Equality, equity and evidence

New standards of best practice are taking shape for communicating about diversity, equality and equity, writes Jonathan Holt.

Large companies have long talked about diversity and inclusion on their websites and social media, but recent events – from #MeToo to Black Lives Matter – have pulled the topic into the spotlight and expedited a corporate shift, especially among US-based companies, towards talking about equality and even equity.

This has kicked off a bonanza of fresh ideas that early adopters can borrow from to further improve their equality coverage and which any company that is considering addressing equality can draw on in plotting a way forward.

Articulate a clear vision and strategy

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The days in which diversity and inclusion information could be dispensed with in dry and generic policy terms on a page tucked away deep in the responsibility or careers section of the corporate website appear to be essentially over.

Accenture is an excellent example of a company that uses pithy and meaningful language to explain its Inclusion & Diversity approach. For example, gender equality is framed as ‘How we’re getting to 50/50’ and LGBT equality as ‘Getting to equal’. Accenture has also set clear and measurable targets for racial equality in three key regions.

Beyond the basics, there are early signs that carving out an ‘ownable’ and/or sector-specific niche or two could become one of the key factors in the competition for diverse employees.

Already, SAP’s Diverse Ecosystem framework includes ‘autism inclusion’ and ‘inclusive entrepreneurship’. Accenture talks about ‘cross-cultural diversity’ (highly relevant in a multinational consultancy environment, and a strong selling point for new recruits). And Brazil-based mining company Vale has a campaign focused on women in mining, which is built around a series of engaging films that bring the topic to life. 

Measure progress and be transparent

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The shift towards talking about equality rather than (or really in addition to) diversity and inclusion represents a progression towards greater impact. And while ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ are often used interchangeably, equity is a higher pinnacle.

This article from Forbes usefully explains the terminology. In a nutshell: diversity and inclusion combined with equality of opportunity gets you to equity. In other words, it’s a process that requires clear thinking and a companywide effort.

Against this backdrop, providing hard data on workforce and supplier diversity will only become more important as a way for jobseekers and others to assess each company’s level of commitment. But simply providing the latest percentages on the website without any context will not be much help.

Accenture and Salesforce are leaders in terms of providing at least three years of diversity data, which is enough to reveal the pace of change in each area. Apple goes one better and provides not only seven years of data but also a breakdown by workforce segments (tech, non-tech, retail etc) – a level of additional detail that makes the numbers all the more telling and relevant.

Morgan Stanley offers only two years of data on a large number of metrics but one of them is a baseline year (comparing 2019 and 2015), which is also workable. But housing this information only in a lengthy Diversity and inclusion report means many visitors will miss it.

Build community, starting with employees

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Most companies have employee resource groups that help employees in under-represented groups to communicate with and support each other and to advocate for common goals. IBM has taken this a step further by essentially positioning equality itself as a club that all employees can be proud to be part of.

The Be Equal microsite puts a glossy face on the company’s equality efforts. There is even a bee-shaped logo and branded merchandise. But at its heart the site exists to build awareness around just how much IBM has already done to promote equality and to provide support for those who want to help the company go further. Links to employee stories, webinars and other partner websites are seeded throughout, and there is an innovative timeline of diversity milestones going back to the 1800s, which can be filtered by employee group.

Salesforce’s Equality blog is similarly focused on expanding the equality conversation to include all employees (and perhaps other stakeholders too). For example, recent posts have addressed what everyone can do to take a stand against hate crimes and tips from an expert on how to have difficult conversations in the workplace.

Naturally, social media channels have a key role in building community, not least in terms of amplifying each type of communication described above. Accenture makes it clear that diversity and inclusion are key themes on the ‘Accenture Community’ Twitter feed, which frequently promotes equality news and retweets posts from partner organizations, deepening those relationships while also giving Accenture and its employees some credibility by association.

If the push towards equality and then equity is going to gain pace as a movement with lasting impact in the corporate sphere (across companies and sectors, that is), this is how the momentum will build. One communication at a time.

- Jonathan Holt

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First published 20 April, 2021
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