Just three years ago, corporations were awash in pledges to increase representation from Historically Excluded Talent (HET) and prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Today, the DEI landscape feels very different, as there are legal and political challenges. While some companies are doubling down on their commitment to DEI, most are adopting a cautious approach, generating concerns among Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) that their efforts may face diminishment or even elimination. As one CDO put it, “DEI has become central to a lot of rhetorical attacks. It seems like a race to the bottom on portraying DEI as the enemy rather than the solution.”
But this pushback is just one facet of the current threats to DEI. CDOs also navigate a world characterized by global economic uncertainty, which can sideline their work. In the absence of a clear linkage to business outcomes, DEI initiatives become especially susceptible to socioeconomic turbulence.
In an effort to understand the major obstacles that DEI and talent leaders face in uncertain times and create innovative solutions for the members of the CDO Collaborative, Seramount embarked on a new research study, “Keeping DEI Strong in Volatile Times.” The research uncovered four unique elements of market volatility, and set forth actionable strategies for leaders to implement within their specific organization to sustain DEI momentum and make DEI particularly relevant in the face of change and uncertainty. This research explains not only how DEI contributes to business success but also how it aligns with profitability.
CDOs and talent leaders must effectively promote DEI principles within their companies while focusing on specific business drivers the company needs to succeed. Many struggle to articulate how DEI goals are linked to business success. In today’s ever-changing world, merely presenting “the business case“—historical and generic data on marketplace and population changes—is no longer enough.
When communicating with business leaders, avoid over-generalizing goals and instead focus on specificity and measurable outcomes. Traditional DEI business cases often fail to connect with direct corporate objectives. To make a persuasive case, prioritize driving business outcomes and report metrics related to sales, finance, customers, employees, talent acquisition, and productivity.
To reframe statements effectively, consider this approach:
Businesses are primarily driven by profit and increasing shareholder value. CDOs should use specificity and measurable outcomes when communicating with senior leaders to advance business goals with purpose. Use real examples and outcomes that directly impact your organization, illustrating the connection between business and DEI.
Struggling to begin? Consider these actionable strategies:
Launch new workstreams in collaboration with other business leaders to address pressing business needs with the power of DEI.
Add a business lens to existing DEI initiatives.
Evaluate existing DEI workstreams to measure and communicate their business impact.
By aligning DEI initiatives with business metrics and integrating a DEI perspective into organizational initiatives, CDOs can secure their organizations against future volatility.
This research originates from Seramount’s CDO Collaborative, designed to assist CDOs and talent leaders. Members gain access to in-depth case studies and partner intensives for sharing insights with their teams and stakeholders. If you’re interested in becoming a CDO Collaborative member, please contact us for more information.
Barbara Frankel is Senior Director of the Insights division at Seramount, working on global and US diversity surveys, national thought-leader projects, and groundbreaking research on inclusion and DEI topics and how to create family-friendly workplaces.
Barbara Frankel is Senior Director of the Insights division at Seramount, working on global and US diversity surveys, national thought-leader projects, and groundbreaking research on inclusion and DEI topics and how to create family-friendly workplaces. She was the leader of the recent Pledge to Progress research project, which details corporate America’s progress in combating racism in the year since the murder of George Floyd.
Barbara is a thought leader, editor, writer, manager, and consultant in global and US diversity management, business development and marketing, business journalism, and human- and civil-rights advocacy.
She previously was executive editor and senior vice president at DiversityInc. Barbara has served on the national Board of Directors of GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) and the global advisory board of WeConnect International, a nonprofit that helps women entrepreneurs be corporate suppliers, as well as Garden State Equality.