Jenny Wang, Senior Vice President at CLYDE, discusses why DE&I remains business critical when it comes to all stakeholders, including consumers and employees. She explains four pillars of consideration for communicators to consider when it comes to DE&I and health equity communications. Jenny also shares her tips on how brands can avoid performative allyship.
DOUG: Jenny, three years ago, after the George Floyd murder, there was a surge of DE&I awareness. Do you feel that that has tapered off somewhat since then?
JENNY: I wish the answer was different, but unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of momentum around DE&I health equity, quite frankly, be lost across corporate America. After 2020, after the murder of George Floyd and our national reckoning, obviously, we saw a lot of brands respond to this, this momentous upheaval by committing new energy and focus. But I think diversity fatigue has become very real and it’s growing. Simply put, not enough progress has been made. So, take for example, executive representation, which for many companies is or was part of their, you know, commitments that they made back then. Even today, only 10% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, less than 1% have a woman of color at the helm. And in fact, fortune 500 boards when it comes to board representation, have also taken a step back. So, you know, I think what’s also really important to keep in mind is we’ve seen so much backlash and politicization of ESG and “woke capitalism”. It’s really being weaponized politically, and I think that just overall reflects the deep polarization that, um, our country is in. So that is my that is my answer to, yes, unfortunately, we have lost some of that momentum.
DOUG: So, if we can be optimistic and believe that companies do want to regain some of that momentum, what are some of the best ways they can actually go about regaining that energy?
JENNY: That is a very multi-layered answer. I will reiterate that time and time again, the business case for gender equality, diversity inclusion remains undeniable. We’ve seen all the stats, right? Various stats, research, whether it’s McKinsey or other sources. Also, we know that that ethnically diverse and gender diverse companies are more likely to be not just more profitable and have higher revenue, but also have more engaged employees. So really, that whole ecosystem. I think also what corporations should keep in mind when it comes to staying the course and why they should stay the course is consumer demographics are undeniable and consumer expectations are very much changing. So, we know that about three quarters of US consumers say that brands play an important role in advocating for positive social and environmental change. We also know that millennials and Gen Z are obviously, and I count myself as a millennial, we’re prioritizing concerns around DE&I more and more and influences where we work, which brands get our money and even our investment strategies. Gen Z and millennials make up half of the workforce today. Gen Z alone, by the end of the decade, will be a third of the entire workforce, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A couple of important things, I know I’m throwing out a lot of facts, but I think it’s important to keep this top of mind in terms of why this is so important and why it’s inevitable. Also, four out of five Gen Zers say that an employer’s commitment to DE&I is very important or significant when choosing where they work. Also, four out of five Gen Zers say it’s important for brands that they buy from to address DE&I. So simply put, these are the consumers and employees of the future, and this is what is expected.
DOUG: Can you explain what you call the four pillars of consideration?
JENNY: Number one, intentionality first pillar. And that is really making sure that you are intentional about what you do or don’t weighed in on and what extent that you do take action, right? That’s number one. Number two is transparency. I think that’s pretty obvious if you’re going to make some commitments. You should also, as much as you can, show transparency around your momentum or lack thereof, which is totally okay. Then the third pillar is authenticity. So, I know that’s a vague term, but I think it’s very important for us as brands and companies to ensure we’re not being performative and communicating in a way that comes off as genuine. And we can talk a little bit about like, what are some sample small ways to do that. And then the fourth, the last pillar is creativity. And I think that really covers. Let’s expand even the notion of what diversity means, right? Especially, as we move forward, especially with millennials and Gen Z, we are being asked to more and more. We, as in companies and organizations, are being asked to represent a larger and different populations that are beyond even just race or ethnicity. Right? Could be neurodiversity, it could be other forms of diversity. So anyways, creativity is the fourth and final pillar.
DOUG: That’s really great. And one of the things that sort of hopeful, to me at least, is that they don’t seem to be in conflict with each other. Sometimes you hear about the choices, but being intentional, being transparent, authentic, and then putting creativity and creative thought on top of that seemed like a chance to get a good solution. Do you have some examples? Maybe things worked well or things didn’t go so well, even though maybe the original intention might have been positive.
JENNY: Let me like mix that with maybe some examples of things that people can consider or questions to ask. And then maybe some, like you said, some examples and that can be me hopefully give a little bit more color. So, when it comes to the first pillar of intentionality, obviously ESG issues that matter to one company can be completely different from another company. No company should necessarily wade into and talk about every single issue, right? And so, they kind of have to ask themselves, does this issue relate to our industry? Does it relate to our organization’s DE&I guiding principles and what we’ve stated as our commitments? Is it authentic for us to talk about it, or would it be performative given some of our own maybe issues? And then also, how are your customers and your vendors and partners being affected very much determines not just if you say something, but to what extent you action on what you’re saying.
