Written by MARK RILEY
Nationwide, diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) awareness is at an all-time high, thanks in part to the social justice movements of recent years. With the Fresno area being considered among the 10 most diverse cities by U.S. News and World Report, building this awareness and fostering conversations continues to be top of mind.
Despite having a diverse population, there’s still much more to be done. Companies can play a role by supporting initiatives that actively address the barriers and challenges around racial and economic equity in the community. For example, Bank of America has been supporting the Central Valley Community Foundation’s Fresno DRIVE initiative, a 10-year investment plan centered on racial equity driven by community leaders, for the past three years, and the bank recently committed support to the organization’s new jobs initiative in partnership with Career Nexus.
In addition to supporting the community, there are opportunities to drive DE&I awareness and equity in the workplace. While workplaces are heading in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go.
According to BofA Global Research, it will take 257 years to close the current economic gender gap at today’s pace of change; there were no black senior executives in any Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 companies last year; and more than 75% of Nasdaq companies don’t have a woman, under-represented minority or LGBTQ+ member on the board.
Below are key points to consider for your company’s DE&I strategy to get us closer to a more equitable, ethical and financially robust future, along with steps that companies can take to drive meaningful change.
DE&I is an economic engine
If we embrace DE&I fully, we have an opportunity to build better and fairer. Closing the gender and race gap in education and employment would have generated $2.9 trillion more in economic output in 2019 alone — $70 trillion more since 1990. Our new, post-COVID-19 reality of flexible work-from-home models, online activism among Gen Z and corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments are also catalysts that will boost DE&I efforts. Prioritizing DE&I will deliver greater results for your business, too. Empirical evidence finds that companies with superior scores on workforce and board diversity earn higher ROEs and have a lower earnings risk than lower-ranked peers.
Women leading the way
The growing participation and advancement of women in the workforce is boosting productivity, income equality and economic growth. Yet driven by existing inequities, women’s jobs were 19% more at risk during the pandemic, compromising progress. If action is taken now to achieve gender-parity improvements, including investments in education, family planning, maternal health, digital and financial inclusion, and addressing the burden of unpaid care, $13 trillion could be added to global GDP, according to analysis from McKinsey.
LGBTQ+ acceptance on the rise
If the LGBTQ+ population were a nation, it would be the fourth largest economy in the world. Twenty-eight countries have legalized gay marriage, and in 2019, the World Health Organization announced it would no longer consider transgender a “mental disorder.” This isn’t to say things are perfect — today, only 81 countries offer some form of employment protection for LGBTQ+ workers, and LGBTQ+ employees continue to see critical gaps in workplace benefits and access to healthcare.
Mental health can’t be ignored
Addressing mental health topics openly and honestly, and connecting employees to trusted resources, mentors and support, strengthens a company’s culture and workforce productivity. While nearly half of U.S. adults will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime, only 60% will report it to their company, either out of fear of stigmatization or uncertainty over whether mental illness is a “legitimate” disability claim. We can expect this to change, however, in part because of the importance younger generations place on mental health issues and expanded mental health benefits at workplaces.
Putting DE&I into action: What you can do now
You can work to create a more inclusive workplace environment by evaluating the needs of your stakeholders and business. Here are key questions and steps to consider:
- — Is your workplace designed with DE&I in mind? Consider an external audit of your internal structure and processes, or get advice from an expert in inclusive design principles. Use data to benchmark where you stand and create measurable goals for the future.
- — Expand company audits beyond diverse representation to metrics that assess equity and inclusion. For instance, are tenure, promotions and raises equal across represented groups? If not, take swift action to address discrepancies, and implement recurring pay and title audits to continue to ensure equitable compensation practices and hold your company accountable.
- — Public comments should reflect internal policies and practices. Before making a statement about supporting social justice, for example, review your company’s policies and make sure you are aligned in your actions.
- — Make changes that demonstrate your DE&I commitments. This can include ensuring representation of diverse talent, from the executive level on down; strengthening leadership accountability and capability; enabling equality of opportunity through fairness and transparency; promoting openness and tackling micro-aggressions; and demonstrating unequivocal support for diversity.
- — Sometimes employees just need to talk, either in “safe spaces” among themselves or with senior leaders. Try creating internal online and in-person groups for people to share ideas and experiences. Ensure that senior leaders are available and open to honest conversations. Employee engagement builds trust, which in turn drives employee retention, productivity and financial performance.
More than a reactive policy to manage negative behaviors, DE&I must be prioritized as part of a broader corporate strategy. We now know that more diverse and inclusive companies make for better investment results and business outcomes. There is now both a workforce expectation and a business imperative for DE&I efforts that create a better future for all.
Mark Riley is Business Banking Market Executive and President of Bank of America Fresno-Visalia.