Three Ways to Step Up Your Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Expert Interviews
January 19, 2021

Diversity, inclusion and equity are more important than ever. Brands are under pressure from employees and consumers to respond to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others, as well as to the demands for equality and access on the part of people of color. As companies take a hard look at their D&I initiatives and scramble to improve, it’s tempting to put on a Band-Aid instead of doing the long work.

On the first day of NRF’s 2021 Chapter One conference, Ronda Carnegie, chief innovation officer for The Female Quotient, led a panel that included Rebecca Allen, founder and CEO of footwear brand Rebecca Allen, Inc.; Chana Ginelle Ewing, founder and CEO of beauty marketplace GEENIE; and Christiane Pendarvis, co-president and chief merchandising and design officer for Savage x Fenty, Rihanna’s lingerie line. 

These retail experts were clear: Change starts inside the company, and internal communication must drive an organization’s diversity goals and initiatives.

Here are three ways retailers can make sure their messages about diversity and inclusion are delivered—and heard:

Avoid the barbell

Allen noted that there’s frequently an awareness barbell within a company, where senior executives know it’s important to show leadership on inclusion and lower-level employees both understand the need and themselves reflect diversity.

“But in the middle-level folks, that’s not necessarily brought in. That is a disconnect that ruins everything,” Allen said. 

If you’re not looking inward about how the message is carried throughout the organization, she said, “The message will fall flat.”

A robust communications plan that reaches all levels of the organization should include not only goals but also the plan for achieving them and how you’ll measure progress.

Pull up or shut up

Said Ewing, “During the George Floyd protests, we saw a lot of beauty brands called to the mat.” 

For example, the Pull Up or Shut Up campaign launched by Sharon Chuter of UOMA urged brands to release the number of black employees at their companies and the levels at which they worked.

“A lot of that was driven by employees not feeling the message was internalized,” Ewing said. “They were seeing a disconnect between what companies were saying on outside and on the inside.”

As consumers call on brands to respond to demands for political and social change, retailers feel urgency in crafting public messages and social posts. It’s a lot easier to post to Twitter and Instagram than to actually change. 

It’s so tempting to send out some tweets or black out your Instagram. But a quick public response that isn’t backed up by real action is dangerous, Allen pointed out. 

She said, “It’s okay for people to still be listening and learning. It’s okay if you’re still figuring out your strategy.”

More important than responding to consumer pressure is to lay the groundwork for meaningful transformation.

Added Carnegie, “If we’re just checking a box, we’re not coming to work with authenticity. We all have to do the work.” 

Understand equity as a business problem

For any business, Pendarvis said, equity is not only about doing what’s morally right. 

‘The reality is, it’s a business problem. You have to tackle it in the same way as any other,” she said.

And like any business problem, gathering data is the first step. Pendarvis said you should analyze your representation at all levels of the company. Then, focus on representation in critical positions and in positions that lead to leadership roles. Examine your plans for succession and for employee retention. 

“Unless you’re willing to look objectively at your situation, both externally and internally, you’ll never be able to do this in an authentic way,” Pendarvis warned. “Because your employee base is your foundation.”

To drive D&I at every level, communication is key

When it comes to communicating your D&I plan, traditional email, static intranets, and even messaging apps aren’t built to deploy the level of communication needed to guarantee a successful company-wide rollout. You need to do more than just post your policy on an online message board and pray that store teams read it. Worse yet, sending a message from the C-suite directly to your frontlines leapfrogs critical middle-management stakeholders, resulting in that dreaded “barbell effect.” When you’re ensuring that every single employee feels heard and represented, there’s too much at stake.

The solution? An all-in-one communications ecosystem that not only conveys your brand messaging in an authentic, visually appealing way, but also ensures organizational alignment up and down the complex retail hierarchy. Zipline was built to solve the unique challenges of communication in retail organizations. Please reach out to learn more about how we help leading brands execute major initiatives, including D&I, across the fleet.