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How to Bring Systemic Change to DEI Challenges

By Sarah Anderson July 29, 2021

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenges exist everywhere, and most businesses aim to be fair in the areas they control — hiring, promotions, and pay. But they stop short of trying to actually solve the problems that create these challenges in the first place. We believe, however, that businesses are uniquely positioned to help solve these problems — and not just in the areas they control. Businesses have the power and the resources to do way more than they’ve been doing — and likely way more than HR and CSR leaders ever thought possible.

A recent Salesforce-sponsored webinar, How to Bring Systemic Change to DEI Challenges, included three speakers: Alexandra Siegel, a Salesforce specialist who leads the company’s equality content and enablement team; Iris Ivana Grant, Founder and CEO of The Genési Group; and myself as the moderator. We discussed the state of today’s world, as well as a two-pronged equity framework that aims to build a path toward equity for everyone — not just employees, and not just in the workplace. They also addressed the role employees have in effecting lasting change in their communities.

Diverse team of employees in the workplace
Diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges exist everywhere, and most businesses aim to be fair in the areas they control — but they stop short of trying to actually solve the problems that create these challenges in the first place.

Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

To frame the discussion, we defined DEI as this:

Diversity is something that we have — it’s something that is here; it’s a fact. Inclusion is what we do about that fact, and equity is the goal that we hope to achieve.

Companies often group the terms as though they’re parallel, but there’s actually a causal relationship among them.

Findings by McKinsey & Company show the economic disparities that exist between Black and white communities in the United States. Statistics show that in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic took a heavy toll on communities of color. The unemployment rate for Black Americans, for example, stood at nearly 11% in October 2020, compared with 6% for white Americans. Roughly 41% of Black–owned small businesses closed as a result of the pandemic, according to the Journal of Economics & Management Strategy. Latinx, immigrant, and women-owned businesses also shuttered their doors at a faster rate than white-owned businesses.

Small business closures highlight inequity more than inequality. In the workplace, equity is, in part, the ability to handle all the curveballs that life throws at you — the safety nets that help cushion a blow in tough times, such as personal savings, family wealth, and even health insurance. Despite equal opportunities, a person or business that lacks equity will suffer more severe consequences when disaster strikes, even if all other circumstances are equal.

Businesses can help address this. While employers are often quick to put out statements of support, they need to back that support with “action and dollars,” Siegel said. This requires a commitment from the top down and should be an operating ethos of the entire organization, involving all levels of employees. Seeking feedback from employees and customers provides a pathway to move forward on actionable outcomes.

For Grant, who runs The Genési Group, this shift begins with turning to a diverse group of employees and clients and asking, “How can we partner together to have more impact? What can the private sector do to abate the economic hardship realized by people of color?” Creating an inclusive environment in large corporations and investing in racial equality can make a transformative difference.

Why Committing to DEI Initiatives Is Important

Companies need to make a concerted effort to hire employees who represent a broad spectrum. A company “needs to first look at and define diversity” and identify segments of the community that are missing from its staff, Grant said. Then leadership has to have transparent conversations with these employees to understand their needs and concerns because those employees reflect the families and customers in the community.

A true commitment to DEI work requires patience, courage, and a willingness to listen and respond. An organization that demonstrates a commitment from the top down will realize success in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Progress may be slow at first, but a cultural shift will become part of the fabric of the organization.

As the racial justice movement grows, so will the need for businesses to respond with bold initiatives that illustrate support. Words are not enough. Action is required. The reward of investing in equity and inclusion is an organization that welcomes all and contributes to the greater good.

Watch the webinar for specific strategies that can help actualize systemic changes to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in your organization.

Sarah Anderson, director of product marketing for Philanthropy Cloud
Sarah Anderson
Director of Product Marketing, Philanthropy Cloud 
Sarah Anderson is a director of product marketing for Philanthropy Cloud. After spending 12 years as an editor for consumer-facing technology magazines, she turned her attention to marketing SaaS-based B2B enterprise solutions.