Launching a diversity strategy within an organization often begins with either building or sharing the business case. And yet, Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co, has said that when someone shows him the business case of homogeneity, he’ll build the business case for diversity.
His comments get at a fundamental paradigm shift within the business community about diversity, which is — Why do we need to keep proving the point that diversity and inclusion are good for our businesses to justify the effort to shift our cultures? The status quo has been justified merely by its replication and existence over decades, even though data shows a diverse workforce pays off for companies.
In mid-January, Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock – the world’s largest financial asset manager – sent a letter to CEOs saying that businesses must make a positive contribution to society in addition to their financial success, and that this will be part of BlackRock’s criterion for determining where to invest their substantial assets. Fink said “Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate.”
One of my clients listed on the S&P told me that last month two different institutional investors asked for a meeting with her (the Chief Talent Officer) and her leader, the Chief HR officer to understand the company diversity strategy before they were willing to buy company stock.
The data continues to pour in from academia and think tanks studying the relationship of diversity and inclusion to belonging, retention, innovation, financial well-being, the equities markets, healthcare, the law, education, etc. But while numbers may move minds, stories move hearts.
In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Height explains how the logical centers of the brain are like a rider trying to direct an elephant. The elephant is our emotional brain, and when there’s any contradiction between the two, the elephant is going to win almost every time.
What HR professionals, D&I practitioners, and CEOs need to realize is that the data only tells half the story. It will not be sufficient to win hearts and minds, to get your people, your CEO, and your organization on board with embracing diversity and inclusion.
Recent neuroscience has shown that we are fundamentally storytelling animals. And so stories have an enormous role to play in any D&I communications strategy. Consider building some of these storytelling opportunities into your D&I strategy:
- Ask leaders and influencers to find and share stories about where they’ve had a miss regarding D&I and bias, how they cleaned it up, and what they learned from it. Broadcast these widely. Ask others to join in and post their stories to create a learning culture and one that embraces your collective humanity. Make coming clean about your individual and collective misses a badge of honor.
- Find a story of a D&I-related customer win or loss, and tell the whole story with heart and an intention to learn and inspire action.
- Create video testimonials, particularly by the top leaders of the organization, of how D&I has impacted their lives. We’ve found that with just a little bit of coaching, every leader can find a personal why.
- Animation has some of the highest engagement rates, according to one of our Cook Ross staffers who used to work at Sesame Street. So use an animated whiteboard video to tell your business case to engage whole-brained thinking about the topic.
There’s a time and a place for Case Studies and PowerPoint presentations in business. But for those of us really looking to inspire transformational change in our organizations, we need more stories and more heart.