Let’s go beneath the surface

October 19, 2021

This has been a busy time for brands to outwardly demonstrate their societal stand. They’ve been speaking out about diversity, equity and inclusion. It was the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, and it was Pride month recently, so we saw a lot of brands go all black square or rainbow in their ads and communications.

That is all well and good.

But it’s not enough. I saw a meme the other day that made me realize that brands need to do more and better. The meme said, “You put a black square on your social media posts a year ago. What have you done since?”

It’s a valid question.

While this is not solely a marketing issue, it has a lot of marketing implications. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer (over 33,000 respondents) showed that 68% of respondents believed that corporate CEOs should step in and take the lead to fix societal problems because they don’t believe anyone else will. Sixty-five percent of respondents believe CEOs should hold themselves accountable to the public, not just to their board of directors.

If those numbers seem high, 86% of respondents expect CEOs to speak out on societal issues.

Whew. That is a vast and clear mandate. From both previous years and this year’s study, we know that consumers are more willing than ever to use their wallets to let businesses know they do or don’t approve.

Even if this wasn’t a marketing and customer retention issue, it is a human issue. So how do we go from lip service to actually becoming part of the solution?

Here are some thoughts examining how we could go beyond the surface in genuinely caring about and fighting for diversity, equity and inclusion in our businesses.

  • Have we shared our DEI goals with our entire company and invited their input?
  • Do we provide DEI training for all personnel?
  • Do we have a zero-tolerance policy for racist or inequitable behavior in the workplace, and have we actually taken action honoring that policy?
  • Are we actively working on and talking about what an inclusive workplace looks like for our company?
  • Are we measuring diversity of all kinds within our company and setting goals for improving the ratios?
  • Are we measuring diversity of all kinds within our leadership and setting goals for improving the ratios?
  • Do we actively audit salary and advancement policies to make sure they’re fair and equitable?
  • Are our recruitment tactics inclusive and inviting diversity into our candidate pool?
  • Do we use our company’s voice to celebrate and support DEI initiatives?
  • Do we offer our employees personal holidays so they can enjoy the religious or cultural celebrations that matter to them?
  • Is Election Day a holiday in our company?
  • Do our charitable contributions include a proper percentage to organizations working toward DEI initiatives?
  • Do our communications (internal and external) make it clear that DEI is a priority and nonnegotiable for us?

We’re not going to solve these issues overnight. But our consumers and the world are demanding that we play our part. And it can and should be part of our legacy as leaders.

There’s also the very pragmatic side to doing all we can to improve our company’s DEI efforts and share that commitment and our progress with the world. When it comes to attracting and retaining employees, it ranks very high in most surveys of what team members are looking for in an employer.

Beyond that, as the Edelman Barometers have demonstrated over the last several years, our customers are watching. If we’re going to earn and keep their business, they expect us to take a stand and fight for a better world.


This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.