Chief Diversity Officers Make A Crucial Error When Arguing Their Business Case

Good afternoon.

Hold up a finger if you’ve heard this phrase or even used it to garner internal support for DEI efforts: “The U.S. will soon be minority-majority.” Raise another finger for this refrain: “Diversity leads to better innovation.” This one? “Diverse teams have higher productivity and greater bottom-line impact.”

Sure, all of these statements are research-backed and repeatedly proven to be accurate, but generalized assertions do little to tie DEI initiatives to high-priority business objectives. That’s particularly problematic at a time when the corporate DEI function is facing legal, political, and financial threats.

It’s not enough to pound one’s fist, extolling DEI’s overarching importance through an altruistic lens. Today’s diversity heads must make clear how creating an inclusive and equitable workplace contributes to increased profits within their organization. Crucially, chief diversity officers must position themselves as both business leaders and change agents, rather than preachy corporate influencers, as the fight to dismantle DEI draws on.

Support for DEI ebbs and flows, as seen in recent years. All told, the diversity heads best able to ride out the current headwinds are those who can concretely demonstrate how they’re driving a true business impact through their work. That requires specificity and measurable outcomes.

The data tells all. There was a 55% increase in DEI corporate roles from June to August 2020, with leading corporations pledging some $12 billion to racial equity. That era was short-lived. DEI roles slowly vanished by 2022, and between 2021 and 2024, C-suite support for DEI efforts fell by 18%, according to a report by Seramount, a workplace research firm that serves more than half of Fortune 100 companies.

Where diversity leaders now fall short is that their “conventional business case statements are all abstract in their connections to corporate profits,” according to Seramount. What’s even more concerning is they aren’t sufficient in convincing key stakeholders to invest in DEI amid market volatility, new leadership disruption as CEO turnover skyrockets, ongoing legal attacks, or mergers and acquisitions. 

Seramount’s report offers several examples of how to turn business case generalizations into data-heavy statements tailored to a respective organization. For example, instead of, “The United States will be majority-minority in 50 years,” a better framework is, “We increased our market share by 5% through selling more Black-owned beauty brands.” See additional examples in the chart below.

Ruth Umoh

What’s Trending

Casting a wide net. As companies become increasingly global and multicultural, managers will have to broaden their understanding of non-U.S. discrimination. The caste system, the sociocultural hierarchy pervasive in South Asia that has led to incidents of caste-based bias in Silicon Valley, is just one example. MIT Sloan

Buying power. The face of the American consumer is changing. In the coming years, just over $1 out of every $5 of U.S. disposable income will come from Black, Asian, multiracial, and Native American consumers, up from 66 cents in 2000. Adweek

Union legacy. The auto industry and union jobs have long been important to the quality of life for Black Americans in Detroit, elevating the fortunes of countless Black families and propelling them into the middle class. Fortune

The Big Think

The columnist Daniella Greenbaum Davis wrote in a now-deleted post on X, formerly known as Twitter, “Jews marched in Selma. Jews marched for George Floyd. Jews showed up for Black Lives Matter. BLM is a disgrace. We will all still be there for you guys next time. Because that’s who we are. But now we know who you are.” This Vox piece explores the rich and complicated history of Black solidarity with Palestinians and Jews, one that’s seen support for Zionism morph into support for Palestine.

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