The public demand for racial justice and equity has rarely been as clear as it is now. Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the U.S. needs new civil rights laws to fight discrimination against Black Americans, according to a September 2020 Gallup poll.
And as much as Americans expect the government to increase equity for Black Americans and other vulnerable populations, the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leadership and action your customers expect from your organization is even greater. In a concurrent Edelman poll, 77% of respondents said companies must respond to injustice in order to earn or keep their trust.
Regardless of the DEI efforts already underway within your own organization, you can facilitate progress toward equity by examining key activities and everyday choices in three spheres of influence: workforce, marketplace, and society.
Within the workforce, leaders advance equity by giving every member of your workforce the access, enablement, and advancement they need to succeed—and to offer the diverse experience and viewpoints that help your organization serve your customers and grow. Your PEERs (persons excluded due to ethnicity or race) may be particularly vulnerable, so leaders must support them from the sourcing and selecting stage and continue as PEERs rise in their roles and advance in the organization.
In the marketplace, your organization represents itself not just by how it supports its employees but also by what it offers customers. At all stages—research and development, selecting suppliers and partners, production, marketing—your leaders must ensure products and services support your audience, reflecting their expectations and needs, by making equity and inclusion a key component of what you sell.
Your leaders must bring equity to society. Regardless of whether your business model accounts for racism in public policy; gun violence; unequal access to medicine, finance, or education; or other issues, the concerns of the outside world intersect closely with those of your business. Your commitment to equity must extend beyond whom you hire and what you sell, as you set standards that promote equity, reject unfairness, and elevate all members of society.
Equity Activation for Every CxO
As your organization pursues its objectives on DEI, it needs to avoid compartmentalizing these efforts within dedicated business units. Fulfilling these goals requires system-level change, with the active involvement and support of every leader.
Every board member and CxO in your organization should own a set of responsibilities for driving equity in the workplace, marketplace, and society:
- Board of Directors: Set expectations and accountability of the executive team; oversee executive hiring and compensation; review investment strategy; influence board composition and nominations; oversee community engagement.
- Chief Executive Officer: Set organizational priorities; establish leadership commitments and drive internal and external signaling about aspirations and purpose; ratify strategic priorities around DEI; authorize build, buy, and borrow decisions.
- Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer: Set strategic DEI priorities with board and CEO; collaborate with CxOs to enable DEI in all spheres of influence; initiate and promote DEI programs; establish, evolve, and publish diversity analytics; encourage transparency and accountability on DEI ambitions and results.
- Chief Financial Officer: Set investment strategies and portfolio management; consider and approve internal and external funding requests; establish wage and compensation practices; prioritize tax considerations and practices; set real-estate strategy.
- Chief Strategy Officer: Formulate corporate and business unit strategy; gather customer insights; identify and evaluate potential new markets; commission market sensing and trend analysis; develop mergers & acquisitions (M&A) strategy, and identify and screen M&A transactions; develop and launch strategic partnerships (joint ventures, corporate venturing, and investments).
- Chief Marketing Officer: Identify and approve partnerships and sponsorships; set strategy for social media, ad platforms, and other channels and communications platforms; design brand influence strategy; commission and conduct customer research, including marketing analytics and trends; set standards for messaging.
- Chief Technology/Information Officer: Select and deploy technologies; design and collect data reports and transparency; design and monitor information flow across the organization; consider biases and ethics in technology; prioritize design and user experience and accessibility; create and assess data analytics.
- Chief Human Resources Officer: Define workforce experience strategy to inform talent strategy and processes; design and deliver on financial, physical, mental, and emotional well-being through rewards and other programs; monitor pay equity; lead succession strategy and planning; enable a culture that embeds and values DEI in all business operations.
- Chief Operating Officer: Set vendor and supplier diversity and strategy; create and manage contracts; set location strategy and office structure; adopt and enforce health and safety protocols; design and monitor sales strategy and analytics and supplier/vendor analytics.
Social Change Through Your Leadership
When social issues oppress underrepresented or marginalized populations of your workforce, audience, or community, it’s critical that your organization’s leaders support equity and fairness publicly and prominently, advocating for change and protesting issues that contradict your values.
Taking a stand on social issues, whether internally or externally, may have once seemed risky. Today, it’s an imperative. The vast majority of Americans expect more from their organizations, demanding that they speak up, speak out, and act in the face of injustice to achieve a more equitable future—and every leader at your organization needs to play a role in building it.
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