban – CEO, Telios Care, Irina Crocker – Health Account Manager, Medihelp, Shajjad Rizvi – CEO, Resysten International and Executive Chairman Duke of Edinburgh and Honorary Prospery Consul at British Embassy Bucharest, Melissa Engelhardt Verdejo – Inclusive Finance Associate, EBRD, Madalina Mihai – Inclusion & Diversity Coordinator Europe, Dentons, Adrian Tudor – President, Platforma Aresel, Florina Presadă – Executive Director, ACCEPT and Charles Crocker Chief Partner at Telios Care.

Ela Moraru, Country Director at Google Romania, feels that communities should be at the centre of how a company is organised and that allows for women to thrive and grow.

“It’s not that you depend on the other one to do your job, but you trust the other and that’s where you feel comfortable being your true self in the office and not just in the office. And Romania is in a privileged place, maybe an interesting legacy of the communists, because we have a huge number of women that are growing and the number of females in IT&C is higher than in other countries, it’s around 35%. We now have around 40% women in executive positions and we see a trend in IT&C graduates, which are women, and the trend continues to grow. So this is great and if I have this data, I know I’m working towards the right direction,” she said.

When it comes to people with disabilities, it’s a matter of information and lack of knowledge of how one should behave around disabled people; and people with disability have this fear of others having misconceptions, according to Irina Crocker, Health Account Manager, MEDIHELP INTERNATIONAL.

People get embarrassed, they are very clumsy, they think they will offend, therefore ultimately, they will choose not to interact or help. And in the business environment, I was encouraging people to ask me about my disability. And it is important because only this way I think levelling and interacting, one-on-one interaction with a disabled person can truly make the other aware of what it means, how we are, and what are our specific needs.

Irina Crocker, Health Account Manager, MEDIHELP INTERNATIONAL

Estera Anghelescu, Recruiting & Employer Branding Director at Kaufland Romania & Moldova, explains that the first step is ensuring employees understand how to interact with people with disabilities and are not afraid to do so.

“We started with the Access Program in Kaufland, Romania in 2019. And first of all, we wanted to ensure that our colleagues knew how to deal with people with disabilities and also other groups of employees that they didn’t interact with before. So what we did was actually to organise some training with some dedicated NGOs that helped us to understand a little bit more the needs that the people with disabilities have and what we could actually offer them when they join us in our team.”

“I think it’s important to let go of the fear of getting it wrong. And I think it’s important for all of us to be aware of this. You are going to make mistakes. We’re always going to make mistakes in I&D. There’s no question about it. But as long as you’re intentional in trying to produce change, I think that’s the most important thing. So don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. It’s important what you do with it,” Mădălina Mihai, Inclusion & Diversity Coordinator Europe, DENTONS.

The Roma, one of Romania’s most discriminated against minorities, are still struggling to enter the workforce in significant numbers.

Roma oftentimes disregard themselves as Roma. They want to renounce their ethnicity because of discrimination. We just had the census last year, 2022. The results, Roma population, something under 600,000 ethnic Roma in Romania. 600,000 declared. Yeah. The estimates of both the Romanian government, World Bank, the European Commission, whatever institution that is good with estimates, says it’s at least 2 million. And that case is especially exactly why that happens. Because you know it is impossible to obtain a seat at a table, to obtain equal treatment, if you are Roma

Adrian Tudor, President, Platforma Aresel

“My call to action is, whenever you see a race put there to create the us versus them narrative to obtain clicks, to obtain favours: go against it. If you are a company and you pay for your logo to appear on a newspaper’s website and you see this when they have a title, this Roma guy did that, etc. Please take back your ads so they understand that this is how they create this division between us. With no sense,” he added.

It makes business sense, however, to tap into the multitude of talent pools that a country has to offer if a company is to reach its business goals.

In the end, what it comes to, and what we say as well, is, do you want human capital development in your economies, Melissa Engelhardt Verdejo, Inclusive Finance Associate at EBRD, explains. “If you want human capital development in your economies, you need to be able to make use of your human capital in the country. If one cannot identify or if they don’t feel free to identify, for example, as an LGBT+, as a Roma in a room, then you don’t make use of that person the same way that you make use of someone who, let’s say, meets the standard average in another country. And this means that you are not tapping into your human capital.”


The RDCC certification program on ED&I, launched during the ED&I Conference 2023, provides companies, both small and large, with an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion. By obtaining this certification, companies can proudly showcase their compliance and create a positive impact on their brand reputation. It goes beyond just obtaining a certificate; it fosters internal improvements, employee engagement, and retention. Moreover, it enables SMEs to access business opportunities with multinational corporations that prioritise ED&I. This certification program not only mitigates legal and reputational risks but also drives positive social change and contributes to building a more inclusive and diverse business ecosystem. It’s time for companies to embrace this initiative and take a stand for ED&I principles.


Access the ED&I in Eastern Europe Conference 2023 Report HERE and watch the full conference below: