May 20, 2021
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the PRCA International Summit hosted by a number of professionals, there to engage in informative conversations. One notable topic was that of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) within organisations and how this needs to be reflected in company behaviour.
Many have begun to recognise just how deep social injustices can reach and how passive behaviour enables such occurrences to continue. Brad Staples, CEO at APCO Worldwide, pointed out that ‘companies must recognise values over value’ meaning that profiting from the awareness brought by campaigns cannot be the motivating factor in these discussions. Genuine desire to change and improve is noticed and will have a bigger impact than speaking out just to be part of the crowd.
To best show solidarity and make a commitment to change, it is not enough to present an image of outrage catered to the expectations of the public if you don’t also look introspectively at the organisation’s operations, values and conversations. It is no longer enough (not that it ever was) to present statistics about the percentage of minorities; it does nothing without providing actual spaces for growth within the organisation.
Listening and responding
Being a part of conversation has become more of a trend than an actual step to provide inclusive spaces. Several speakers suggested this phenomenon including Hayley Lowe, Senior Director, Global Communications at Expedia Group, who said that companies who listened and then responded were the best received. They were able to see the damage done by others, as well as by themselves. Making impactful initiatives requires real understanding of the issue and taking time to discover which conversations are missing.
In discussion with Dr Kendi Guantai, lecturer at Leeds University, Neil Griffiths, Global Head of DE&I at ERM and Wendy Snyder, Chief of Public Affairs for U.S. European Command, spoke about the importance of transparency. During this session, they expressed the need for sharing the journey of actions an organisation is taking to eliminate inequalities, rather than the destination. The rise of cancel culture has meant that the public has the chance to give feedback of sorts, and take action by holding organisations accountable, particularly in response to inauthentic gestures to get on the public’s good side.
Dr Kendi Guantai also highlighted the key difference between inclusion and belonging. The former is where you ask to be included in something that was made without you in mind, ‘so the includer in this case is still in a position of power’. A sense of belonging says that ‘I will take up space where I want to take up space’, where I am valued for myself, rather than just to fill a quota.
What leaders in organisations can and should do is seek to listen, understand and amplify voices that are actively trying to communicate their unique experiences, from sharing in a meeting or publishing one’s blog.
Issues in DE&I will not easily be solved– and we will have to make the effort to work through the uncomfortable aspects of growth that come with change – but organisations will need to acknowledge their faults, whether conscious or not, and truly consider what is needed to make an authentic impact that goes further than a social media post.
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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Doing good is an end in itself. Letting people know you’ve done good things invites their participation to join and widens the circle of good. Hiding your light under a bushel? Who does that help?