DEI is key in building a culture that invites your team to bring their whole selves to work, but it also provides a foundation for team members to deliver their best work to the clients they serve. So the question is, how do you ensure your customer-facing work is steeped in the inclusive values you’ve worked to cultivate internally? Here are three tactics to try.
When you set out to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion into the DNA of your business, you rightly first turned your attention inward. You’ve engaged employees on existing DEI gaps, created employee resource groups, and revamped your hiring practices, career development pathways, and benefits packages. You brought your DEI pledges to life by having tough but necessary discussions, setting companywide goals, and assembling a DEI committee to own the various pieces of your efforts.
And you did all these things because you wanted to create a workplace where everyone — inclusive of age, race, gender, neurodiversity, religion, or sexuality — could feel secure, seen, and valued. At the end of the day, DEI is key in building an environment that invites your team to bring their whole selves to work, but it also provides a foundation where team members can deliver their best work to the clients they serve. With that in mind, here are three ways to help ensure your customer-facing work is steeped in the inclusive values you’ve worked to cultivate internally.
- Focus on problem-solving
Some C-suite leaders still view DEI as a corporate social responsibility endeavor rather than a means to solve long-standing structural inequities. They prioritize DEI up to a point — until the world moves on to the next existential problem. That might sound cynical, but research bears it out: Sixty percent of upper management leaders recently told Deloitte that their DEI commitments would taper off as strategic priorities changed. For those prioritizing it, they struggle with assessing the most impactful opportunities. It must be aligned tightly with whom you want to be as an organization.When DEI becomes a patch to cover past missteps that are no longer culturally acceptable, it won’t be effective. What do these Band-Aid efforts look like? A messy, disconnected web of initiatives that don’t align with the rest of your brand.First and foremost, you must crystallize the core issue(s) you’re solving with DEI, determine which audience the solutions serve, and decide how you plan on defining and measuring progress. This is your “why.” Ask yourself: How does DEI show up in the way we do business and connect with clients? How do our products, services, and customer experiences either engage or disengage those audiences? And what’s the mechanism for assessing our business’s overall efforts?
- Embrace the journey
One of the quickest ways to lose your DEI credibility is to have a false sense of arrival. There’s no DEI finish line. DEI work is a multilayered, lifelong pursuit. So be honest with yourself — and your clients — in that progress takes time. This reality might sound intimidating, but it should comfort you because it means you don’t need all the answers right now.It does, however, mean that you need to be careful about prematurely congratulating yourself. Oftentimes, there’s a fundamental disconnect between how leadership views the success of your efforts versus how employees and customers view them. It’s essential to align all those perspectives to ensure you’re investing in the right areas. Focus on the gaps where they diverge; amplify the places where they’re tightly aligned.And if you’re going to talk about DEI, make sure your entire business ecosystem can support it in an integrated fashion. Who’s on your teams? How do your processes embrace inclusion from beginning to end? For example, you might invest in building a diverse client base, and there are certainly benefits to doing so. However, if you’re still working primarily with partners that lack a diverse team composition or aren’t taking steps to widen their leadership portfolio, then you’re not actually moving the needle.
- Prioritize experiences, not appearance
The world of DEI also holds plenty of opportunities to waltz into PR nightmares. We’re currently seeing more clients asking that underrepresented populations be reflected in their branding, but without a larger DEI strategy in place, this kind of strategy reads as superficial and performative.For instance, imagine that a pharmaceutical company decides to cast only Black actors in its new drug commercial. The ad might give the company the outward trappings of diversity and inclusion, but in reality, Black people account for just 5% of clinical trial participants, despite making up about 13% of the U.S. population.Instead, you need to look through a customer experience lens. Are there aspects that make it difficult for certain people to use your products or services? A genuinely inclusive brand recognizes these barriers and takes steps to mitigate them.
Efforts might include localizing trials to eliminate transportation barriers, ensuring that the research team reflects the population being recruited, and broadening trial eligibility criteria. These kinds of actions are not only achievable, but they’re also effective. When testing a COVID-19 pneumonia treatment in 2020, biotech company Genentech ensured that 84% of its trial participants were from historically underrepresented groups.
We’re in an important moment when DEI needs to be treated in a holistic way with efforts coming together into a single narrative that is authentic to your brand values. It must ring true for employees, consumers, and all stakeholders. And while advancing your DEI efforts, always be in sync with how they are being received by your consumer.