As set out in the 2021 Actions for Business, 2020 was a seismic year for diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). 2021 has proved no different. Covid-19 continues to highlight the disproportionate disadvantage experienced by minority groups in the face of crisis. This, in parallel to continued political action and societal pressures, has served to accelerate business action on DE&I.
But what do we define as DE&I?*
What does ‘good’ DE&I look like? How can these concepts be applied to the business successfully?
At Corporate Citizenship, we believe DE&I initiatives must be holistic, considered, measurable and authentic.
DE&I is not an HR exercise. It is a whole-business initiative, which should impact decision-making in people management, operations, supply chain, procurement and community investment activities. Businesses may decide to hire a dedicated DE&I manager to implement these practices and drive action.
People: When thinking of people, it is important to consider those both within and outside an organisation.
Supporting colleagues internally should go beyond basic policies and training, to include such initiatives as mentoring programmes, unconscious bias training, DE&I taskforce teams and internal education plans. Learning, development and performance review processes should integrate DE&I metrics from the outset. These initiatives should be underpinned by flexible policies to support and protect all employees, especially those facing disadvantage.
Supporting people externally involves ensuring inclusive practices are used throughout recruitment processes, supporting those with differing needs, and proactively working to reach a wider pool of candidates.
A good example of people-support in action is BlackRock, ranked #1 on Refinitiv’s D&I Index 2020. The investment manager supports its 16,500 colleagues globally through numerous employee networks, and learning and development programmes, and uses the BlackRock website to openly report on DE&I progress.
Forward-thinking initiatives and policies will value difference, foster equity and ultimately, lead to a workforce that is inclusive, and representative of wider society. This is of course in addition to the clear business case for DE&I, which, according to World Economic Forum, is now overwhelming.
Community: Community investment programmes can be a positive opportunity for businesses to use their resources to drive change in local communities, from financial support such as matched giving and cash donations, to employee time and in-kind contributions.
Good practice goes beyond monetary support to organisations, using company skill (via volunteering or pro bono work) to build capacity of community organisations that are addressing barriers locally. Take for example Salesforce which, over the next five years, will invest a total of $200 million and 1 million volunteer hours globally with organisations working to advance racial equality and justice at the global, national and local level. Nearly half of the funds will go towards public education and closing the achievement gap for Black and under-represented minority students.
Successful initiatives will be developed in collaboration with key community partners, who often have deeper knowledge on local issues.
Supply chain and procurement: In recent years, businesses have been using their supply chain and procurement spend as a force for positive change in minority groups.
Take for example US retailer Target, which has recently launched a programme to identify and support promising minority entrepreneurs, and add products from more than 500 Black-owned brands to its shelves and websites. Altogether, the company aims to spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025.
Operations: Proactive changes in operations, allow companies to generate impact in society through their products, services and platforms. This kind of initiative requires businesses to identify where they can have the most impact in relation to the core business. If executed correctly, it can be a very powerful pathway for change.
As an example, a recent study commissioned by Netflix exposed the company’s gaps in representation of people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ and Latinx/Hispanic communities. In response to this, the streaming platform announced a $100 million fund to advance diversity on-screen and behind the camera. Over the next five years, Netflix will invest in external bespoke in-company programmes designed to help the business identify, train and provide job placements for up-and-coming talent. It will also support organisations with a strong track record of advancing the success of under-represented communities in the TV and film industries.
Another powerful way of supporting minority groups, is through directing money to more DE&I-friendly funds. As an example, Mastercard recently announced a multimillion-dollar investment in Fearless Fund, a venture capital firm founded by Black women with the mission of investing in minority female entrepreneurs. It has also unveiled a partnership with Greenwood, a fintech firm aimed at Black and Latino consumers and business owners, to issue the platform’s first debit cards. Here we see how investment and effective business partnerships have potential to effect positive change in DE&I-related issues.
For DE&I initiatives to be holistic, businesses must be considered in their planning.
Overall, taking a considered approach is about identifying where organisations can have the most social impact in the context of their business. It involves an assessment of the business as a whole, highlighting areas for action within operations, supply chain, community and people management. It also involves engaging and collaborating with key external stakeholders who have in-depth knowledge or lived experience of critical issues.
As an example, a recent Unilever study found that almost one in two people from marginalised communities feels stereotyped by advertising. On the back of that, the organisation launched the ‘Act 2 Unstereotype’ initiative, designed to drive inclusivity through structural changes in the marketing process.
As is evident from the examples above, leaders in this space go beyond large monetary commitments. They are considerate in their initiatives, using their position and platform to catalyse wider systemic change.
Measurement is central to the success of DE&I programmes. Only then can progress be evaluated.
In recent months, many pledges and promises have been made in terms of representation and leadership. But quotas and commitments no longer suffice. There is now a demand to see what business have done, rather than what they have said. As pressures mount for businesses to disclose on requirements and key goals those that do not measure and report, will fall behind.
Companies should integrate DE&I metrics from the outset. In that way, when the time comes for mandatory DE&I data disclosure, businesses will be ready to lead.
Above all else, authenticity in DE&I action is key.
Beyond commitments, companies must truly walk the talk.
Those who do not, will put their legitimacy and reputation under threat. Take for example the 25 businesses that, in a recent study, were found to be flying the pride flag with one hand, and donating to anti-LGBTQ+ federal and state politicians with the other.
Indeed 2021 has been another catalytic year for DE&I action. The challenges of the pandemic are by no means behind us.
The fall-out from Covid-19 will continue to deepen inequalities in society, maintaining pressure on business to take positive steps.
What steps will your organisation take?**
*As set out in Corporate Citizenship’s DE&I plan:
- Diversity is an appreciation that every individual is uniquely themselves.Equality means people have access to the same resources and opportunities to develop. Equity goes a step further to recognise that each person has different needs, and opportunities should be allocated accordingly. It is about fair treatment and fair opportunities for all people, and the elimination of barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups. It stems from the belief that fairness and justice are a right, not a privilege.
- Inclusion is an authentic and empowered participation, and a true sense of belonging. This approach is grounded in the belief that all of us have something of value to contribute, and that all should feel valued and respected.
**If your organisation would like support in developing, implementing, measuring or communicating its DE&I programme, please get in touch with the CC team.