• Audrey Hametner

Your VOC Should support your DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) Strategy

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

In recent months, I have been contacted by many of my clients, who have shared their concerns, visions, and desires to create a meaningful change in their organizations. Diversity of markets, customers, ideas, and talent is driving the need for DEI (Diversity, equity & inclusion) as a new leadership capability. Read on to find out how to leverage VOC (Voice of the Customer), avoid ‘Diversity Fatigue”, and create an environment that supports your people and your profit.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
Peter Drucker.

Why It Matters

In the end, business is business. We are here to make money, through the delivery of a product or service to those who need it. Without the right people on the front line, you lose. Without the right attitude in those people, you lose. With the right people feeling unfairly treated, you lose again. Even if you win temporarily by paying lip service to DEI, time has shown that in the end you will lose when the realities are exposed; a bigger problem for SMEs who are more tightly integrated in the communities they serve. Customer demographics and attitudes are changing. This is not a ‘fad’ and this is not a ‘moment’. Empowered through technology and with greater choice, an increasingly diverse customer base expects better personalization of products and services.

Customers want organizations to speak to their needs, and more importantly resonate with the thoughts and ideals of their now, the latter being a drastic change from the past. The VOC will shift as age profiles, education, and migration flows change by location, and these shifts should in turn impact how you adjust and position your policies. For example, women today make 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions and account for $7 trillion in spending. African American consumers are responsible for $1.2 trillion in purchases annually. As you develop your DEI messages to grow, retain and develop your employee retention and satisfaction, you should be thinking about who your people are and the needs of each of those customers segments you serve. It sounds basic, but in our fast-moving economy, it often gets forgotten in the journey for survival.

Ensuring that the VOC (Voice of the Customer) is supporting your DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) strategy relates directly to creating competitive advantage, and how in tune your organisation is to relating to and understanding the society you are living in.

1. Understand the difference between Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

As we all come to the table from varying backgrounds, the relation of DEI will differ to each of us. This in itself is why it has become such an important topic. We cannot expect to get it right, if we cannot agree on what we are talking about and recognize how it impacts everyone differently.

Diversity is defined by who sits at the table, while inclusion is which voices get heard. Equity means everyone at the table gets the support they need.

Diversity:

Diversity can only exist in relation to others. An individual cannot be “diverse,” but a pool of candidates or team can be. Diversity of identity may relate to socialized and visible race, gender identity, religion, nationality, body shape or size, or age, to name a few.

Equity:

When we treat everyone equally, we treat everyone the same, but when we treat everyone equitably, we focus on individualistic needs. In a diverse workplace, differences exist, and people require support in different ways. By understanding equity we have to recognize the multitude of needs that everyone has, the various ways that people experience and process experiences, and the wonderful opportunities available when we pay attention.

Inclusion:

One misnomer is that an organization that is diverse, is automatically inclusive. This is invariably false. Being inclusive takes intent. When people from various backgrounds converge and work together, you often times end up with cliques and fragmented diversity. Inclusion is an environment where the team or organization welcome and support the development of all views. In a diverse workplace where differences exist, and inclusion is a goal, it is essential to ensure that everyone feels valued for their contributions.

2. Recognise that Diversity Correlates to Profitability and Value Creation

Diversity ignites creativity, problem solving and innovation

According to Mckinsey’s Delivering Through Diversity 2017 report, companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. For ethnic/cultural diversity, top-quartile companies were 33% more likely to outperform on profitability.

Ignoring VOC in DEI:

· Weakens your brand culture

· Damages your brand reputation

· Increases the cost of recruitment (when disillusioned employees move on)

· Leads to ineffective HR people management

· Results in out of touch leadership and poor governance

· Affects your bottom line

3. Acknowledge that Your Customer is Buying Your Values, Not Just Your Product

As already mentioned, today’s buyer doesn’t just buy into your product, they also buy the ideals and values of your company. People expect the companies they shop with and the organizations they support to take a stand—in fact, 70% of U.S. consumers say it’s important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues. Yet more than half of consumers (53%) believe brands only take a stand for public relations or marketing purposes. For your communication to be authentic, it is essential that VOC is shaping your strategy.

Step 1

The first step in DEI is ensuring that a company’s workforce is diverse and representative of its culture and customer base.

Step 2

Post recruitment, learning and development leaders play a key role in creating an inclusive organizational culture. Research from the Center for Talent Innovation has found that inclusive leadership and clear career paths are two “levers that drive inclusion.”

Step 3

Be consistent. Recent research has shown that more than three-quarters of all consumers (77%) believe employees have a responsibility to speak up when their employers make business decisions that contradict a company’s stated values.

4. Be Prepared to Have the Tough Conversations

To create the type of environment where people want to remain, and be part of and contribute to your organisation, means being prepared to have open and honest conversations. Bias can appear in both expected and unexpected ways. It can be challenging to initiate productive conversations around such sensitive topics, but short-term discomfort is necessary for long term change.

Having tough conversations in a supportive environment is key. I have met many leaders who do not realize that their organizational culture has not been open enough to allow people to speak and create dialogue without fear of repercussion. Yet when openness missing, the conversation will remain buried, and you lose.


Emotional intelligence is another critical component for success in DEI policy creation, adoption, and development. Not everyone is ready to have these authentic conversations, and it’s harder for certain people to start them. It’s essential that leaders are seen to model being an ally, and not a judge:

  • Be humble

  • Replace judgement with interest

  • Support and coach

  • Make space for diverse voices at the decision table

  • Be inquisitive and always ask questions

5. Create a Culture of Belonging

‘Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.’
-Oscar Wilde

It goes without saying that diversity and inclusion can hold different meaning for different people across various cultures, yet the importance attributed to the feeling of belonging is considered a universal one. It is key for every organization to create and encourage an environment where all employees are made to feel like they belong.

According to a recent LinkedIn survey of over 6,000 global professionals, most employees agreed that the following things make them feel like they belong:

· Being recognized for my accomplishments (59%)

· Having opportunities to express my opinions freely (51%)

· Feeling that my contributions in team meetings are valued (50%)

Understand your current and future employee base. Each may require different approaches. If they don’t get the feeling that they can develop as a professional, or if they feel that their efforts are not appreciated, they’re likely to leave, which can deprive your organization of bright, young talent.

Summary

According to PwC, 83% of investors believe higher ESG (environmental, social and governance) management will improve returns and/or reduce risk. Getting your ESG proposition right links to higher value creation. If DEI strategy fundamentally drives the S in your ESG proposition, where do you stand? If your product or service is linked to the end customers’ value system, how do you want to be seen? Finally, if you care about creating and maintaining an environment that your people can thrive in and do their best work in, what are you doing about it?

THG Advisory works with clients to leverage individual differences, and ensure that VOC is driving their DEI strategy.

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