Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is more than a trend or buzzword. It is an imperative, dedicated to fueling change across all industries, sectors and society. Social movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp amplified the call and emphasis on gender equality. Now, COVID-19 and the continued #BlackLivesMatter movement are calling for equal attention and action around racial and ethnic gaps and injustices in the workplace and world.

Over the last several months, organizations began looking at areas to cut their budgets due to financial constraints because of COVID-19. In many companies, the line items that were first up for debate included those dedicated to D&I efforts. Now, sparked by the unjust murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others, public protest has illuminated the systemic racism experienced by Black Americans.

People around the world are holding companies and institutions accountable for their actions— and they demand change to come. Specifically:

• Two-thirds of consumers globally now self-identify as belief-driven buyers.

They are exercising brand democracy, choosing to support products that stand with them on important issues, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brands and Racial Justice in America.

• Young adults (age 18- 34) specifically call out their propensity to select an employer based on workplace diversity and public activism for racial justice.

Employers must “walk the talk” at the highest level inside their organizations.

As this narrative begins to change, we must take action. This is a moment to move forward with conviction to enact change at all levels and areas throughout organizations.

To achieve a meaningful shift in the evolution of D&I—from a check the box exercise to foundational competency—we should ask ourselves some critical questions:

1. What are your organization’s D&I goals and activities?

To build trust among internal and external stakeholders and to remain competitive, employees and customers must see, hear, feel and believe your commitments to diversity and inclusion. If not executed well, employee recruitment and retention are impacted, public image and reputation suffer, and customer loyalty will be adversely effected. 

Maintaining a diverse and inclusive work environment is not enough. Diversity of all types—race/ ethnicity, age, gender, background and more—continues to transform governments, colleges/universities, institutions and businesses, but there is also a heightened expectation for organizations to turn outward, actively demonstrating and sharing their D&I efforts. Credible and meaningful actions are key—not just statements of company policies or key messages.

To build trust among internal and external stakeholders and to remain competitive, employees and customers must see, hear, feel and believe your commitments to diversity and inclusion

This approach highlights the heart of “who” an organization is and not just “what” they say. And critically, the ambassadors for D&I must go beyond HR leads—it is the responsibility of all leaders, and in particular, the CEO, to help drive the company’s commitments. Everyone has a role in ensuring your company is inclusive for each person who enters the door.

2. Have you created community for your employees?

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can act as a powerful tool to promote D&I in the company when used effectively. They help build community for diverse groups within the organization and can be helpful in increasing awareness companywide. They also can give greater access and opportunity to employees, and serve as a forum for employees to share new business ideas and objectives.

When establishing an ERG within your company or organization, you need to have buy-in from leadership, be able to assess company needs and set clear goals, and plan effective marketing within the company.

3. What type of workforce training do you require?

It is true that D&I training will not change the world. But research shows that learning and development can be a critical tool in raising awareness. It is also a great starting point for employees to begin modeling inclusion. Creating a forum to ask questions and remove the filters empowers employees to address bias and micro aggressions head-on. This space also gives an opportunity to actively acknowledge and educate colleagues about different cultures, ideas, and beliefs. From there, you can create programs and develop resources to encourage continuous learning that will lead to making change.

4. Are you seeking the right partners?

Are you going outside of your organization to partner with the right types of groups to not only fuel a diverse workforce pipeline but community organizations with which you can share resources or establish meaningful programs. Or maybe building proactive relationships with D&I champions and community leaders to hear from them—and taking their feedback. All of the answers are not within your organization and you will need help to effectively evolve your D&I strategy.

5. Do you talk about race?

We must stop using broad language like “diversity” when what we mean is race. We cannot stay silent on the issues of systemic racism and inequality that specifically impact Black people— issues such as socioeconomics and healthcare disparities.

We can no longer be nervous about having tough conversations. We have to rethink the notion that ““race” and racism is not an appropriate workplace conversation.

Lastly, the reality is most workforces do not truly reflect the world we live in. We will have better ideas and we will be more successful when we intentionally and purposefully advance D&I within our wall and beyond.