by Asha Nooh, Kimberly Bennett and Silja Baller*
Since private and public organizations began centring, monitoring, and evaluating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) over 60 years ago, the corporate environment has seen many gains for historically marginalized people. Women’s representation, for example, has increased across the entire corporate pipeline over the last five years. These advancements result from businesses placing a similar emphasis on DEI strategy as they do for their business strategies.
Though corporations generally acknowledge DEI as an intrinsic part of a thriving business culture and operations, racial and ethnic equity remain among the most challenging issues to address within the DEI space. Again, this is most obvious when we look at women in leadership in the corporate space. One fifth of C-suite leaders in the US are white women, but only 4% are women of colour. In light of persisting racial and ethnic equity gaps companies are challenged consider the effects of their customs, policies, and systems on historically marginalized groups.
A global pandemic and increased criticism of structural racism and ethnic discrimination worldwide have highlighted the historical disparities in accessing resources and opportunities for racially and ethnically marginalized communities worldwide in the last few years. Leaving these disparities unaddressed presents a risk to all who have benefitted from the substantial progress made through DEI efforts in the workforce over the last half-century, especially to those who identify as racially or ethnically underrepresented. Companies can seize this moment to re-envision and contribute to a fairer and more inclusive society for all.
We asked global DEI leaders for their perspective on how effective racial and ethnic equity strategies are distinct from existing, broader DEI efforts and how can they best complement them?
"One size fits all approach doesn’t work"
Lucia Melcore, HR Director Equality and Inclusion Europe, P&G
Key challenges in establishing racial and ethnic equity are quite unique and require tailored strategies that can be inspired from broader equality and inclusion work but need to be highly customized to:
-The many shapes and forms of racism across geographies requires a “one size doesn’t fit all” approach: Despite discrimination and exclusion being consistent across humanity, their manifestation varies greatly depending on a country’s history, demographic and immigration trends; the main challenge is often driven by the big difference in terms of legal and cultural frameworks that exists in some geographies versus the total absence of it in others that also hinders our ability to gather data – often pinpointed as the first biggest barrier in some regions.
-We sometimes need to start from a completely blank piece of paper: Across different countries there is no playbook, no common vocabulary and words have very different connotations; companies need to develop their own narrative, terminology and build their own expertise locally due to limited local subject matter expert partners.
-The different dimensions of race and ethnicity make the topic highly sensitive, politicized and often divisive: Racism, xenophobia and ethnic prejudice can be triggered by different facets of human identity such as skin colour, origin, religion, beliefs, nationality, language, etc, that are often linked to historical division, tensions and wars. Engaging with people requires us to acknowledge the painful moments in history, and unlearn the way we have been taught it, in order to fully understand the current issues.
This will require us to develop new skills and approaches that will benefit the broader DEI work by bringing depth of understanding and adapting to different cultural nuances.
"Data identifies representation gaps"
Carolanne Minashi, Global Head of Inclusion, HSBC
As a global organization, with major employee populations in the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe and MENAT, we’re mindful that ethnicity means different things in different markets. The way that groups define themselves differs from region to region; and the groups that are typically under-represented in the workforce varies as well. Even the language used around ethnicity differs around the world. In some places we cannot even collect ethnicity data for legal or cultural reasons, although this list might be shorter than you’d think.
Globally, we take a consistent approach to DEI strategies. The context might be different for ethnicity, but the approach is the same. All effective DEI strategies begin with evidence-based decisions, based on real data. Data enables us to target our actions, measure progress and hold ourselves to account.
So, where we can, we compare our employee diversity data with available external census data in each market to identify any representation gaps and take specific action. Then we seek to improve representation by setting ambitious goals and focusing on hiring, promoting and keeping our underrepresented talent. And, as always, that means enabling markets to set locally meaningful data-driven goals and take focussed action.
"Deconstructing systemic barriers"
Karyn Twaronite, Partner, Global Vice-Chair, Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness, EY
The events of the last few years have spotlighted long-term disparities in access to resources and opportunities, especially among marginalized communities, and the risks of leaving those gaps unaddressed. Now is the time to reimagine a better, more equitable world where everyone – particularly those facing greater barriers to success – can thrive.
Equity is about recognizing that everyone has different starting points and needs, and that structural and systemic advantages and disadvantages impact a person’s access to resources, how they are perceived and evaluated, and whether they experience a sense of belonging.
The real change begins when we start to deconstruct potential systemic barriers - taking a closer look at the structures and processes that are sustaining inequities, not only within organizations but across society.
We’re complementing our broader DEI efforts with an accelerated focus on social equity by:
-Improving our systems and processes to address and remove barriers and biases.
-Upskilling our people, raising awareness, and encouraging conversations about equity.
-Measuring real progress through our global DEI Tracker.
-Using our external relationships and platforms to help inspire greater equity with clients, suppliers, and communities.
Ultimately, the aim is for a more equitable working world where everyone can thrive, which means all of us do better.
*Specialist, Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, World Economic Forum and Lead, Racial Justice in Business, World Economic Forum and Head of Mission, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice, World Economic Forum
**first published in: Weforum.org