Pushing for more meaningful DE&I progress in 2021

McKinsey argues it’s time for a new approach toward building racial equity, but what might that look like? Read on for fresh ideas to turn good intentions into genuine inclusion.

By Robby Brumberg      @robbybrumberg      
2021 DEI efforts

Fortune 1000 companies committed $66 billion to combat racial inequity in 2020.

Will it make any difference? Is 2021 the year we’ll finally see real, tangible progress in combating systemic racism?

A report from McKinsey offers a bit of hope that we are on the threshold of profound change. However, companies must do their part to follow through on the promises and pledges of 2020. 

McKinsey’s data shows that 32% of the top 1,000 U.S. companies made a statement in support of racial justice in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. Twenty-two percent made external commitments to promote racial equity, while 18% pledged to address internal DE&I issues.

Image via McKinsey

Top U.S. companies also responded with an outpouring of financial support—or at least pledges to help close the racial wealth gap in coming years.

Image via McKinsey

Yet, the wealth divide between Black and white families remains as wide as it was in 1968. The median white household still holds about eight times the wealth of a typical Black household. The pandemic has exacerbated this chasm, as COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect minority communities.   

McKinsey offers a five-step framework that companies and individuals can follow to help upend the persistent injustices and systemic racism that incessantly thwart prosperity:

1. Rally around one clear mission.

As McKinsey points out, racial inequalities exist in nearly every aspect of society, which presents an overwhelming kaleidoscope of intractable problems to address. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, it’s better to take a more targeted approach toward efforts to help. The trick is getting everyone to agree on what your goals should be.

Do you want to hire more minority staffers? Elevate more diverse candidates into leadership positions? Work with more Black-owned businesses and vendors? Or perhaps just donate to worthy causes?

Whatever objectives you settle on, make sure everyone’s on the same page. As McKinsey writes: “Successful coalitions are committed to and united around a clear mission.”

2. Coordinate and collaborate via a central backbone.

The complexity of DE&I issues demands a high level of communication with various stakeholders. That requires someone stepping up to be a facilitator between disparate groups to ensure clarity and follow-through.

McKinsey writes: “Coalitions that succeed often rely on a backbone structure—a core group that will regularly convene stakeholders, build consensus, and coordinate action; collect data, disseminate knowledge, and identify programs to scale; and track overall progress and publicize the results.”

Yet another reason why employee resource groups merit investment and support.

3. Secure adequate and appropriate funding.

Ideas, words and “solidarity” are useless without financial backing to put plans into motion. Unfortunately, Black-led and Black-focused groups have historically struggled to attract and keep consistent funding. Will this time around be different?  

Those keen on effecting substantive, lasting DE&I change must prioritize funding. That entails securing buy-in from execs, decision-makers and those who pull the purse strings. McKinsey advises “arming yourself with sources of ongoing funding” and to diversify your donor base. This part of the job will require persistence and perseverance, as hot DE&I momentum of 2020 fades and leaders begin to look elsewhere.  

4. Ensure accountability.

Determining DE&I objectives is one thing. Crystallizing KPIs and tying your results to broader business goals is quite another.

McKinsey writes: “Successful coalitions have systems in place to collect, analyze, and share data on the outputs and outcomes of their initiatives. These systems are based on an agreed-upon set of principles on how impact will be measured and reported, and on how credit for accomplishments will be shared.”

How will you ensure accountability for your efforts? How do you plan to report ROI for specific initiatives, and which metrics will you monitor?

Make sure you agree on which data you’ll track before launching any campaigns. 

5. Win and maintain support from a broad set of stakeholders.

You should aspire to do more than preach to the choir.

To truly achieve substantial DE&I progress, strive to activate those in your midst who might be on the fence or perhaps even a bit skeptical of your efforts. McKinsey says “successful coalitions rely on broader support from—and active engagement by—institutions and individuals beyond those directly affected.”

Removing the barriers presented by systemic racism will require broad swaths of support, so the onus is on you to win over new allies who can help make 2021 a year of transformative change for the better.

Read the rest of McKinsey’s report here