At a time when disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic persist amid national calls for racial justice, a number of CEOs have joined a coalition, aiming to affect change from the top down.
The coalition, CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace, according to PwC, a multinational professional services firm. Involvement in CEO Action increased almost 65% last quarter, the firm told HR Dive in an email. PwC U.S. Chair and Senior Partner Tim Ryan played a pivotal role in the creation of the coalition four years ago.
"I co-founded CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion in response to the killing of unarmed Black men in the summer of 2016," Ryan told HR Dive in an email. "Today, we are unfortunately continuing to experience these same incidents of violence and other social injustices, and combined with a global pandemic, the impact on our communities of color is substantial."
Employers have an opportunity to drive change, Ryan continued. "The business community has a unique but critical role to play in being a part of the solution, and the CEO Action is harnessing the power of over 1,200 coalition members to accelerate change inside our own walls and in our society," he explained. The coalition has also launched "the CEO Action for Racial Equity, a fellowship bringing together full-time employees from CEO Action member organizations who will dedicate 100% of their time to affecting policy solutions on race and equity," he said.
Diversity and inclusion, once sidelined at organizations, is now seen as a best business practice due to the work of D&I practitioners and evidence on return on investment (ROI), Anita Ward, the chief development officer at Salary Finance, said. Ward is a representative of the financial services community group, one of the special industry groups within the coalition.
"I think about maybe five years ago, CEOs who are progressive and thought leaders, said, 'wait a second, we're getting better results out of diverse teams; we're getting better results around diverse boards,' and began realizing there's actually an ROI," Ward said. "D&I professionals continued to lean in to show that, in fact, there is a business return, to show that inclusive teams are much more creative," she said. "They can pivot faster, they make quick decisions. And I think as that became apparent in corporate culture, it almost became like an adaptation — we've evolved."
The coalition, of course, has leaders looking at their own companies. Members in the financial services industry group, for example, launched a checklist when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
"We created a COVID-19 checklist because people needed to know what to do," Ward said. The checklist included expanding policies around telework and hiring practices to offer specific benefits that account for socio-economic and family concerns, like emergency childcare, access to counselors for employees feeling stressed and enhanced commuter benefits, according to Ward. You can't make "assumptions about bandwidth and accessibility," Ward said. The group also shared return-to-work strategies and shared workforce readiness surveys with a focus on how to support vulnerable populations, she said.
A major focus of the group is keeping D&I relevant in the pandemic by encouraging organizations to make it a priority, Ward said. "If you really want to build this, then you've got to start looking at the data in your own organization," she said. "You have to share measurements."
The group came up with a D&I scorecard with key measurements for financial services that includes accountability, which will ultimately be shared with the public, Ward said. The leaders also began sharing best practices around communication and listening. They explored how to listen and "not interject bias into that listening," Ward said.
Affecting external change
At Salary Finance, Ward, who has a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology, facilitates growth in the U.S. for the U.K.-based company, and must look both "inward and outward with respect to the entire D&I ecosystem." In a "very unique role, even in the D&I space," Ward has "broader influence on the expansion and growth of ...those products and services in the company," she said.
In financial services, this means one focus is lending. "Really all COVID had done, in my opinion, is shine a light on the social inequities that were already occurring," Ward said. "We've stepped up and said, what else can we be doing and what are we proposing to do around lending?" Ward continued, "COVID certainly became a reason to address how we are supporting vulnerable communities," including how to improve access to capital, Ward said.
Amid the pandemic, a July report by The National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that disparities in small business lending have continued. Ward said the group will address several issues. "What does lending look like in a new world?," for example. "How should we be influencing D&I when it comes to lending? Not just our normal [Community Reinvestment Act] CRA reporting, but how should we influence it? What do best practices look like?" she added. "This is a time for us to use D&I at the table for product development around lending," Ward said.
The group is also keeping a focus on supplier diversity. "Several of the banks have now added their D&I executive to their supplier diversity team," Ward said. "Our recommendation was that your D&I executive needs to be on that team. That really changes the thinking because a D&I professional can be looking at the supply chain with a different lens than your purchasing executive. The diversity score cards now include a measure of supplier diversity."
Supplier diversity is increasingly being recognized as a way to assist struggling, diverse small businesses amid the pandemic. It's important to ensure "your vendor pipeline, whether you're a business or the government, is truly sufficiently diverse," Jason Wright, a former partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Company, now president of the Washington Football Team, said during a corporate community roundtable July 28.
The COVID-19 checklist is just one deliverable that the financial services community group has made, and it is working on several others, according to Ward. "I know that we're implementing the checklist at Salary Finance," she said. "Many members are using this checklist, and then we will share it more broadly across the other organizations."
The group meets bi-weekly, Ward said. "Can you imagine getting 50 member organizations from 50 different banks all together on a phone call every two weeks to talk about D&I?" she said. "It's quite phenomenal what happens behaviorally when you get a diverse group together to talk about diversity. It's extraordinary what CEO Action has done. There's so much passion and purpose driven behind this."