The acronym DEI, or diversity, equity and inclusion, has been top of mind for brands looking to answer the call raised by their employees, customers and shareholders. But what does DEI actually mean, and how do you steer a global brand through this space, particularly when every action — or nonaction — is under a microscope?
Having been in the DEI game for two decades, I know that the landscape is ever-shifting, and how we think about DEI must continue to evolve. First, I define diversity as all the things that make us both similar and different. None of us is a carbon copy of each other, therefore we are all diverse. Inclusion is a leadership skill, and it’s about ensuring we hire and sustain diverse talent and that everyone has a seat at the table. Equity is how we create equal opportunities for all by ensuring our systems create an equal playing field for all to succeed.
DEI, if done right, can help organizations fully harness the power of their greatest asset — its people — to meet and exceed business goals and customer expectations. DEI is a refinement exercise and will take a good company to one that is great.
Here’s what business leaders, managers and entrepreneurs should consider going forward when looking to do more in DEI:
1. The business case for DEI
More companies and leaders understand why DEI is important. But many leaders still need to understand how DEI can be both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do for the business.
A focus on DEI enables brands to attract and retain top talent, enabling the company to solve problems and innovate. Embracing colleagues who look, act and think differently makes us stronger as teams, as a company and as members of society. It’s how we guard against our blind spots and see the longer path to the opportunity ahead. Plus, leading on DEI is a brand differentiator. A leadership position in DEI empowers brands to deepen existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones.
Be mindful of bean-counting versus ensuring the right perspectives are included. The whole point of DEI is to have a rich level of perspectives to help solve problems and innovate. Invest in that.
2. Embed DEI into the business
There are a handful of meaningful steps leaders can take to embed DEI into business objectives and goals. If the work doesn’t support the broader business objectives with clear ownership and measurable progress, DEI will be reduced to busy work. One way that we’ve increased accountability is by tying ESG goals to executive compensation.
It’s also important to align your hiring strategy to support DEI. That doesn’t mean check-the-box demographic data. It means you are thinking strategically and holistically about the entire process, from understanding what perspectives you need more of on your team to ensuring employees are engaged and there is equity in promotions and development opportunities.
What’s more, DEI and social responsibility should be connected to your investment strategy. It’s why we issued a $600 million sustainability bond and accelerated our net-zero carbon commitment 10 years ahead of our original pledge.
You can design innovations that make people’s daily activities easier and cut down on inequities. We’ve done this with our new Touch Card for consumers who are blind or partially sighted, and True Name, which allows transgender and nonbinary people to put their chosen names on their cards. You are creating solutions because they are relevant to your business and they help people, including those who have historically been left out or ignored.
Don’t just talk about gender equity — run an audit and build a plan to secure pay parity. Commit to racial equity, with tangible objectives, and be transparent about progress and challenges along the way.
3. DEI is not a one-size-fits-all solution
Everyone is entering the DEI journey at a different time and place. Our job is to meet them where they are, and from a place of empathy. It helps to focus on commonalities to identify connection points between groups, which can drive collaboration and break down silos.
While we have major initiatives like In Solidarity, our commitment to drive racial equity in the U.S., our DEI strategy is global. Make sure to customize plans to specific markets to make them as relevant as possible. At Mastercard, for instance, we have regional action plans that are focused on the specific opportunities and challenges in each region where we operate.
Consider defining inclusion as a leadership skill like any other skill where we all have the opportunity to grow. Focus on the steps people can take to foster a more inclusive environment so that everyone has a sense of agency, and no one feels left out.
Think inclusively about inclusion. Diversity doesn’t just mean one thing or even a few things. Inclusion means making space for different perspectives and experiences as well as different inherent or chosen identities.
No one expects any one brand to solve every “ism,” phobia or inequity overnight, but sharing how you are investing in this space and the progress and challenges you are seeing will go a long way in showing that you are committed to this work. We don’t have all the solutions, but we are showing up every day to help move in the right direction, towards a workplace and world where everyone has access to opportunity.