For many consumer goods companies, the impact of the pandemic forced them into simply surviving - priorities shifted to navigating supply chain issues, managing remote working and depleted workforces, panic-buying and safeguarding employees and customers. Understandably, long term goals issues such as diversity and inclusion dropped down the list of priorities, at least for the short term.
A report by McKinsey, analysed more than 1,000 large companies across 15 countries prior to the pandemic and found a divide in approach. Only a third of the companies had achieved “real gains in top-team diversity” in the past five years. The majority made little or no progress – some had even gone backwards.
Interestingly though, research by IGD in October involving interviews with senior HR staff across more than 30 major retailers, food service providers and medium to large-sized branded manufacturers found more than 80% claimed inclusion and diversity was still part of their senior leadership conversations. A quarter even said they had used the past year to start creating a formal strategy.
The events of the last few years have made clear that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is no longer just a fluffy HR initiative, but a necessity. Employees and potential candidates aren’t just asking for it, they are leaving when an organisation’s culture doesn’t meet their expectations. Employees understand that no one has to be unhappy at work anymore.
Consumers and employees are looking for long-term impact, sustained efforts and meaningful contributions. The most successful leaders are brokering meaningful strategic partnerships and working to attract talent that supports their journey toward inclusion.
Furthermore, customers are looking for clues that companies are serious and committed to racial equity, or if these actions are simply empty PR stunts.
Adobe’s Diversity in Advertising survey revealed 62% of Australian consumers are more likely to purchase products and services from brands with diverse advertisements. While 56 % of consumers surveyed said lack of diversity would impact their perception of a brand.
Whilst there is enough evidence that Diversity and Inclusion is not only a worthwhile societal imperative but also makes good practical business, knowing what to strive for is only half the battle. Few organisations are yet to implement practical strategies.
Much of this might be due to the fact that Diversity and Inclusion are about much more than gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The ideal approach to Diversity and Inclusion aims to shape the constitution of an organisation; employees, representatives – to more accurately reflect the customer base and broader society.
It stands to reason when organisations limit the talent pool from which they hire, not only do they stand a much lower chance of hiring the best people but they also limit their ability to cultivate a diverse and inclusive culture. Diversity and inclusion start with the position description and should form an intrinsic part of the advertising, communication (internal and external) and interview process.
Embrace new perspectives
The most successful companies are the ones that remain innovative in the face of rapid change. A diverse workforce – one where different perspectives, new ways of thinking about problems or challenges are celebrated and encouraged can provide organisations with a competitive edge.
The key to success here is flexibility. Diversity on its own is not enough for employees to express themselves. Employees must be empowered and encouraged to express themselves. By striving to be open and objective to the new perspectives and thinking that comes with having a diverse workforce, organisations can help foster a culture of inclusivity.
Ensure customers and employees can identify with you
Today’s consumer wants to buy from companies they can identify with. The products they buy and the companies from which they purchase form an integral part of how they express their identity and plays a significant role in brand loyalty. As such, it’s important that organisations reflect the values of their customers through their attitudes and actions on cultural, social and environmental issues.
Whilst both a diverse workforce and the freedom of employees to express their ideas on defining company strategy, and empowering them to take action that drives organisations towards their goals is crucial, Diversity and inclusion must be a continuous priority for executives and board rooms for the benefits to be realised.
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