Committing to DEI in Your Core Business Model

Former American Express CEO and chairman Kenneth Chenault had it exactly right when he observed, “Company boards and management have to say, ‘Diversity and inclusion is a core priority, and it’s not a flavor of the month. It’s not something we’re just going to try for a year or two. We’re going to keep at it until we get it right.’”

Chenault—the third African American CEO of a Fortune 500 company—has championed corporate diversity throughout his career. His message bears repeating, not only now, during Black History Month, but every month. It’s also a message I brought to Avoq’s Fortune 500 clients, who wanted my counsel to make a substantive response to the Congressional Black Caucus’s Corporate Accountability Letter, which called on corporations to reaffirm their commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

The letter calls for a concerted and consistent approach to DEI as part of the core business model, not a one-off initiative. In order to fully integrate DEI into their business models, companies must go from intentionality to deliberate action. This starts with setting scalable benchmarks and metrics that complement the overall mission of the company. A focus on DEI should come out of the highest levels of the C-suite and not stay hidden in obscure functions of HR or marketing. In fact, senior leadership should be incentivized and held accountable.

A deliberate commitment to DEI will yield opportunities for minority business enterprises in many areas, such as the procurement process and supply chain. Companies tend to exclusively focus just on diversity of the corporate board and senior executives. Though those aspects are critical to cementing DEI as a corporate value, DEI shouldn’t plateau or end with those efforts. It’s about creating a sustainable business model with a culture that supports growth, success and belonging.

Many companies want to do better, but don’t know how to get there. My advice: Be focused. Be committed. And make it meaningful.

About Cedric:

Cedric Grant, Partner at Avoq on the Government Relations team specializes in House Democratic Leadership outreach, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus. He develops and executes strategic policy advocacy across a range of areas for corporate and nonprofit clients, including healthcare, financial services, appropriations, tech and sports and entertainment. Additionally, Cedric cultivates third-party validators to support corporate policy that drives growth strategies and complements advocacy on Capitol Hill. Before Avoq, Cedric served as director of government relations for H&R Block, and, notably, chief of staff to House Democratic Leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)

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