Building Better Business Through Diversity and Inclusion
Communications Practice Leader, Jacobs Engineering
PRSA Georgia PR Committee Co-chair
“E. pluribus unum” graces the back of the US dollar and is Latin for “out of many, one.” The phrase captures our Founders’ vision of a country where the differences of the colonies created a greater whole. This concept is at the core of diversity and inclusion principles and took center stage at a recent panel discussion on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) co-hosted by PRSA Georgia and ColorComm, a national business community for women of color in the communications industry.
Panelists Andrew Davis, chief diversity and inclusion officer, The Coca-Cola Company; Sharon V. Jones, SVP, director human resources and director diversity & inclusion North America, Ketchum; and Anna Stevens, vice president, human resources and chief people officer, HD Supply dug deeper into D&I touching on everything from proving its business value and implementing successful D&I practices, to what’s next for D&I practices as Millennials help shape the future of organizations.
The group agreed that D&I must be integrated into a company’s strategic plan and championed by leadership across business lines. As a strategy, it can help drive change and encourage innovation.
In the agency arena, it’s no surprise that change is also being driven externally. “Our clients are demanding a diverse team structure,” Jones commented. “They’re looking for diversity in every way. When we’re talking to clients, we have to ask ourselves – do we have the right people in the room sharing authentic voices?”
Davis echoed these thoughts, “D&I is beyond race and gender now. It’s about diversity of thought, experience, industry. It has to match strategic organizational goals regardless of the size of the company. When diversity and inclusion is elevated, it lifts everyone.”
D&I is a recruitment strategy as well. “We put a focus on diverse talent across the board – industry, experience, etc.” Stevens said. “We tell our associates ‘you are the brand’ and need to make sure we are who we say we are. It also supports our customer focus when they see people who look like them.”
The means of measuring diversity and inclusion varies by company and industry, but the panelists agreed the business case for D&I and its impact to business performance and customer satisfaction has already been proven. Jones noted that Ketchum has built-in diversity goals for employees who are eligible for bonus pay, while Stevens at HD Supply said they look at the level of customer engagement as a metric.
Davis recalled an instance at The Coca-Cola Company when D&I created a direct cost savings for the company’s marketing efforts thanks to one of its affinity groups. “Members of a Hispanic/Spanish speaking group pointed out that some of our materials might read as offensive to native speakers,” he said. “They asked for a chance to translate the essence of the message instead of letting the translators handle it and we said yes.” The group used a crowd sourcing tool as part of a pilot test to translate messages for different Spanish speaking countries such as Chile, Mexico, and Spain to help ensure the content would resonate with different communities. It worked and saved millions in translation costs.
Diversity and inclusion also takes into account the lives employees lead outside of work. Stevens noted that HD Supply has built D&I into their associate promise. “One of our business goals is to improve the lives of our employees and that extends to their families. We work with HR to help our associates see what’s available within the company to help them move forward.”
Sometimes that means giving employees space to bring their whole selves to work, which can feel challenging when all too often the focus seems to be on divisions between groups. “It takes courage to address difficult topics,” said Jones, “but we have to give a voice to the whole selves of our employees. Build your courage by talking to people who understand your views first before sharing with a larger group. Be persistent. And pick and choose when to have the difficult conversations, but don’t give up.”
Overall the group is optimistic about the evolution of D&I and expect to see it continue as Millennials become the dominant generation in the workplace. “D&I strategy and focus is really hard,” said Davis, “but we’re learning how to reach people where they are to initiate the discussion. Maybe the younger generation will help resolve it.”
“Millennials like to live out loud,” added Jones, “and organizations will have to change. But when people become truly engaged – feeling like they belong, have a seat at the table, and a voice that is welcome – that creates energy.”