Many organizations are starting to take diversity, equity, and inclusion more seriously. A Deloitte study from February 2021 shows that 77% of the public say companies must respond to racial injustice if they expect to earn or maintain the public’s trust.
During the 2021 CMO Club Innovation and Inspiration Summit, Mark Smalls, the CMO of JAMS, led a panel discussion on how diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can improve the culture of an organization and ready them for future growth. Joining him was Bill Bradley, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Schnuck Markets, Tiffany Xingyu Wang, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer of Spectrum Labs, and Rohit Prabhakar, Chief Growth Officer of EQ Holdings.
DEI can mean different things for different organizations. Location, the product or service the company sells, and even their technology platforms are all factors when addressing DEI.
Bradley’s company, Schnuck Markets, started confronting the issue three years ago. For now, his company defines DEI as creating a workforce that reflects the communities they serve and creating a workplace where everyone, regardless of their background or identifying characteristics, feels comfortable working together.
Marketers need to understand that DEI is not a campaign, but a cultural movement. It should be embedded in every aspect of the organization. Consumers are now demanding it from the companies they trust, said Prabhakar. “It’s something you live by.”
Equality in AI
Tech companies are just now beginning to understand the impact bias can have in artificial intelligence (AI), a key driver in the so-called metaverse. Prabhakar said he was glad that there are already companies thinking about bias in AI because a small change in the algorithm can affect how users experience virtual worlds.
Xingyu Wang noted that AI inherently “discriminates” when assessing human behavior online. For example, “AI recognizes the white-skinned male 34 percent more than dark-skinned females in certain circumstances,” which means companies need to be much more aware of how it leverages the technology to make decisions.
If we don’t have diverse content on the web, there is no way AI can be unbiased.” The lack of diversity online “means AI will make wrong decisions over time. All marketers have to be aware of that because we are really writing the first page of human ethics through AI in this new future.
– Tiffany Xingyu Wang
Dangers of Avoiding DEI
Companies slow to embed DEI into their culture or process are potentially threatening their own growth. Recruiting and retaining top talent will become more of a challenge, which could be severe in a tightening job market.
Marketing leaders need to be asking:
- How does our company look to potential employees?
- How does our company look to consumers?
- Is your messaging on target if no one in your marketing org reflects your consumer?
DEI should not be a check-the-box type of thing. It should be about experiences and making sure people feel safe and included.
– Mark Smalls
Taking the Next Step
To take the next step with DEI, the panel suggests companies should:
Understand how DEI is connected to trust. If you don’t prioritize DEI, you lose trust and its customers will go somewhere else.
Have more candid conversations with partners. DEI is a partnership and in our globally connected world, your vendors are reflective of you. Demand more of them as they may demand of you.
Survey employees. Learn what DEI means to them to create a measurable baseline for future improvement. You can’t fix what you don’t know needs fixing.
Speak from experience. DEI needs to feel authentic for consumers; otherwise, they will feel manipulated. That’s why messaging needs to be rooted in real stories or relatable situations. Leaders who have dealt with inequities of their own can translate that experience into changing the culture of their company.
Start at the top: To embed DEI within a company’s culture, processes, hiring practices, and external messaging, it must be mandated from the top. “It has to be the core strategy of your CEO’s agenda and on top of your CMO’s agenda,” said Xingyu Wang.