Driving enterprise-wide RDEI requires board leadership and a collaborative effort among C-suite executives and other leaders throughout the management hierarchy. This is because RDEI is directly relevant not only to strategy, talent, culture and performance but also to risk management, legal and compliance, marketing and investor relations. The CEO should lead a cross-functional team that is responsible for executing RDEI strategies across all areas.
Boards should proactively ask the CEO and other management how they connect, realize synergies and avoid inconsistent messages on RDEI, culture and strategy and achieve identified objectives. Boards should seek regular reporting on how the company’s cross-functional RDEI activities are impacting corporate performance in specific operational areas and on employee engagement and performance.
RDEI should also be embedded in risk management and corporate compliance. Company codes of business conduct and ethics and all related policies and procedures need to fully align with the company’s strategy, culture and RDEI goals and initiatives. Boards should regularly monitor the effectiveness of the company’s code and related policies and procedures related to diversity and inclusion, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment. Management needs to clearly communicate, vigilantly monitor and enforce these policies and procedures — celebrating people who do the right thing and holding them accountable when they don’t.
In view of the connection between RDEI and performance, boards should consider whether CEO and executive management incentive compensation should be based in part on achievement on RDEI as measured by metrics formulated to track RDEI progress against goals and to link RDEI to long-term value.
Evolve RDEI to “belonging” to realize long-term value
Barriers to diverse groups can be both actual, in the form of systems and processes that exclude or limit diverse groups, and perceived, as in environments where diverse groups can be and are present but experience feelings of exclusion, bias, discomfort and prejudice. Both actual and perceived barriers are real impediments to the progress of diverse groups and society generally. Yet all people — even board directors and corporate executives — might understand the feeling of being an “outsider” — someone who does not fully belong, whose voice is unheard, who suppresses their true identity and creates one that conforms to applicable norms.
As society and workplaces become more diverse, the company’s culture, leaders and people should continuously collaborate to cultivate a strong sense of belonging to engage and empower everyone to enable high performance and trust. People at high-trust companies report significantly more energy and engagement and significantly less stress and burnout, resulting in significantly higher productivity.
As they examine and oversee RDEI, boards must consider the concepts of belonging and trust, their logical benefits and connections to corporate performance and value, and how they can work with management to cultivate a corporate culture that gives rise not just to RDEI but also to a strong sense of belonging for all the company’s talent. Indeed, where belonging is not a product of corporate culture and diversity initiatives, more work is needed.
By evolving RDEI to belonging, companies can deliver equitable opportunity, sustainability and prosperity for people, businesses and society in ways that more fully meet the business and social imperatives flowing from current events and global business trends. In doing so, they enhance their own sustainability and long-term value.