The Business Case for Diversity is a Sinking Ship

 The Business Case for Diversity is a Sinking Ship

By Lily Zheng

The business case for diversity in its current form is deeply broken. And yet, it’s succeeded in elevating diversity discourse into the public domain and given leaders at the highest levels an “in” to talking about race, gender, sexuality, and religion where formerly such topics were unbroachable. But it hasn’t resulted in any substantial challenge to the growing inequity, injustice, and crisis that now defines our world. How do we maintain the progress that the business case for diversity has made in the corporate world without perpetuating more harm? How might we fix the “business case?”

  1. Draw on community to define success. When an initiative pledges to benefit a certain community or communities, members from these communit(ies) should have a guiding hand in determining what it means to succeed. This applies not only to D&I products like events or regional strategies, but also to core services provided by the company.
  2. Tie social capital to outcomes, not intentions. Stop applauding commitments to diversity and start applauding measurable increases in the quality of life of women and URM employees. Rather than relying on a logo change or marketing campaign to signal inclusiveness, rely on communities that trust a company’s presence to speak well about it.
  3. Use different tactics to convince. If profit is the lever that pushes leaders into D&I work, that company’s D&I strategy is likely to be skewed from the start. Use other tactics (linking D&I to company culture, drawing on shared empathy, making personal appeals, storytelling, etc.) so that leaders who buy in do so on a deeper level. Profit can be a sweetener after there’s interest, but it should never be the main appeal of D&I work.
  4. Bring in factors other than profit. Good D&I strategies don’t just generate more revenue, but also result in better reputation, higher community trust, and increased sustainability and longevity. Valuing these alternative metrics means that occasionally, the right decision will be the one that makes a company less money (gasp!).
  5. Rely on the business case to defend your work. The business case is a powerful fallback when you encounter resistance. Know the numbers so that when others push back (typically with “business case”-style concerns about revenue or productivity) you can address their concerns using their own language. The business case makes a powerful tactic in any advocate’s toolbox, but it can’t stand alone.

Organizations that don’t acknowledge the shortcomings of the business case for diversity risk bleeding the trust of consumers in a world that is more impatient than ever for real change, not empty talk. The days where cosmetic changes to “business as usual” pass as acceptable D&I work are ending. It’s time we start looking at solutions beyond the business case.

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Originally posted on Medium

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