Will the Supreme Court ruling, which prohibits the use of race as a factor in college admissions, have a significant impact on how companies approach diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging? The FiscalNote Executive Institute reached out to FNEI Advisory Board member Chris Genteel, former Google DEI & Procurement ESG leader and founder of Glidelane, a firm that helps companies and organizations embed DEI in their products, services & business operations, for his insights.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rejection of race-conscious college admissions policies, there have been questions about what this means for DEI at companies in terms of hiring practices and other employee issues. How else can companies think strategically about DEI beyond these key areas?
Globally, companies serve users and work with partners who are critical to getting business done. We can often measure the same kinds of inequitable outcomes and equitable engagements in these areas as well. And those areas are hitting our companies’ bottom lines when we are unable to reach customers in communities of color or customers across gender, or take advantage of the talented suppliers or third-party firms that we need to help deliver services and products. If we do this as companies, we’re really robbing ourselves of the full opportunity in the market to succeed.
Alongside the “business case for diversity” — which is that more diverse teams make for better products — we do directly have to address the idea of making products better for more diverse users. And we can only do that when our partnership ecosystems are truly diverse. This is an important moment for us to ask ourselves: Do we believe that reaching customers, partners, suppliers, and users everywhere is truly critical to our bottom line, reputation, and greater mission as companies? I think the answer is yes and now we must determine how we embrace strategies to move that forward.
What are some practical ways companies can start building DEI into their product development, supplier diversity, and overall operations?
On the product development side, for any company delivering products to users at scale, it’s understanding who their customers are, how marginalization might be creeping into how they serve the market, and then going and talking to customers from those communities. We often find that lines and customer bases across race, gender, and ethnicity, tend to form naturally. Making efforts to identify and understand the needs of customers in those communities, look at their user feedback, and address them is critical.
On the supplier side, if you don’t have a diverse supplier base — one that includes businesses owned by women, minority groups, LGBTQIA, veterans, or disabled people — you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to take advantage of that talent in the marketplace. You can begin to address that by understanding your own customer and supplier base, and look for what groups may be underrepresented. Partnering and buying locally with organizations in the public sphere to get closer to those communities are ways to begin to bridge that gap.
You have to look at your own supplier base and find where companies are likely to have diverse-owned businesses and what those businesses are. Focus on understanding their experience with the company, ways in which they can grow the supplier relationships together, and ultimately grow their business with suppliers to the degree that they’re successful with a company. Supplier diversity — as with product inclusion, or any other kind of business inclusion efforts — it’s not about a handout. It’s about taking advantage of talent that companies often have blind spots for and don’t include in their operations and market efforts.
Can you talk a little bit about how DEIBA is increasingly a cross-functional effort that requires the expertise and attention of teams across the organization? How can someone at a company make DEI intrinsic to its operations?
I think that the goal of embracing DEI as a company should start from the Board and Chief Executive, and then ripple on down through the organization. I think that we’ve come to a point where the role of the Chief Diversity Officer is now recognized. In many cases, DEI is sourced in the HR or people unit in order to create the right outcomes across people.
But that says less about the kinds of outcomes that we want to create through our sales and marketing, procurement, product development, and research efforts, depending on the industry. I think the questions that companies need to ask are “What communities of users, customers, and partners are core to our success? And where might our blind spots be, where marginalizations that are traditionally seen across this country, and others, may be replicated throughout these operations?” It’s going to be the job of executives in those offices to center those kinds of operations.
We see CMOs thinking about focusing on how users in communities of color feel about companies in terms of brand and reputation. We see Chief Procurement Officers centering outcomes around spend with diverse-owned suppliers and the criticality of diversity and supply chains. We see Chief Revenue Officers, thinking critically about serving customers across communities being successful, selling into and retaining those customers. We see Product leaders thinking about inclusive product development, and how we can develop and test with communities that have been traditionally marginalized.
So it’s really going to be the responsibility of executives across the enterprise to ensure that DEI is thriving, depending on the kinds of outcomes the organization can create. All of those outcomes — whether they’re people, sales, marketing, procurement, or product outcomes — can be measured through economic equity, user trust, and brand reputation, and ultimately lead to the success of the enterprise.