From awareness to progress.

Kisha Payton, Director, DEI Strategy

Allyson Chapman, Senior Consultant

Ashley Guillaume, Consultant

Businesses are slow ships to turn. Most have spent the past year – rightfully so – looking internally to address diversity in their workforce, establishing or promoting employee resource groups, and essentially creating change from within. But with all the internal work happening behind the scenes, have customers been left out of the conversation? Are companies really progressing DEI agendas forward, or are they just getting policies aligned with a new baseline?

Over the past year, several events have captured the attention of the nation. The insurrection of the United States Capitol Building on January 6th, the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, the Logan Paul and Floyd Mayweather fight, and most notably, the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent trial of Derek Chauvin.

The death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests and sweeping changes in everyday conversations, government policies at state and federal levels, and even brand actions. At C Space, we’ve spent the last 12 months having raw and meaningful dialogues with consumers. We’ve learned that impactful conversations are the ones that make it personal, that conversation dies with deflection and believing our excuses, and that brands must be authentically inclusive when using their powerful voices in the conversation. We made our own commitments to diversity and inclusion and released a video entitled #WeAreHere about the change that is needed to improve our business and yours.
 
So, one year on: have we made progress?
 
To benchmark, we looked back at conversations with customers from 12 months ago in which we asked how they were feeling considering current civil events around racial justice: frustrated and hopeful.

Twelve months later and the sentiments remain the same, but frustration has grown: racial tensions are higher than ever, police brutality is more apparent and if any change has happened, it’s occurring at a slow pace.

Businesses are slow ships to turn. Most have spent the past year – rightfully so – looking internally to address diversity in their workforce, establishing or promoting employee resource groups, and essentially creating change from within. But with all the internal work happening behind the scenes, have customers been left out of the conversation? Are companies really progressing DEI agendas forward, or are they just getting policies aligned with a new baseline?
 

“Some say they are. So far it doesn’t seem like anything more than good PR.”
 
“I don’t know what they are actually doing”
 
“I honestly do not pay attention to corporate pandering, around this topic. Cynical as it sounds, I think most company actions on this topic are profit-driven.”
 
“It’s hard to tell because some of the supposed actions are not visible or tangible”
 
“Brands are spending ads to show they support it but no action shows”

 

Over the past year, we have worked with our clients and customers to understand three stages of change that need to happen in order to create true systemic progress.

Rejecting: “This is not my problem and I am not taking responsibility.”

Reacting: “I acknowledge that there is an issue and I am following someone else’s lead.”

Reforming: “This is my problem and I am taking responsibility.”

 

Rejecting

Companies have traditionally viewed DEI as a political and controversial problem to be handled with care. They have avoided speaking out on issues unless absolutely necessary – via press releases and legal statements. Today, DEI is no longer a political topic. It’s a human rights issue that demands a clear stance. Today, the idea of being neutral – especially for Millenials and Gen Z – means you run the risk of standing for nothing in a climate where people want to align with a company’s values. Today, DEI is no longer an issue of importance solely for underrepresented groups. It is an issue with universal value and concern. Companies that continue to “reject” the idea that they should get involved risk being left behind.

 

Reacting

Most companies have taken steps towards progressing DEI, but remain in a state of reaction: creating policies as problems arise, figuring things out as they go, being hesitant to take too many steps forward for fear of the reaction from those still a few steps behind. These steps can be meaningful, and the conversations that open up as a result can be life-changing. However, for customers this cycle of constantly responding to DEI can be perceived as a lack of true commitment.

 

Reforming

The companies who are seen as the most authentic in their DEI efforts are those with a clear commitment to not just reacting to systemic inequities, but reforming the system itself. It requires being a step ahead of the problem by understanding and representing all customers in deeper, more nuanced ways. It means creating the policy before issues arise, and demonstrating a sincere, consistent commitment to DEI.

 

These reforming companies, that proactively commit to internal and external gains, are the ones that can truly connect with customers in new, innovative and personal ways. They are the ones that can help swing the pendulum from frustration to hope. By being willing to move beyond seeing racial injustice as someone else’s problem, and instead make it something they own – it creates the possibility of enduring change that can reform the system in meaningful ways.