More than 19 months after the killing of George Floyd and the announcement by so many companies of social justice commitments, journalists, investors and regulators have been asking whether the pledges made by CEOs to fight systemic societal racism and inequality have been met.
The authors of this column can’t attest to whether all of these promises have been fulfilled, but, as leaders of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the largest business-driven coalition, by number of CEO signatories, to effect meaningful change to advance DEI, we do know that real progress is being made by many companies across the U.S.
While it will take years for the representation numbers of diverse employees in the workforce to increase to where we want them to be, it is equally critical to focus on the extensive work underway to improve business processes, evolve strategies and foster truly inclusive and equitable cultures that welcome people of all races, genders, and backgrounds. Even if an organization hires more women and people of color, it won’t be able to retain them without a culture that provides equity, opportunity, and a deeply rooted sense of belonging.
CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was co-founded in 2017 in response to a series of racially driven killings that happened the year prior. The intent, then and now, was to mobilize the business community around the idea that advancing DEI is a societal challenge—not a competitive one—and that companies collaborating will be more effective in moving beyond incremental change to build more equitable workplaces and communities.
Here are three areas where we’re seeing progress in line with social justice commitments:
Greater transparency through workforce data
It’s almost a cliché that “what gets measured gets done,” but it’s also true. CEO Action recently brought together top diversity and HR officers from more than 300 companies to learn from leaders who are using data to drive accountability and take action in building more diverse workplaces.
Colgate-Palmolive, the multinational consumer products company, for example, deploys a data dashboard to identify opportunities to make a tangible difference in advancing recruitment, retention, and promotion of diverse employees by monitoring which groups (by ethnicity, gender, etc.) are moving up or not, and the diversity of candidate slates for each job (with a target of 50% diversity for each slate).
With pressure from stakeholders to show true transparency, more signatories than ever before are making their workforce diversity data available through annual DEI reports, which also discuss aspirational targets for coming years, or through a diversity dashboard on their website, like the one Tapestry, the parent company of the Coach, Kate Spade, and Stuart Weitzman brands, provides.
Fostering supply chain diversity
Lowe’s, which operates 2,200 retail locations, recently presented its work in diversifying its supply chain to other CEO Action signatories. To confirm that Lowe's shelves adequately meet customer demands, the retailer invited small, diversebusinesses to pitch their products, from glue to chili mix, and received 1,300 submissions the first year. Eight businesses of varying backgrounds were selected and received mentorship from Lowe's merchants that helped them expand their reach, grow their business and connect with new consumer audiences. The top business also received a $50,000 grant.
At PwC, 31% of every reportable dollar spent is with diverse suppliers, and the goal is to increase that share to 40% in the next few years. The firm is also pairing leaders with diverse businesses for a 12-month program focused on supplier objectives as part of a mentoring and education program. Cintas, MLB (Major League Baseball), and Ariel Investments are other signatories whose active supply chain diversity (“business diversity” for Ariel Investments) programs prioritize forming contractual relationships with minority firms. They are focused on expanding the numbers of diverse company partners, helping to reduce inequities and drive the broader economic development of our society.
Collaborating across industries to combat racial inequality
Some companies, while working to build inclusive cultures within their walls, are simultaneously collaborating to drive measurable action and meaningful change around DEI across their industries.
PVH Corp., one of the world’s largest fashion companies with iconic brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, co-sponsored a report with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) that surveyed 41 companies in the industry and considered personal experiences and structural challenges around DEI. From the survey findings, PVH and CFDA identified a series of nine commitments to improve DEI that could be made at the individual, company, or industry level. These include increasing diverse representation and diverse candidate slates, especially in front of and behind the camera for advertisements, and reaching out directly to minority communities with all job opportunities.
Herman Miller, a globally recognized leader in design and furnishings which is now part of the MillerKnoll collective, became a CEO Action signatory in 2020 as it was expanding its internal diversity efforts. Inspired by the cross-industry collaboration within the coalition, in 2021, it initiated the Diversity in Design (DID) Collaborative, including Adobe, Levi Strauss and Fossil Group among others, to create and foster systemic change in increasing diversity across the industry. DID is tackling the lack of representation of Black creatives in design in the U.S. by providing awareness, career opportunities, networking, and mentorship for Black youth and college students through the building of an educational pipeline leading to full-time employment.
Still other companies are forging business relationships that provide experiences directly to job seekers in underserved, diverse communities. Randstad USA, the domestic division of the world’s largest staffing company, created an initiative called TRANSCEND in 2020 to drive systemic change in diverse and untapped communities. Through collaborations with organizations like Cisco, Techbridge, and Urban Strategies, the program has successfully provided participants with thousands of hours of professional development, mentorship and training.
Looking back and looking ahead
For many organizations, the rise of the social justice movement in 2020 was a wake-up call for deliberate action—and American companies have not ignored the call. On the contrary, they are making significant changes in their operations and cultures, both internally and as a community.
If the business community has proven anything over the last two years, it is that through sustained actions we are capable of making a meaningful difference in society while building trust. And as we take critical steps to recruit, retain, and promote diverse talent in an effort to shift the makeup of our workforce, there is no doubt about the imperative to build stronger cultures of belonging. We know that the hard work of truly achieving equity, transparency, and representation continues to lie ahead of us, and we hope to continue to earn your trust as we achieve measurable progress along the way.