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Why Inclusivity Is Vital for a Company’s Wellness and Longevity

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is all the craze now. It’s the “in” thing, the hot topic that companies everywhere are discussing. This is great news, as they should. However, two points to keep in mind:

  1. DEI is not a fad.
  2. While DEI encompasses many dimensions of difference, racial inclusivity is its own branch that companies must pay attention to if they want to remain viable in the marketplace.

To get us started, I have a story. I’ve told it before, but I think an abridged version will help frame and illustrate this conversation’s importance. I enjoy gummy bears. Those little bear-shaped decadents have been the bright spots in many of my days. When life is hectic, there is nothing like the comfort and relief that a fresh batch of gummies brings. 

One day, in particular, I was having one of my gummy bear cravings. I decided to make a grocery store run, masking my candy addiction under the guise of needing groceries. I set out to the store, list in hand, and moved at record speed. Finally, I grabbed my favorite brand of gummy bears, ran to the express checkout line, and paid as quickly as I could. I didn’t even wait for my change. I rushed home to devour my goodies.

I put my groceries away, poured myself a glass of wine, and sat on the couch, assuming my gummy bear eating position. After only a couple of small to moderately sized handfuls, I realized something tragic: I had purchased a defective bag in my haste. All the bears were the same color and the same flavor! I tried my best to power through, but the same taste over and over eventually became sickening. I couldn’t finish more than a third of the bag.

It made me realize that this was an excellent analogy for the expertise I share with my clients. The same of anything quickly becomes a stale experience. Excluding the other flavors of gummies meant the bag did not have the longevity of a mixed bag. Even if it were my favorite flavor, I couldn’t get through the monotony. The goal of hunkering down with a bag of my favorite candy—to hold me over until the next indulging moment of guilty pleasure—was not met.

This is what it’s like when a company does not devote the time, attention, and focus to racial inclusivity as part of its overall DEI strategy. Like I discuss in my book COLORFULL: Competitive Strategies to Attract and Retain Top Talent of Color, a homogeneous workplace will kill a company culture and cause it to lose its place and relevance in the marketplace. Being out of touch in this way is a setup for a company’s imminent demise. 

There’s a lot of talk about the wealth and employment gaps that BIPOC in the U.S. experience. And while it is true that these disparities must be addressed and fixed immediately, I don’t want you to miss the forest for the trees. Here’s what’s also true—even with the enormous gaps in wages, opportunity, and employment, Blacks and other POC have undeniable spending power and influence. 

The numbers don’t lie. Let’s look at Black American spending power, for instance. Even amid adversity from systemic and institutional factors, and a global pandemic, Blacks will account for $1.5 trillion in national spending at the end of 2021. 

With everything that is going on, Blacks and other POC are paying more and more attention to which brands make efforts to speak to their needs. We’re looking at their ads, language, images on their products, hiring practices, executive leaders, and more. The wool is off of our eyes, and we are wide awake. 

It’s not just BIPOC that are paying close attention. Corporate sponsors, advertisers, and white customers (especially Generation Z) are deliberate and thoughtful about with whom they do business. A company having its house in order isn’t a luxury anymore; it’s table stakes. Companies need to show that they get it and make a measurable and transparent change to ensure they address Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion together. 

The great news is that companies that embrace the shift and invest in DEI can look forward to some fantastic benefits: 

  • Increased innovation and profits. From a hiring standpoint, companies that invest in boosting their Talent of Color initiatives experience a boost in creativity, innovation, and ingenuity, leading to increased profits. 
  • Empathetic leadership that understands the experiences of Communities of Color. What better way is there to create stronger relationships with diverse talent and consumers than by having representation? Not only is representation important for people to see, but it matters for insight. Having BIPOC as leaders provides companies invaluable knowledge to make the most informed business decisions. 
  • Stronger awareness and understanding of how to avoid landmines. Think about the Burt’s Bees holiday or the H&M “coolest monkey in the jungle” advertisement disasters.  Two things are clear to me about what went wrong in both of these cases.

    1. There was no decision-maker, no one at the top of the food chain who identified with People or Communities of Color. If there was, there is no way in the world that these blunders would have occurred. 
    2. The companies’ relationships with BIPOC have never received the proper attention and maintenance. Had Burt’s Bees and H&M been in the habit and practice of listening to and marketing to POC, there would have been some systems and sensitivities in place to avoid these pitfalls. It would have been an instinctual “no-no” throughout the entire organization.
  • Your business becomes more COLORFULL! The sharing of ideas and the exchange between individuals who are from diverse backgrounds inevitably strengthens a company’s culture and stance in the marketplace. There’s a freshness that overtakes the business and a breathability that attracts consumers and talent alike. Not to mention, it’s just great for optics.

I see a shift in the number of companies that understand their longevity and future is tightly linked to the strength of their relationship with the Black community and other Communities of Color. They are finally getting it. Any company that wishes to stay afloat must direct resources specifically toward racial inclusivity to have any hope of maintained marketplace relevance and ensured survival. 

About The Author
Sharon Smith Headshot

Sharon is the CEO of the Rae MacKenzie Group, an award-winning diversity, equity, and inclusion marketing firm and author of Colorfull: Competitive Strategies to Attract and Retain Top Talent of Color. She recently founded People of Color CareersTM Social Hiring Network to help professionals of color land their dream careers with employers who are serious about increasing racial inclusivity at all levels of the corporate structure. Learn more at PeopleOfColorCareers.com and BoldlySharon.com. Follow Sharon on Instagram: @boldlysharon, Twitter: @boldlysharon, or LinkedIn: Sharon Smith-Akinsanya