DOUG: Let’s say you start the right way, it is intentional, but then you start getting blowback. How should you handle that scenario?
JENNY: I know that it’s been referenced a million times, I’m sure, but at this point by PR, marketing and comms professionals. But Bud Light, I will go back to that time and time and again. I think that they had every intention at first of ensuring that their marketing efforts and how they show up appeals to a wider target demographic and a younger target demographic. And quite frankly, in a way that is a little bit more right inclusive. But after the blowback against obviously them using a trans influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, and rather than, you know, really sticking to their guns and saying, we really value diversity and inclusion, we want to show that in our marketing. We want our consumers to feel truly represented in a holistic way. Etcetera, etcetera. Rather than doubling down, they really unfortunately kind of did the opposite and said we it didn’t really say anything. The statement that came out from the CEO was very much trying to thread the needle, but I think sometimes when you try to say it all and appeal to all, then you really appeal to no one. And so, they just ended up making everyone mad, both on the right and the left. They didn’t stand up for, you know, their partnership with Dylan that sent a message to, you know, the brands, other influencers or anybody else they want to they might want to partner with and work with in the future. So in general, they by watering down so much and trying to be in the middle, they ended up just alienating everybody.
DOUG; So how can companies remind their stakeholders of the importance of these issues? And they still matter. And, you know, I know we started with the concern that it sort of lost a bit of momentum, but this is significant business case to be made. So maybe you can sort of leave us on an optimistic, hopeful note that things can get better. One way is by clearly making the business case for this.
JENNY: So I know I provided and threw around a lot of stats earlier in this interview. At the end of the day, though, at a 10,000-foot level, I really believe that a well-functioning society is good for business and necessary for business, and vice versa. As we consider the greater role that businesses must play within society, it’s important to remember businesses now have more trust from consumers than the media and then government institutions. This means that businesses are increasingly wielding more influence and more power and I think with that, with all of that trust and with all of that power and outsized influence, comes greater responsibility. So, as we think about the social responsibility of corporations, I urge companies to remember it’s not a zero sum game, but rather a double bottom line, is what I like to say.
DOUG: Just one point to emphasize, because you talked about, you know, business and how they’re being held in higher regard than other institutions. Interestingly, we did a survey of more than 1,000 people using wick.io, and what they found was that there was one area of agreement between Democrats and Republicans and that they trusted local TV news way more than national news, and especially more than social media by a huge margin, 85 to 15%. So that might be a carve out where there is some trust as well. As we wrap up the discussion, any final thoughts that you have?
JENNY: It’s important in terms of how we show up in authenticity. Going back to some of the pillars, I just want to reiterate the pillars being intentionality, transparency, authenticity, and creativity. It’s very important that we’re not just, you know, we’re communicators, right? But we’re not just saying words. It’s very important that as corporations, we’re not just putting out statements just to put out statements. We’re not just tweeting or sorry, posting on X. It has to be backed up by actions and it has to be substantive, right? Like nobody wants empty words and quite frankly, people can see right through when companies are posting in a performative way, in a non-authentic way or just paying lip service. So, I want to reiterate how important it is to make sure from a corporate reputation standpoint and from just a, it is the right thing to do standpoint, that your words are being backed up by real action.
DOUG: Yeah. And that raised another point. So, forgive me. I’m going to ask you another question. Because intentionality transparency, authenticity those are things that boxes can be checked. It’s clear if you’re doing it or you’re not doing it. But creativity is sort of a different dimension. What is some of your advice for improved creativity when it comes into this important area?
JENNY: We’re already moving this way as a society, expanding the very notion of what is diversity and really embracing all forms of diversity. So, it’s not just race and ethnicity, though that’s very important in terms of representation. But also, are you thinking about neurodiversity? Are you thinking about rural versus urban in terms of whom you’re reaching and representing? There’s so many ways you can slice the, the apple, but it’s important to expand our very notion of what diversity means and what inclusivity really means. Part of it, I would say, build an inclusive comms or marketing team, right. If your marketing team is not diverse itself, chances are they’re not going to be as good at speaking to and coming up with campaigns that resonate with more diverse audiences. Right? So, it’s really important to make sure that your teams, your marketing comms teams themselves are representative and more diverse, and then also just ensuring that there is true diversity in your advertising, but in a way that is not performative. So, for example, if you’re a company that quite frankly, your C-suite is not super diverse, but you’re showing on a report or something on your webpage, on a page about maybe your senior leadership, some stock images of, of containing very diverse subjects, that might not come off as the most authentic. So, think that’s a fine needle to thread sometimes.
DOUG: You’ve clearly threaded the needle of sharing important information. Thanks so much for being part of our discussion.
JENNY: Thank you so much for having me.