Forging Forward: Applying A DEI Lens Across the Business

ACCP Staff

ACCP CEO Carolyn Berkowitz recently sat on a panel discussion at the Changing Our World Forging Forward event. The panel session, Applying a DE&I Lens Across the Business, discussed how to pull a commitment to DE&I through various areas of a business, beyond traditional HR, including philanthropy and community engagement, among others.

We have highlighted Carolyn’s responses during the panel and additional thoughts on this important topic:

There are several important roles that corporate citizenship professionals can play as they support their companies in propelling their DEI efforts forward: 1) the provision of corporate resources that intentionally drive change, 2) authentic community relationships, and 3) utilizing community relationships to build and diversify the talent pipeline.

Corporate citizenship, and specifically the support and partnership that corporations provide in the local community and around national social issues, is in many ways the most tangible and visible demonstration of a company’s commitment to social and racial justice. It is not enough – but it is a very visible and important component. 

 This support that occurs in both the focus of a company’s grants/ volunteerism, and how they go about their work in the community is important for all stakeholders. We at ACCP have seen lots of examples of company’s doing this work well – both before the more public racial reckoning spurred by the events of 2020 and as a result of it.

  • For instance, NBC Comcast made a $100M commitment to DEI to shed light on systemic issues and work toward lasting solutions. It addresses digital equity (connectivity and digital skills training), media awareness and education (amplifying Black voices and stories, highlighting diverse cultures and shedding light on inequality). We also see support for small businesses (specifically to BIPOC owned small businesses), and social justice (partnering and financially supporting organizations working to eradicate injustice).
  • Additionally, a lot of our member companies are re-evaluating their grantmaking practices to be more equitable and inclusive.

We also know that real change happens IN RELATIONSHIP. CSR can use its connection to community to help facilitate the building of authentic relationships that allow for trust to build and mutual empathy and understanding to occur. This can take shape formally through ERG’s, matching gifts, dollars for doers, volunteer programs, and informally, providing the connections and bridge for personal understanding to develop. 

  • T. Rowe Price Foundation in Baltimore does this work well in every dimension. They focus on trust-based philanthropy – the notion that communities are rich in assets and not “problems to be fixed”, so they support local nonprofits in their own journeys to create equitable solutions. They trust that communities and nonprofits know what is best for themselves and help to build the capacity of those organizations to enact their ideas and best achieve their mission. They also can depend on these partners to build authentic connections with the company. 

Working in partnership with the business to grow and diversify talent has the dual benefit of providing real opportunity to those who have been previously shut out and recruiting and engaging a diverse, loyal, and eminently capable workforce.

Many companies are doing this, especially given the challenges of recruiting tech talent, but in my opinion no company does this better than Salesforce. With more than six million young people out of school and out of work in the United States today and millions of jobs going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants, Salesforce and Year Up partnered together to close the Opportunity Divide. Since 2009, Salesforce has hosted 500+ Year Up interns in 7 cities, providing a pipeline to employment at Salesforce for many. Additionally, Salesforce has donated more than $8 million to support programs training tens of thousands of young adults across the country for careers in finance and technology.

DEI within the workplace is not new, but over the past year, we have seen many innovative and impactful efforts to advance DEI within companies, including several member companies:

  • The Medtronic Foundation engages its workforce in game-changing volunteer efforts. Through the Mapping Prejudice employee volunteer project, employees worked with the University of Minnesota to search Minneapolis property deeds and build a database of those that contained racially restrictive covenants. The map has altered understanding (both among employees and through the widespread education and publicity) and brought in volunteers, donors, and ultimately policy changes.
  • At Owens Corning, which is a roofing manufacturer, their African American Resource Group launched a virtual book club focused on inclusion and diversity to drive dialogue and connection among employees. Hundreds of employees discussed “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo.
  • Toyota created a grassroots employee-led fund to address social and racial justice issues spearheaded by the company’s 100 employee resource group chapters. The fund resulted in $475K in grants awarded to 48 nonprofits in 17 communities addressing food insecurity, healthcare access, economic self-reliance, job training and education – and all with an equity lens.
  • Corporate executives signed a letter and pledge to fight violence against Asians, through Stand With Asian Americans:
    • ACCP member companies include – Disney, Target, Salesforce, NetApp, McKesson, Walmart, JPMorgan Chase, NBCUniversal, Microsoft, Accenture, T Rowe, United, O’Melveny, Home Depot, Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson, NortonLifeLock, Pfizer, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Electronic Arts, ViacomCBS, Conagra
  • Today we are seeing corporations joining coalitions supporting the voting rights acts and using the power of their business to make change in that arena.
  • You also have the example of FedEx stepping in last year, to tell the Washington football team they needed to change their team name – dropping the racist “Redskins” – or risk losing their stadium, which FedEx owned the naming rights to.

EG: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen your members face as they integrate DE&I into their broader corporate strategy? Are there specific resources or convenings that ACCP has offered to help provide guidance as companies transition their commitments to action?

While DE&I becomes part of broader corporate strategy, we know that the move to further integrate DE&I across the company hasn’t been without issue. Some of the challenges our members face include:

  • How to incorporate equity/a racial justice lens into their grantmaking practices
  • How to make good on/fulfill the commitments made by corporate statements
  • More rigorously assessing community needs by disaggregating data
  • How to demonstrate impact/track data/show an ROI without placing an undue burden on community partners
  • Dealing with the increase in C-suite expectations/demands to affect social change
  • Ensuring adequate budget and resources   We at ACCP have worked hard to help our members and the CSR community at large address these challenges. Some of the resources we have include:
  • In Winter 2020, we co-hosted the Racial Equity Partner Series with our partners Council on Foundations, CECP, and Points of Light
  • In Fall 2020 we held Racial Justice Dialogue Series for our members, facilitated by Dr. Nika White
  • We have an online Racial Justice Resource Center We also have several events and initiatives coming up:
  • In June 2021, we’ll host our inaugural Advancing Equity Summit
  • We are launching research on representation and equity in our own profession and how that might impact the efficacy of social change, which I plan to share more about that later this summer.
  • We are also convening groups of members to grapple with measures, how and who they fund.   As we look ahead, it is important for companies to be authentic in their actions as they work to achieve their DE&I commitments. There are several things companies can do to extend their commitment to DE&I throughout their business and ensure sustainable change:
  • Truly collaborate among internal groups – DEI, HR, CSR – to realize the full potential of efforts and resources.
  • Integrate CSR throughout the business. It’s not just the function of one department and the work can’t be siloed anymore…connectedness and intersectionality are key.
  • Prioritize community voices and seek answers from civic leaders who are steeped in the community’s culture. Likewise, engage community leaders as experts and equals – with tactics that build trust and bring civic and nonprofit leaders into leadership roles and decision making.
  • ACCP believes that business innovation should be about advancing humankind. This starts with the idea of “Do no Harm” and extends to “Serve Stakeholders with Purpose.” Connecting business and society is critical for the success and sustainability of both.
Hands of different colors raised