Following the late May killing of George Floyd, our nation erupted in protest and calls for increasing diversity and creating greater equity for minorities. Many brands responded with support for the Black Lives Matter Movement and pledges to do better. It felt like a watershed moment, a time of unprecedented promise and real hope.
However, a few short months later, brands are being judged more by their actions than their words, and many, much to their detriment, are falling short. This begs the question of motivation, a question that is increasingly at the core of many would-be consumers’ and clients’ purchasing decisions.
Several brands, including L’Oreal, which were very vocal about denouncing racism have attracted greater scrutiny from the public and the media on their related corporate policies. While the smartest marketers conduct a thorough self-analysis and look for possible weaknesses BEFORE beginning any communications campaign, many of these self-proclaimed allies and advocates, even the most well-intentioned, have failed to live up to their rhetoric. Still, others have acknowledged their weaknesses publicly and used this moment to publicly vow to do better.
Now, four months later, many find themselves and their customers asking, “So, now what?”
The clear message to brands is that the market is paying closer attention than ever, but few are demanding perfection, just significant progress. Here are a few strategies for moving the ball in the right direction.
- Gather the data - The first step in doing better is to know where you’re starting. We recommend researching statistics on your company’s overall and specific minority employee demographics, including gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation, both now and five years ago to determine baseline and trends. You should index this information against general U.S. demographics to ensure fair representation.
- Ask questions – Survey your current employees to determine where they feel you are doing well and where you are falling short. Ask where you can help and what would be of greatest value to minority groups to encourage not only diversity but inclusion. It’s not enough to have a diverse employee group; you must foster growth and provide a seat at the table.
- Educate yourself – There is a fine line between seeking input and asking people to educate you or solve your problems. It’s critical to do your homework on diversity-related issues and challenges and to come to these discussions prepared and ready to receive and act on information and feelings shared.
- Form internal affinity and mentorship groups - Companies who excel at diversity and inclusion (D&I) typically form affinity groups for minority employees, using these groups to offer support, share experiences and create mentorship and additional training opportunities.
- Seek alternative recruitment channels – One of the most frequent complaints from companies trying to boost diversity hiring is a lack of interest by candidates. The truth is there are many strong minority candidates out there, but employers often must widen their recruitment sphere to reach them. Consider reaching out to minority student groups at local colleges and universities, visit historically black colleges and universities, build relationships with local chapters of women’s organizations, NAACP chapters, LGBTQ+ groups, and those affiliated with local religious institutions. It takes time to build trust and connection, but these efforts will yield incredibly positive and long-term results.
- Identify high potential diversity employees and develop their strategic and leadership skills - Identifying high-potential employees is critical in any thriving organization, but even more important in the effort to retain, develop, and promote minority employees. Mentoring, supplemental training, and providing a clear career and promotion path will lend credence and purpose to your efforts.
- Provide diversity training to all employees and establish firm tolerance policies – If you haven’t set up diversity training for your employees yet, what are you waiting for? Any company’s efforts toward D&I are only as strong as how well its employees embrace and live out these values. Creating and sustaining a culture that celebrates differences is not easy; it requires rules, interaction, modeling, and continuous reinforcement.
- Examine your corporate philanthropy efforts – Whether it’s putting your money where your mouth is or investing time, effort and volunteer hours, companies seeking to promote diversity must invest in the causes closest to their hearts. With a little leg work, companies are sure to find a worthwhile diversity-based organization that fits with its overarching mission. Remember that while money is always appreciated, creating opportunities to interact and foster greater connection and understanding are far more impactful for all involved.
- Avoid the urge to toot your own horn – In a world where the urge for self-promotion can be overwhelming, companies who do good for its own sake rather than PR value are ultimately among the most admired. Build a track record and a history of concern and action BEFORE you start talking about your efforts. Motives matter, and today’s sophisticated consumers are very cynical of those who speak too loudly or too often on these issues in a way that seems self-promoting.
While it may seem simple, living out a mission of fairness, inclusion, diversity, and equal representation is always a work in progress. We all can and should do better. If you’re confused or overwhelmed, there are many experienced communications and public relations consultants who can help you navigate the process. By starting with a long, hard look inward and moving forward in a deliberate and determined manner, you can help drive progress and improve the world in which we live.