Diversity Thought Leadership

The Business Benefits of Strategic Diversity and Inclusion

E. pluribus unum” graces the back of the U.S. dollar and is Latin for “out of many, one.”

The phrase captures the original vision of our country, where the differences of the colonies created a greater whole. This concept is also at the core of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) principles, which took center stage at a recent panel discussion co-hosted by PRSA’s Georgia Chapter and ColorComm, a national business community for women of color in the communications industry.

The panel — comprised of Andrew Davis, chief diversity and inclusion officer at The Coca-Cola Company, Sharon V. Jones, senior vice president, director human resources and director of diversity and inclusion at Ketchum North America, and Anna Stevens, vice president of human resources and chief people officer at HD Supply — discussed everything from D&I’s business value and how to implement successful inclusion practices to the future of diversity in a millennial workforce.

The group agreed that D&I must be integrated into a company’s strategic plan and championed by leadership across business lines. As a strategy, it can help drive change and encourage innovation.

Building a diverse team

In the agency arena, it’s no surprise that change is also being driven externally. “Our clients are demanding a diverse team structure,” said Jones. “They’re looking for diversity in every way. When we’re talking to clients, we have to ask ourselves — do we have the right people in the room sharing authentic voices?”

Davis echoed these thoughts. “D&I is beyond race and gender now. It’s about diversity of thought, experience, industry. It has to match strategic organizational goals regardless of the size of the company. When diversity and inclusion is elevated, it lifts everyone.”

Diversity can be a recruitment strategy, too. “We put a focus on diverse talent across the board — industry, experience, etc.,” Stevens said. “We tell our associates ‘you are the brand’ and need to make sure we are who we say we are. It also supports our customer focus when they see people who look like them.”

Measuring D&I

Though the methods of measuring it may vary by company and industry, D&I almost always positively affects business performance and customer satisfaction, the panelists agreed. Jones noted that Ketchum has built-in diversity goals for employees who are eligible for bonus pay, while Stevens at HD Supply said they look at the level of customer engagement as a metric.

Davis recalled an instance at The Coca-Cola Company when D&I created a direct cost savings for the company’s marketing efforts thanks to one of its affinity groups.

“Members of a Hispanic/Spanish speaking group pointed out that some of our materials might read as offensive to native speakers,” he said. “They asked for a chance to translate the essence of the message instead of letting the translators handle it and we said yes.”

The group used a crowd-sourcing tool as part of a pilot test to translate messages for different Spanish speaking countries such as Chile, Mexico and Spain to help ensure the content would resonate with different communities. It worked and saved millions in translation costs.

Transcending the workplace

Inclusion can also inform the lives employees lead outside the workplace. Stevens noted that HD Supply has built D&I into their associate promise. “One of our business goals is to improve the lives of our employees and that extends to their families. We work with HR to help our associates see what’s available within the company to help them move forward.”

Sometimes that means giving employees space to bring their whole selves to work, which can feel challenging when all too often the focus seems to be on divisions between groups. “It takes courage to address difficult topics,” said Jones, “but we have to give a voice to the whole selves of our employees. Build your courage by talking to people who understand your views first before sharing with a larger group. Be persistent. Pick and choose when to have the difficult conversations, but don’t give up.”

Overall the group is optimistic about the evolution of D&I and expect to see it continue as millennials become the dominant generation in the workplace. “D&I strategy and focus is really hard,” said Davis, “but we’re learning how to reach people where they are to initiate the discussion. Maybe the younger generation will help resolve it.”

“Millennials like to live out loud,” added Jones, “and organizations will have to change. But when people become truly engaged — feeling like they belong, have a seat at the table, and a voice that is welcome — that creates energy.”


Marci Davis is communications practice leader at Jacobs Engineering. She is also PR committee co-chair for PRSA’s Georgia Chapter.

1 Comment

  • Organizations often promote and promise diversity and inclusion without actually putting those values into practice. Diversity should not be forced in order to fill a quota; it should reflect as a genuine desire to be inclusive to the public. It is important to utilize diversity in all aspects of an organization, whether that be through the stakeholders, the employees, management, or community relations. Diversity is a part of corporate social responsibility, as it gives an equal voice to everyone in the community. Employees and customers alike want to see themselves represented in an organization. Just as Coca-Cola used Spanish speakers in its marketing to native speakers, organizations should listen to and utilize the perspective of minorities in their employees and communities. However, PR is still a vastly underrepresented field, and I hope to see change in professional PR in the future.

    Bethany Johnson, WKU Student

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