The FiscalNote Executive Institute hosted an interactive virtual discussion, “Turning Accountability into Action,” with Stephanie Childs, Vice President of Global Government Relations at Kimberly-Clark Corporation; Shaila Manyam, Senior Vice President, Client Lead, and Senior Director of Public Affairs & Crisis at BCW Global; and Monica Almond, Founder of The Almond Group on Jan. 13, 2021. The discussion was moderated by Chris Lu, FiscalNote’s Senior Strategy Advisor and former Obama White House Cabinet Secretary; and Patricia Bory, Founder and Principal Consultant at Include Consulting.
“Turning Accountability into Action” focused on how companies and organizations can keep the momentum going on their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in 2021 with the support and investment of senior leadership, and the challenges companies experience in DEI initiatives.
As a preface to the discussion, FNEI invited participants to fill out a survey about the current state of DEI at their companies. The survey results were insightful, with 40 percent sharing that DEI was one of the most important initiatives in 2021. In case you missed this interactive virtual discussion, here are some key takeaways from the event:
Companies are at a critical juncture with DEI where inaction is no longer an option
- Nasdaq has filed a proposal with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt new listing rules that would require more than 3,000 companies listed on Nasdaq’s U.S. stock exchange to publicly disclose diversity statistics for their boards of directors within a year of the SEC approving the proposal.
- According to McKinsey & Company’s “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters” report, companies with more than 30 percent of women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30.
- Organizations with inclusive cultures are three times as likely to be high performing, based on Deloitte’s insights on redefining leadership with an inclusive approach.
- The events of 2020, particularly the surge of awareness created by the Black Lives Matter movement, raised an alarm on a long-overdue social equity crisis, one that corporations are only just beginning to address. As speaker Patricia Bory stated, DEI feels “urgent yet slow. It feels like regression and progression simultaneously. It feels fragmented and harmonic. It feels terrifying while empowering. And it feels dire and hopeful.”
Committing to diversity but not inclusion is a huge issue for companies
When it comes to creating a culture of belonging, companies often take missteps that reflect tokenism rather than a true commitment to being intentionally inclusive. For example, adding women, people of color, and LGBTQ hires to meet a DEI quota without assessing whether the workplace has an accountable, supportive community in place; or asking the most senior person of color in the room to spearhead DEI initiatives simply because of their race. Performative actions demonstrate a lack of authenticity.
“How do you feel you perform when you feel like you truly belong? Now think about how you perform when you feel like you don’t belong. It literally shifts how we show up,” moderator Patricia Bory noted. “In this sense, the question for leaders interested in building a culture that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive is how do you build a culture of belonging? The question of who belongs is at the heart of the current state of our nation. It’s also at the heart of your companies’ livelihoods.”
Without an intentional environment, “people will leave, the retention won’t be there,” speaker Shaila Manyam said. DEI is an essential part of a company’s business strategy, “not a stand-alone.”
DEI accountability comes from the top down — if leadership isn’t invested, it isn’t going to work
Speaker Monica Almond shared a simple but powerful metaphor for understanding the current state of DEI at companies. She encourages us to think of a snow-capped mountain. “When you think about leadership structures at many organizations, public affairs and government affairs firms, corporations, nonprofits … the majority of leadership at the top, like the top of that mountain, is white,” she said. “The most effective thing that you can do is to have a truly unabashed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by sharing power. The top of your mountain and the top of that leadership structure shouldn’t be all white.”
It’s important for the C-suite team to “get their house in order,” speaker Stephanie Childs said, noting that sharing external messaging but not making internal progress conveys inauthenticity. “C-suite leaders need to be willing to talk about DEI, invest in it, and embrace it as a business and cultural imperative.”
Creating a fundamental shift in a company’s culture begins with leadership; an occasional HR workshop is not the solution, Manyam noted. “[DEI] can’t be addressed just by hiring a chief diversity officer. This is a fundamental organizational business and cultural change, and frankly needs to happen top-down, bottom-up, and across everything — from your supply chain to your marketing,” she said.
What’s a good starting point with DEI for companies who don’t know where to begin?
Almond advises her clients to determine what their “‘why” is for DEI. If organizations don’t have a clear sense of why they’re taking on a strong DEI initiative, that’s when the work gets tough and they’re going to ditch it, she cautioned. “What’s in your existing mission statement that can help you make some sense around why this new initiative is important, and determining the new effort that you’re going to take on is key,” Almond said.
Doing an assessment of a company’s overall culture is also imperative to beginning comprehensive DEI work. “Ask what is your existing organizational culture in your company, and think about the last time you did a climate survey to get a sense of how the people in your existing leadership team [and] the people across your organization feel about being a part of your organization,” Almond recommended.
DEI is changing how companies are held accountable in lobbying and public affairs
The way corporations responded to the storming of the U.S. Capitol demonstrates “where you put your money in the candidates you support really says something about you,” Manyam said. “That’s why DEI needs to inform everything you do. Issues don’t live in a vacuum anymore. They’re part of your whole story.”
The good news is that corporations can be a powerful force in changing the system, Childs said. And that change is not only internal but also external through strategic business partnerships, as well as through the purposeful work government affairs professionals can commit to accomplishing every day. “The thing that really fulfills me the most about being a lobbyist is being able to interject social justice issues into the work that I do, using my corporate platform to make the world a better place and to help drive the change that’s needed,” she added.
At Kimberly-Clark, the company has been able to raise awareness about the problems of diaper need and build a robust program to provide essential products for the under-served communities, raising issues of maternal health equity in the United States. “There are real issues around the high Black maternal and infant mortality rate,” Childs said. “But I can put the power of my company’s mission behind these issues to help raise awareness and start driving solutions that create better outcomes for Black moms and babies. So I think no matter what industry you’re in, no matter what sector you’re in, there are important issues that companies can engage in authentically that align business strategy with the greater good.”
Infusing social good into your daily work is also a different way to build relationships with members of Congress. “Maybe you can reach out to people who normally wouldn’t talk to you. It’s a great way to associate your brand with something that’s positive, and personally, it’s just very fulfilling” Childs said.
For public affairs professionals, being proactive rather than reactive to how your company is
approaching DEI is critical. Try to address DEI before it becomes a problem and embrace it as a positive change, not a bandaid for crisis communications.
Realizing that culture is fluid is also critical to how companies can determine their own benchmarking and find points of connection within their work communities that support an authentic approach to DEI, Shanyam said. Her firm, BCW Global, has a Polycultural Consulting Unit that uses highly differentiated life experiences and specific views on racial and societal issues to map these points of connection, universal insights, and shared human truths between clients and stakeholders.
What are some key steps you can take to turn accountability into action within your C-suite team?
- Determine your “why” for DEI at your company by doing a deeper dive into your existing mission statement and company structure, with a commitment to creating a culture of inclusion.
- Hold yourself and other senior leadership members accountable in how you acknowledge and support DEI through your words and actions.
- Realize it will take incremental actions to implement long-term, comprehensive changes.
Bring social good to the professional, daily work you do and in how you solve problems on behalf of your company. Find where DEI aligns with the great work your firm is already focused on and use this overlap to create new relationships and inspire and engage your teams.