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Let’s dance: Embedding DE&I in business

Public statements on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion concerns are not enough – we must strive to embed these principles in our business strategies and practices, says ACORD’s Tanya Krochta

Overhead of businesspeople dancing in an office lobby
monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images/iStockphoto

2020 was a year full of lessons: lessons in patience, in resilience, in priorities. While we reflect on what we’ve learned, one common theme runs through all of these lessons; how we treat and value each other matters. The world is more connected than ever, and responding to an unprecedented global pandemic and its aftermath will require disruptive approaches and new norms.

The rapid pace of change is sometimes overwhelming, but often exciting. Our professional identities have always been inextricably linked to our personal ones, and 2020 made this even clearer. Embracing diversity, promoting equity, and ensuring inclusion will no longer be a box-checking exercise, but rather a standard business practice.

Companies that make diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) part of their core business strategy need bold leadership that recognizes the intentionality and support required. As the cultural change catalyst and thought leader Verna Myers so eloquently said: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion are not synonymous - diversity and equity are about representation, and inclusion is about making it last. Keeping this in mind is not only critical for retaining a diverse workforce that reflects changing demographics, but also a customer base with ever-increasing options.

Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.
Verna Myers

Social justice movements across the US and the world are changing how companies invest in DE&I. For example, executives at AssetMark Financial Holdings Inc. have been putting deep thought into making sure their DE&I activities have more than superficial effects.

"We want to make sure it's impactful," said Esi Minta-Jacobs, VP of Human Resources at the money management firm, in an article published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Among the initiatives the company is working on are a book club focused on helping white colleagues better identify with their co-workers of colour, and a financial literacy programme for underserved communities. “You can mandate diversity, but you can't mandate inclusion," says Minta-Jacobs in the SHRM article. "Inclusion is about behaviour, relationships. You have to change hearts and minds."

Along with the good work of changing hearts and minds, top tech companies are also making sure to address some of these challenges at a systems level.

Apple said on 11 June that it will increase spending with black-owned suppliers as part of a $100mn racial equity and justice initiative.

In the meantime, Google's YouTube video service said it will spend $100mn to fund black content creators. These are only some examples of why DE&I is more than just a concept, but rather an integral part of doing business.

So what are some of the first questions companies can ask themselves as they embrace DE&I as a core business strategy? Here are a few key ones to get the conversation started:

  • Does your organization reflect an increasingly diverse workforce? If yes, are there inclusive practices to retain and empower this workforce?

  • Does your leadership team look like the world around it? Who is missing from the table, and why?

  • Is there a reprisal-free way for employees to report discrimination and pay disparity issues? If so, how are these issues handled in a transparent way with results?

  • Does the company have concrete strategies to implement a more diverse leadership group and track its progress?

  • What are the accountability mechanisms for diversity and inclusion? Are customers demanding a DE&I strategy before using your services, products, etc.?

More companies than ever are publicly acknowledging the central place of DE&I concerns in our business and social communities. However, words are not enough – we must strive to embed these principles in our business strategies and practices.

In the current climate of accountability, businesses must adopt a forward-thinking and inclusive approach to addressing these issues.