We’re in a moment where companies are considering and reconsidering their approaches to diversity, equity and inclusion. While research has shown that a commitment to DEI can make businesses more productive and profitable, there are still some who question the investment that it takes to progress these efforts in a meaningful way. Yes, DEI is multifaceted and yes, it does require thoughtful considerations and intentional work. But business leaders have been creating and problem-solving for as long as business has existed, and DEI deserves the focus and attention that is given to so many other top-of-mind priorities.
When I spoke recently with a leading DEI expert, they shared that “It will become fundamentally important that DEI sit within the core of what a company or brand stands for.” That sentiment resonated with me because when you think about it, DEI touches all elements and aspects of a business, from the people to the partners, the clients, the vendors and so on. It’s not a matter of “if” but rather “how” DEI can and should play a role in a company’s brand story. The key is that the integration is intentional and feels genuine to what the brand is and where it strives to be in the long term.
When assessing why it’s important to have DEI as a part of your brand story, here are a few things to consider:
DEI is important to brand reputation
DEI isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. Companies and brands are all different in their own unique ways, and no two similar companies are ever the exact same. While there may be similarities in strategy, how a brand approaches DEI storytelling should feel authentic to that brand. While the options are endless for what a brand can say, ensuring that the message feels true to what people know about the company is critical to both internal employees and external stakeholders.
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In January, I had the opportunity to moderate a PAN Communications-hosted roundtable discussion among industry experts to examine a question that plagues businesses of all varieties: How can you show meaningful progress on your DEI journey? As a part of that conversation, we talked a lot about the challenges that companies are facing in meeting some of the new expectations of their audiences. One panelist shared data from a recent study, explaining that “Consumers and the general public are expecting to see diversity in public communications from [corporations] … but 60 percent of the brand executives polled were worried that an inauthentic execution would lead to a larger backlash than no inclusion at all.”
It can feel intimidating to articulate the DEI message, especially with many companies in the early stages of their journey, but that shouldn’t deter a company from exploring where DEI sits within its brand story. Additionally, if no meaningful narrative exists, pushing to ask the questions and have the tough conversations to identify what barriers or challenges currently prohibit progress becomes the immediate next step.
DEI improves company culture
No matter the makeup or background of your employee base, there will always be individuals within your company who expect the leadership to clearly articulate the company’s values as they relate to DEI. Long gone are the days when employees are indifferent about where a business fundamentally stands on the issues that impact their daily lives.
Amplifying the culture that exists within a company can help tell a brand story that matters. It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of becoming hyper-focused on the ROI or data associated with DEI and forget that people can be the greatest advocates. While tracking progress is important, highlighting the lived experience of the people who make a business what it is can and should be a key component of that narrative.
DEI can support the bottom line
Diversity of thought will continue to be a factor when companies think about who they partner and work with. If everyone in the room looks the same and comes from similar backgrounds, it’s not unlikely that they think the same too.
A 2020 study from McKinsey found that businesses with more ethnic and cultural diversity were as much as 36 percent more profitable than less diverse ones. When examining gender alone, the gap widened—the most diverse businesses were 48 percent more profitable than the least diverse ones. Simply put: DEI is good for business. Creating spaces that provide access and opportunities for diverse talent to grow within a company or organization and finding the appropriate way to message that effort can help engage new business audiences and attract new talent.
Most importantly, it’s the right thing to do. For many companies, DEI has felt like a new frontier—one filled with uncertainty and presenting new questions around knowing the right thing to say, when to say it, and to whom. Shifting brand narrative doesn’t happen overnight. The integration of DEI into that story should be a thoughtful process. It’s a long-term journey that takes time and continued work to demonstrate that the message is connecting and then resonating with the intended audience.
Brandon Thomas is Vice President and General Manager, New York and Head of DEI at PAN Communications.