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Making the ‘Business Case’ for Diversity and Inclusion: raceAhead

Tamara El-Waylly


Many chief diversity officers still—yes, still—need to explain why diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives matter, according to a recent report. In noting the challenges they face, 27% of chief diversity officers listed “making the business case” for D&I initiatives as the top issue. This, despite the fact that more diverse companies are also more profitable.

“[Chief diversity officers] are still in a position where they’re trying to convince their executive leader that D&I is a business driver of success,” Tai Wingfield, senior vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion practice at Weber Shandwick tells raceAhead.

The report, created in partnership by Weber Shandwick, United Minds, and KRC Research, surveyed 500 high-level executives who have D&I as a major part of their role in their respective high-revenue companies (those that make over $500 million). 

Other major challenges chief diversity officers consistently experience are publicizing their company’s D&I “values or outcomes” (26%), and budgetary constraints (24%). 

And that doesn’t count the issues they face within the larger organization. In order to achieve their objectives, chief diversity officers believe that businesses need to better address company culture (32%), cultural or societal “shifts” (30%), and diversity fatigue (29%). 

The report found that those successful in tackling such challenges—the “well-aligned companies,” or companies that have closely aligned their D&I initiatives with their business strategies—share similar approaches. 

For starters, these companies (about 43% of them) tend to have a “dedicated” role for D&I initiatives. Despite that, 40% of executives surveyed said that only part of their role involves D&I initiatives. This part-time approach, the report points out, is indicative of “a lack of resources and commitments.” The companies successfully integrating their D&I goals have a dedicated leader.

And, beyond the ability to just focus on their D&I purpose, successful chief diversity officers report having a straight line to the C-Suite board (which, by the way, is typically also diverse).

There are plenty of best practices listed in the report, but they all point to having “D&I ingrained in the culture,” says Liz Rizzo, Weber Shandwick’s senior vice president of reputation research. There’s “an integration across different functions that all ladder up to making a business successful.”

Rather than treating inclusion as an afterthought, well-aligned companies have created a structure for D&I initiatives, and the chief diversity role. And—back to that business case for diversity—those companies enjoy improved financial performance, better reputations, and higher employee retention rates than their peers. And it’s not too late to implement those strategies. It’s about being “proactive,” says Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist.

Regardless of when they start, companies who make the right moves will see the benefits in the long run. Perhaps that’s why, despite the challenges, about 81% of chief diversity officers are “optimistic about the future of D&I.”

Check out the full report for a glimpse at what characteristics truly diverse and inclusive companies embody, and the challenges of the chief diversity officers in making that happen.

On Point

Businesses should step up and help employees tackle student loan debt Even though the student debt crisis is over $1.5 trillion, only 8% of companies offer repayment programs to their employees, writes Dan Rosensweig, CEO of Chegg, in Fortune. Financial concerns take a considerable toll on students, from the inability to save for emergencies to psychological impacts like anxiety. But it affects employers too: Employees distracted by debt are less productive, for instance. It also leads to higher turnover rates. Beyond helping employees, though, companies should help foster a “smarter debate” on student loan debt, says Rosensweig, and “urge policymakers to pass common sense legislation” to address it. 

White supremacists are more actively recruiting online And they’re targeting white teenagers. After she first “sensed something off” about the way her sons (aged 11 and 14) were discussing issues like transgender rights, Joanna Schroeder decided to take a look at her sons’ social media accounts. It was a frightening discovery for Schroeder when she realized how many ”racist, sexist, and homophobic memes” were making their way into their social media accounts. There’s been a 7% increase in white supremacist propaganda from the last academic year, says the Washington Post, and, it’s often hidden within memes that can influence young social media users. And it’s very intentional. 
Washington Post

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