Written by: Lori Walton
Inclusion & Diversity Corporate Philanthropist
AABLI Alumna, Class #16
We will never forget 2020. It brought us face to face with a deadly pandemic, but it also has brought about a heightened focus on racial injustice. From protests around the world to community activism, we have witnessed increasing, bold statements of change from organizations calling for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
What does their support for DEI mean?
- Diversity: To support diversity means a commitment to embrace the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another.
- Equity: A call for equity signals a resolve to focus on fair treatment and equal opportunity for advancement.
- Inclusion: This broadcasts a determination to create an inclusive environment in which all individuals feel respected, accepted and valued.
But now that the bold statements of change have been made, the real work of DEI begins within organizations, including their boards.
Increasing Pressure on Organizations
Organizations are feeling mounting pressure from investors, grant makers, consumers, job seekers and employees. Increasingly, large institutional investors are sharing their expectations for diversity by firing off letters to the board chairs of public companies in their portfolios. Active investors have filed several proposals on these topics. States like California and stock market index institutions like NASDAQ are mandating that boards of directors include individuals from underrepresented populations. Grant making institutions and individual donors also are speaking up, requesting detailed DEI information from nonprofits: What are the composition and backgrounds of their boards of directors? What are the organizations’ track records when it comes to community programs increasing equitable access to resources for the underserved?
In fact, the DEI effect on consumer loyalty is even greater, according to a study by Ketchum, a global communications consultancy. Brand Reckoning 2020: How Crisis Culture is Redefining Consumer Behavior, Loyalty and Values reports that 74% of U.S. respondents said ‘protests against racial injustice have made it more important to support businesses that improve diversity and inclusion.’
Employee recruitment and retention are also impacted, with 76% of job seekers and employees maintaining that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. That particular development prompted job and recruiting site Glassdoor to launch a Diversity & Inclusion Rating feature, creating transparency about companies’ cultures by empowering employees to rate them on DEI.
As a result, the brand perception, financial support, recruiting and retention efforts of many organizations are at risk.
DEI Influence by Boards of Directors
Recognizing that boards are exerting more influence on organizations’ DEI strategies, here are three ways you, as a board member, can help advance an organization beyond bold DEI statements to actionable changes:
- Set Clear Expectations for Board Members: Consider joining nomination or governance committees to help an organization clearly define expectations that new and existing board members support DEI. You also should leverage opportunities, through unbiased assessments by third parties, to identify a board’s DEI gaps and opportunities. This clears a path for immediate and/or long term action.
- Learn About the DEI Policies: Ask questions. What is the organization doing to create or update DEI policies to truly support equity and inclusion for all? What can you do as a board member to support the organization’s DEI leaders and/or recommend hiring a chief diversity officer to strengthen DEI strategies?
- Influence DEI Measurements: Help the organization develop and refine DEI measurements that create transparency for intentional and sustainable actions. What can’t be measured won’t get improved.
As we look ahead to 2021, I challenge our AABLI family to hold organizations accountable, to move beyond DEI statements to actions that will create a future in which “equitable” and “inclusive” are not just the catchwords du jour. As board members, the future is ours to shape!
Lori Walton has 20+ years of building impactful social justice partnerships and workplace equality programs to address equity disparities at Fortune 500 companies. She is a proud graduate of AABLI Class #16 and an HBCU alum of Florida A&M University. Walton serves in various community leadership roles to help close the gap in access to quality education, healthy food, safe housing, and fair paying jobs for the underrepresented.
This blog is not written by aabli.org or The African American Board Leadership Institute. The author is solely responsible for the content.