Davianne Harris, Chief Client Officer and Head of the DE&I Consulting Practice at sparks & honey, explains why organizations need a Diversity Operating System, which puts equity at the center of everything.

This article is part of the December 2021 Spotlight US series, "DEI in marketing: How it's progressing – and how it isn't.” Read more

“So, how will we know when we’ve made progress on DEI?”

This is one of the most common questions I hear during panels, interviews, and in conversations with business leaders and industry observers. It’s a good question because there is no clear answer or point in time where we can definitively state, “We’ve succeeded.” That would be equivalent to saying we’ve solved systemic racism.

We have to accept that what we call “solving the problem” is really about addressing the issue, over and over again. One of the biggest challenges in doing so is honing in on what we’re actually trying to solve and how much we’re willing to invest in driving that change.

Every company bears its own set of unique challenges, barriers and opportunities that require persistence and commitment well beyond the office of the Chief Diversity Officer. Diversity, equity and inclusion requires more than a set of initiatives, employee resource groups and diverse hires, but, while there is no one singular approach to building an equity-centric organization, there is one thing they should have in common: DEI must be woven into the fabric of the organization. Instead of solely building diverse teams, we need to build Diversity Operating Systems that embed equity into the daily rhythm of the work product and experience.

It goes beyond hiring people from diverse backgrounds; we need to think about crafting practices and processes that ensure those individuals have a valued voice and feel empowered to bring their unique perspective forward. We need to develop products that are designed based on inclusive consumer insights, not just a multicultural marketing message. We need to be doing business with partners that reflect the values and standards we tout in our DEI commitments.

By embedding equity within each of the Four Ps (People, Practices, Products and Partnerships), every organization can embark on an authentic journey that places the responsibility, and rewards, of DEI in the hands of every leader within that organization; from the CEO to CMO to the CFO. This will help to ensure each function and strategic priority is foundationally rooted in equity principles.

Considering tactical applications for marketers, it’s critical to consider the entirety of the process from consumer insight to campaign execution.

Take a healthcare technology company seeking to align its positioning with the realities of a pandemic and virtual care needs. In simplest terms, the consumer insight might center on an audience that is working remotely, has the technology and access to connect with a physician remotely, and that lacks emotional and cultural barriers like system mistrust, avoidance, and misinformation, which plague other groups.

Instead of building a product or platform that’s inclusive of groups that are statistically more likely to be frontline workers or work jobs without a remote option, less likely to have high speed internet access, and less likely to seek out preventative and non-emergency care, this brand might seek to simply communicate with these diverse groups instead of taking the time to understand them and their needs. The brand may engage its marketing team or commission a specific research study on diverse audiences to shape a “multicultural marketing strategy” that ultimately involves delivering the same product with different packaging, when a different product is what’s required.

It’s critical for equity-centric organizations to establish parameters around who is defining the insight and shaping the strategy. Marketers recognize the subjectivity in their craft. The issue with data isn’t typically in the collection of it, but the interpretation, and in what is chosen as meaningful and material to defining a key insight and strategy. Without the perspective and consideration of factors around access and trust, as outlined in the healthcare example, those points are simply dismissed or not considered at all.

This example highlights inequities within the research and strategic development process, so envision how this continues into the creative development process and the communication approach, not to mention the displacement of valued team members who are embraced for their diversity, but not given the opportunity to exercise their diverse perspective.

The importance of centralizing DEI becomes as critical for the consumers demanding inclusivity from brands as it is for the employees who desire to be valued beyond their contributions to a pie chart. Organizations are always looking for efficiencies and more effective ways to meet a goal. If the goal is building an equity-centric, inclusive brand or organization, the solution is to make the investment in an operating system that simultaneously satisfies both your internal, and external, stakeholders’ need to be recognized, heard and valued.