A Black Christian minister, a Jewish rabbi and a gay woman who have been friends for over 20 years meet up at their favorite restaurant.
With the above descriptors, what is the first thing you think about, or what do you think you know about these people? You may have many assumptions about their bond, but I’ll keep it simple and consider what they agreed on that day — where to eat.
I am a Black Christian media executive who has been in the industry for 30 years. I’m tired of trying to remind people of a simple but powerful truth that one of my mentors, Virgil Smith, told me years ago: Your newspaper or media company needs to mirror your community. You need people at the table making decisions for the mission who represent the people in your market. You need people who might see things a little differently than you or those who have different life experiences.
This is important everywhere — from the newsroom to the advertising and marketing war table. You don’t have to agree with everything about a group or even know a lot about it. You need to know enough that you, as a company leader, have blind spots you don’t know about. And these blind spots can hinder your bottom line and hurt your company’s growth. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is the key to unlocking the hidden stories for the newsroom and even ad dollars in your market. You simply don’t know what you don’t know.
I’m not trying to convince people or prove the importance of DEI because this work has been done already. Countless studies demonstrate that DEI has the potential to increase sales revenue, increase customer base and ultimately increase profits. DEI is not only the right thing to do; it’s good business sense.
All of this information has been proven and reiterated, so my question is: if we know what to do and its benefits, why are we hitting a pause with progress?
According to findings from the Boston School of Social Work, studies show that 62% of companies devoted little to no resources to diversity.
Over the years, DEI has undoubtedly been the hot topic du jour. Still, many of the recently created DEI positions have now been dissolved, and many in these roles are quitting due to unrealistic expectations, barriers and obstacles they must navigate to do their jobs effectively.
According to Russell Reynolds, an executive search and leadership advisory firm, 60% of chief diversity officers at S&P 500 companies left their jobs between 2018 and 2021. They also found that the average tenure of chief diversity officers decreased from 3.1 to 1.8 years in 2021.
Additionally, more than 50% of the participants shared that working in DEI negatively impacted their mental health, and 67% said they experienced anxiety due to their work in the DEI space.
“The number one reason DEI efforts fail in an organization is due to the amount of energy and bandwidth it takes when there is not a consensus of understanding that this work is achieved through a top-down commitment. This means the work must be driven by leadership with unwavering diligence to be successful,” said Eddie Taylor, manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Foundation for The Carolinas in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Some do get it, like Bob Phibbs, owner and CEO of The Retail Doctor.
“It’s all about treating everyone fairly, no matter where they come from or what they look like. In our personal lives, we have different friends with different interests and backgrounds. For generations, we have been taught to lose our personalities and hide who we really are to fit in.
“But now, in business, to innovate and grow, you have to encourage a mix of people with different ideas and experiences. With more voices at the table, we can all learn from each other and do better. And while it might be tough for Baby Boomers to embrace this new inclusive model, Gen Z really cares about this as table stakes in a business to work or do business with,” Phibbs said.
To the companies that recognize the importance of DEI, remember to hire qualified people and not just check a box. “I believe the intent of the DEI movement is noble. However, be careful not to hire based on diversity characteristics alone. Do this, and you may dilute your company’s performance. Rather, evaluate the whole person, see them as an individual, and consider how all of a candidate's God-given talents, skills and insights can be additive to your organization,” said Julian Placino, a recruiting consultant and creator of Recruitment Masterclass.
To the very talented people on the frontline of DEI who are not being treated right — do what Lebron did and take your talents elsewhere. Don't quit your job tomorrow but know you can do better. Create an exit strategy and checklist. If the essential things you care about are not being listened to, or your hard work is going unnoticed — check your list! Once it is filled and you have had it with the foolishness, follow your plan. There is life after this; trust me, I know!
Mark Vinciguerra, my business partner and the CEO and owner of Capital Regional Independent Media, drives this point home. It’s my hope others will heed the call.
“The importance of DEI to a modern media company cannot be overstated. Our community media needs to reflect all aspects of the communities we serve and report on. For far too long, we didn’t accomplish that,” he said.
“At Capital Region Independent Media, our leadership team is nearly entirely made up of people from traditionally underserved communities. And that has led to improved coverage via diverse viewpoints and coverage of issues and stories that previously may have gone unreported.”
In the words of the famous rapper Ludacris, “Move, Get Out the Way!” Enough stalling on DEI. Our future demands a move in the right direction.
Warren is the vice president of Capital Region Independent Media and the publisher of three of their seven newspapers. He is also the CEO of Wallit.io, a company that helps bring content creators and customers together in a sustainable, meaningful and profitable way. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-212-0130.
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