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Last summer’s social justice uprisings, spurred on in large part by police killings and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on communities of color, shed a light on what businesses should be doing to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in their operations.
The ROI on DE&I is not new, of course. Research from McKinsey, released in 2015 and based on years of investigation, found that companies with more gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians and that diversity is likely a competitive differentiator that can build market share.
Research aside, we intuitively know that diverse voices lead to better outcomes. There are many reasons to prioritize DE&I, but I’ll boil it down to three. Your employees want it, your customers demand it and your future depends on it.
The technology industry and businesses that operate in the digital economy have a particular obligation to advance DE&I, as they have outsize influence on how products and services reach customers of all genders, racial backgrounds and identities. Indeed, Washington-based companies are taking the lead. Microsoft, Amazon, T-Mobile, Starbucks and many others are increasing their commitments to DE&I in hiring and representation, compensation, supply chain, community investments and more.
Not every company has the resources to invest in multimillion-dollar initiatives, and each will approach it in its own way. But every business should make DE&I a priority. Here are some guiding principles.
A Customer Centric Strategy
Successful companies put their customers first and, to attract and retain more diverse audiences, they need to meet them where they are. Organizing around their needs and wants is a good start.Examples range from digital to analog.
For example, there are efforts underway to improve voice and facial recognition technologies using artificial intelligence that will create better user experiences for people of different racial and cultural backgrounds. Other companies are using technology to invest in social impact.
Customers want to see themselves in the products and services they buy, and they want their values reflected in the companies with which they choose to do business.
Representation is where many companies are making new investments, often in the form of increasing diversity within their leader-ship, employee and supplier populations. With a customer-centric strategy, representation needs also to be looked at as a critical
component of user experience, product development, marketing and commerce. Everyone has inherent biases that can derail success if not kept in check. Increasing DE&I can help attract new employees, ideas, strategies, customers and partners.
Create a Culture of Engagement
No amount of investment in hiring, compensation or community involvement will show returns if you don’t create an environment for systems-level change. There’s no easy button and it will be uncomfortable. A move toward diversity, equity and inclusion is a move away from racism, marginalization and exclusion.
Within our own company, we’re creating different programs on a volunteer basis because we know that growth happens individually and everyone needs to engage on their own terms. We’re also engaging outside our company, working to create coalitions within the technology industry to build better pipelines and pathways for employment and working with our clients to create more inclusive operations.
Take the Long View
DE&I won’t happen overnight. Pick your priorities, build your metrics and get started. For example, we’re focusing first on antiracism initiatives, education, and conversations with accessibility and LGBTQ+ efforts in 2021. We’re measuring success by employee involvement in creating and executing on the company’s DE&I efforts, both internally and externally, tied to business outcomes. Every business needs to define its own metrics.
Diversity, equity and inclusion drive creativity, innovation and more human-centered solutions, and that’s good business. Your future depends on it.
Vikas Kamran is CEO of Revel, a Seattle-based digital experience, marketing and commerce consultancy. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.