How Do Brands Create Impact Through Their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives?

Anita Ortiz of LAinclusionista discusses how brands can authentically embrace inclusion and social justice.

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After last month, where we saw Juneteenth become a national holiday and people were able to gather for Pride, it’s impossible to not notice how companies have stepped up to amplify their voices in support of inclusion and social justice.

We sat down with Anita Ortiz, the founder of LAinclusionista and a 22-year veteran of Paramount Pictures and Viacom where she most recently served as the Senior Vice President, Global Inclusion Strategy, to learn a bit about which companies took the most innovative approaches to these celebrations and get advice about how those that want to do better, can.

In June, we tend to see a lot of performative allyship like wearing rainbow t-shirts, hanging rainbow flags, or attending pride parades. Which companies did you see celebrate Pride in particularly innovative ways this year?

Well, let’s talk about Lego’s Everyone is Awesome set, which I absolutely loved. Its simple, yet conversation-starting design, features the colors of Daniel Quasar’s Progress Pride flag, which is inclusive of Black, Brown, and trans people. But beyond stunning product design, it is the meaningful message from its designer, Matthew Ashton coupled with Lego’s visible commitment to inclusion, that I found most compelling.

If you’re wondering whether your favorite brands are practicing “rainbow capitalism” — as it has been coined — without adopting policies and practices that support the LGBTQIA+ community, check out the Corporate Equality Index. Updated annually by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, this searchable tool rates hundreds of companies on their nondiscrimination policies, equitable benefits, inclusive workplace culture, and corporate social responsibility.

After Juneteenth became a federal holiday, many companies announced that they would be observing the day. How have companies gone above and beyond?

When thinking about companies that have gone above and beyond, I believe it is important to look through a wider lens. Acknowledging Juneteenth, especially now that it is a federal holiday, is not a heavy lift. And while I will applaud any company taking its first steps towards inclusion, I am most inspired by those that have a track record of championing racial equity and social justice, that intentionally hire, retain, and grow diverse talent at all levels, including leadership, and that engage, respect, and value Black consumers and communities.

One company that immediately comes to mind is Ben & Jerry’s. They swiftly, unequivocally, and publicly condemned the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, issuing a four-point call to action. It wasn’t the first time the company used its platform to advocate for change. As a mission-driven organization, Ben & Jerry’s has been vocal on issues ranging from criminal justice reform and voting rights to racial justice and climate change. They are transparent about their pro-social agenda and acknowledge when they fall short, which is a critical inclusive leadership practice.

The fact that they manufacture delicious ice cream is a bonus.

For companies that will be able to prepare for Juneteenth next year, how would you encourage leadership teams to start thinking about or empower their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to think about creating authentic Juneteenth programming?

First and foremost, listen. ERGs are as much of a resource to the business as they are to employees and can play a key role in shaping how companies commemorate Juneteenth. Many of us, myself included, were never taught about Juneteenth in school. For me, it wasn’t until an ERG leader suggested a Juneteenth celebration several years ago that I learned about its significance. This underscores that history is too often taught through a singular perspective and that we must make individual and collective efforts to uncover parts of our past that have been largely hidden.

When thinking about Juneteenth programming, companies should support their ERGs in finding meaningful ways to celebrate. This might include a community service project, a donation to a local non-profit organization, or a panel discussion that prompts ongoing dialogue. Finally, I urge companies to honor, not exploit, Juneteenth. That means no mattress sales, please.

Moreover, for companies that have made diversity, inclusion, and equity a focus in the last year, what are the best ways for them to empower their ERGs, regardless of the community they identify with?

This one is really simple: provide ERGs with resources, just like you would for any other important sector of your business. That means they should have an annual budget, aligned with strategic goals, and allotted time during the workday to manage ERG responsibilities. (This is a good time to give a shout-out to LinkedIn for their recent decision to pay their ERG global co-chairs $10,000 a year; Twitter announced a compensation program for their BRG leaders last fall, and I’m paying close attention to see which companies follow suit.)

Furthermore, your company’s executive team should make themselves accessible to ERG leaders and members and actively participate in ERG events, which will send a signal that employees at all levels, from all backgrounds, should do the same. It’s about inclusion, after all.

Throughout the summer, college graduates may be moving to places where they will be exposed to those who are from different backgrounds. How can these employees become good allies to others?

Starting a new chapter of life in a new city or town in a new job at a new company can be simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. I would encourage recent college grads experiencing all this newness to lean into the discomfort. Don’t limit yourself by seeking out people who look and think like you. Lead with curiosity and invest time and energy building your professional and personal networks so both are vast and varied.

Being an effective ally requires self-reflection, listening, and learning with intention, asking thoughtful questions, and then speaking up (not speaking over!) and taking action. It won’t always be easy. In fact, when it feels challenging, take comfort in knowing you’re probably doing something right.

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