The following is a guest post by Bonnie Crater, CEO of Full Circle Insights. Opinions are the author's own.
There are plenty of reasons why companies need to focus on improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. The overwhelming majority of employees and job seekers want to work in a diverse workplace. Diversity is good for overall business. And treating potential and existing employees fairly is simply the right thing to do. The question is how to take impactful steps that actually improve DE&I.
Deloitte's most recent CMO Survey found that spending on DE&I initiatives rose just 8.8% from February 2020 to 2021, suggesting the work was primarily focused on messaging and branding. It's not enough to showcase efforts. Brands need to ensure their renewed focus on DE&I produces real, bottom-line results and, most importantly, moves the needle on inclusion.
Creating real change will require brands to focus inward instead of concentrating most of their efforts on external messaging and branding. It will take investments in training and recruiting and a strategy to improve internal practices. It won't be easy — real change never is — but the right actions have the potential to make long-term impacts that actually make a difference. Here's a look at three ways marketing leaders can start creating real DE&I impact.
Aim to beat industry standards
One thing to consider when setting DE&I goals is that every industry is different. For example, healthcare and education tend to be more reflective of society's gender makeup, at least in terms of raw employment numbers, whereas the technology sector has a persistent gender diversity issue. When setting goals, review what is typical for the industry, sector and position and set a goal to overachieve on those standards.
Work closely with your HR team to establish a baseline that reflects the current state of your marketing group. You can use that baseline to set objectives and measure progress. Consider implementing hiring practices like the Rooney Rule, which the NFL instituted in 2003 to improve diversity in the coaching ranks and revised last year to ensure that more minority candidates were interviewed for head coaching jobs and other leadership positions.
Get real, be transparent
It's also important to understand that improving DE&I is a long-term project. We didn't arrive at our present state overnight, and making lasting change will not be a short-term agenda item you can cross off your to-do list anytime soon. Being realistic isn't an excuse for thinking small: it's an acknowledgement of the complexity of the issue and the need to make a long-term commitment. Creating a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce is the work of years, not an inspirational campaign that lasts a few months.
So, be aspirational, but also be realistic and transparent. It's important to be public about your goals. By going public about your objectives, you build accountability and can inspire others in your industry to follow your lead. To that end, take positive actions that raise the overall DE&I outlook in your sector. That's critical because when a sufficient number of organizations take concrete actions, public policy and cultural shifts follow. Just look to the new federal law that recognizes Juneteenth as a holiday. This was an overdue action that came about, in part, to numerous private businesses adopting the holiday first.
Keep in mind that marketing leaders and CMOs can't make sustained progress on DE&I initiatives alone. To make real change, you'll need buy-in from the C-suite. That may be harder to gain in some industries than others for a variety of reasons. But 2021 is a great time to make the case for increasing your company's focus on DE&I since the experience of the past year and a half has brought greater pressure to bear in that direction across the board.
So, if you're ready to sell your leadership team on a greater focus on DE&I, you can make the business case that diversity improves performance and innovation. You can point out that DE&I results help companies recruit the best employees and can improve your brand's image in the minds of potential and existing customers. And now you can outline concrete steps toward achieving DE&I goals too.
Every business, industry and sector has room to improve its DE&I. While it seems that DE&I is getting the overdue attention it rightly deserves, how impactful and committed are marketing leaders' actions? If your DE&I plans do not include some form of the above steps, you likely won't make the long-term impact needed to produce real change.