By Sky Kelley
“Diversity” in Corporate America is a topic that continues to get much attention though the word has become to some (myself included) an empty clichéd term. If you roll your eyes every time you hear a Fortune 500 CEO touting their great “diversity” efforts but with little-to-no change in the company’s workforce make-up then you are not alone. In July, Google reported that notwithstanding some very noble initiatives around their diversity efforts, the overall percentage of Black and Hispanic employees did not increase from 2014 to 2015. More and more US consumers are choosing the companies they support based on how companies conduct themselves and workplace conditions and culture plays a big part in that. Despite many valid attempts to course-correct over several decades, statistics show that corporate America has only made marginal improvements in obtaining a more diverse senior-level workforce. However, diversity in the supply chain is just as important and is often overlooked. As someone who has always had a natural curiosity and eager interest in problem solving, the diversity problem begs the question “How do we rethink the solution to achieve better results?”
In order to rethink the solution, we should start by clearly identifying the problem. Most articles written about diversity in business are focused exclusively on diversity in the workforce. Clearly, there is a problem when only 4% of Fortune 500 CEO positions are held by women, 6.8% of Fortune 500 Board positions are held by African-Americans, and Hispanics and LGBT representation is so small it is barely counted, but diversity in the workforce is not the only issue. As Anna Holmes points out in her essay “Has ‘Diversity’ Lost Its Meaning?,” diversity is not usually defined and therefore diversity efforts are largely doomed from the start.
Simply put, diversity is defined as “the state or quality of being different.” American culture today values differences or uniqueness so much so that the word “basic” has become a slang insult. As a society we have given ourselves license to embrace the individual as we are and companies have responded by shifting their marketing tactics. Instead of viewing advertising as one-size-fits-all, businesses have now been forced to speak to different groups the way they want to be addressed and to cater to more specific needs. In a 2014 interview with L’Oreal Group, the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty company, then CMO Marc Speichart said, “…we shouldn’t create one piece of content that will be relevant to the majority of people. Instead we’re creating many different assets that address the specific needs of consumers.” Businesses today need to intimately understand and address changing demands in consumer needs and desires. To quote an African-American, female vlogger, “I don’t want a white male brand manager from Pantene to tell me what products are best for my natural hair.” Addressing different and specific consumer desires in an authentic way requires assembling a diverse team. That is why diversity in business is important.
If the problem is that corporations need to more authentically address the needs of their diverse consumers, then the way to solve that problem is to add thoughts, opinions and voices with shared experience to your consumers at every step of the process in creating and marketing your goods and services. To add that level of diversity, you need more than to increase diversity in your corporate ranks. Businesses are built by their people both their internal workforce and their external supply chain. Companies must have a diverse supply chain in order to adequately solve the problem. According to the Food Marketing Institute white paper, “An effective Supplier Diversity process drives increased sales and cost savings, but, the impact of Supplier Diversity goes beyond this by strengthening a retailer’s emotional connection with the customer, building brand equity, creating jobs, and stimulating the local area where a company does business.”