Isabel Kelly, Non Executive Director and chair of the ESG Committee at The Panoply, shares her thoughts on the need for today’s organisations to face up to their wider responsibilities
As leaders today, we have to start from the premise that boards cannot divorce themselves from the outside world and the problems we face. This has come into particularly sharp focus this year due to the pandemic and the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course we have to look at the numbers, and the board continues to focus on financial success. It’s that money that supports our social impact work, after all. But increasingly these things need to run concurrently.
I joined the board of The Panoply in 2018 as a non-exec, responsible for the group’s Environmental, Social and Governance Strategy (ESG) and reporting, and I will be chairing the new ESG Committee.
Previously, I have worked globally in India, the Middle East and Africa, as well as North America and Europe. I had a career at Salesforce for over 12 years, where I was International Director of the Salesforce Foundation (now Salesforce.org).
We followed a 1-1-1 model of integrated philanthropy, focused on time, grants and product, and funding our work through selling discounted Salesforce products to nonprofits and education organisations. I then set up my own business – Profit with Purpose – helping organisations integrate sustainable social impact into the core of their business.
However, even with my privilege and experience it had never occurred to me that I would join the board of a PLC company. The experience has offered me the opportunity to understand how boards operate, yet my voice has offered a different perspective for the other board members, sparked new ideas and taken us in the direction that modern businesses increasingly need to take to appeal to employees and consumers.
What ESG Means
Setting up the ESG committee and supporting Bryony, Luke, Zheni and Neil on The Panoply’s social and environmental impact work and reporting, really demonstrates our company’s genuine commitment to do more than make a profit, and to actively strive to contribute positively to the planet, people and society. Reporting ESG progress and numbers alongside financial reporting and successes is the social impact holy grail!
It’s not always a simple decision without any pushback though. Forensic financial analysis is needed to make the argument and to convince executives, the board and investors that this is a worthwhile thing to do. To convince them that ESG work actually enhances a business.
When we do get it right for the market, it opens up new opportunities, including unlocking access to being included in social impact funds. In fact, the performance of ESG funds during the pandemic has far out-performed that of other funds. There is also a trend for young investors to look for investments that they know are going to have a more positive impact on the world’s problems.
How we report
To be able to make this all happen we have to properly report ESG work and its impact. The ‘inputs’ might be employee time volunteering, our staff wellbeing programmes, or the steps we take to close the gender pay gap.
The framework for these inputs to make sense and demonstrate progress is our vision statement – Sustainable Futures through Digital Transformation – which is aligned to our reporting against some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We are committed to contributing to SDG goals and indicators focused on: Quality education; Gender equality; Decent work and Economic growth, and Reduced inequalities.
These goals have specifically been developed for business and offer a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. Our framework also includes our reporting obligations to the SECR – Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting – to ensure we are on track to being carbon neutral by 2023.
We contribute towards these goals through the work we do with our clients, through the jobs we create, through the investments we make in our wider communities and through the way in which we protect the environment.
Having an ESG strategy ties together these strands of work, helps us tell stories internally and report externally. This is not a side hustle, we are all part of the delivery.
To achieve our goals, there needs to be diversity of voices, opinions and background across the group and on the board too. But we need to build a diverse pipeline, to recruit both internally and externally, encourage talent to come through and for our workforce to have ‘no gaps’ and be fully representative of the society of each location where we live and work.
At The Panoply, in the near future we’re looking to invite board observers, so people can get first hand experience of how the board operates. Alongside the ESG committee we’ll also be setting up an ESG advisory group, which will be made up of employees. We’ll be looking for voices from across the company, and to do this work with you, not to you. Employees are an intrinsic part of all the strands – E, S and G.
Companies like The Panoply have the power to train and hire, and not just in their own image. We want to bring in diverse talent and move to reach different employees. It’s not enough to just show people the door, we are also committed to helping people through it and supporting them on the other side. We know that having this focus takes the employee experience beyond good to great.
Beginning to think about change
We’re an early adopter – very few companies have an ESG committee, though this has been accelerated by the pandemic and BLM protests.
In the end people don’t care if it’s for-profit companies, government or nonprofits, they just want to see the change that the world needs now. I believe action needs to come from a combination of all sectors to really make a difference. As a Group, The Panoply is therefore perfectly positioned to enable all three sectors to accelerate sustainable change through digital transformation – it’s exactly what we do.