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Key takeaways:

  • Inclusive decision-making: Involve diverse stakeholders like ERG leads, corporate communications, and DEI leaders to ensure authentic responses to social issues.
  • Strategic prioritization: Assess alignment with company values, stakeholder impact, and authenticity when deciding which issues to address. Develop communication protocols with cross-functional teams.
  • Proactive risk management: Regularly review enterprise risks, maintain templates for addressing emerging social issues, and prioritize authentic leadership and credibility in responses.

Over the past few years, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) crises have pressured many companies to speak out on social issues.

From the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 to civil unrest with the Black Lives Matter movement after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans, and now the overturn of Roe v. Wade, stakeholders are looking to executives to stand up and speak on pivotal social movements.

As your company’s leader of DEI, how do you help decide when your company should speak on these social issues?

According to a report from the Edelman Trust Barometer, 54% of employees believe CEOs should speak publicly on controversial political and social issues they care about. But it’s impossible to speak out on every issue that arises.

During the DEI Board’s panel discussion on developing a crisis management plan, senior DEI leaders provided insights on who should be a part of the decision-making process and how they prioritize which social issues to speak on.

With customers, employees, and communities looking to companies to get more involved, here’s how DEI leaders Darice Brown at ServiceNow, Randy Irving at Nutrien, and Dr. Monica Curry at Subaru said their companies decide when to speak up.

Who Should Be a Part of the Decision Making Process?

Many recent events have resulted in communities calling out how companies are helping and responding to civil unrest. As a result, there are increased expectations that CEOs and senior leaders should respond.

Knowing how critical it is to speak out on these issues, Dr. Monica Curry, Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Subaru, noted how all stakeholders must be involved in the decision making process.

“Some of the key stakeholders are depending on the situation or the community that it’s impacting. It could be our Employee Resource Group leads. Depending on the community, it could be the executive sponsor — which normally is a C-suite — to engage in those conversations. It’s our corporate communications,” Monica said.

Most notably, she added how important it is for herself to get involved as the leader of DEI at her company.

“It lends itself to, how are our employees? How are our clients and customers impacted? And so, if there are those key components, it’s about belonging. It’s about caring for not only the work that’s being done, but the people that are doing the work — not only the purchase of a car, but the people that are purchasing cars.”

Darice Brown, Senior Director of DEI Strategic Partnerships, Community, and Brand Impact at ServiceNow, added how companies should also assess their risks for tolerance when deciding to speak on these DEI crises.

“Not all companies have the same risk tolerance,” Darice said. “When you start thinking about prioritizing, speaking up, and who to speak to, you kind of look at that level of risk.”

Along with understanding the risk tolerance, Darice said it’s important to note who is at the table in the process, because companies only have one chance to get the messaging right.

“Especially when you start thinking about the sensitivity of the social issues that are coming forth, there needs to be something said. The way in which this world is moving right now, you need to make sure that you balance the voice with a leader along with someone from that population,” she explained.

When it comes to the decision process, both Darice and Monica stated how leadership, DEI teams, legal teams, and ERG leaders need to be involved in advising communications.

How Can You Prioritize Which Social Issues to Speak On?

It’s not easy for DEI leaders to prioritize which social issues to speak on, because many of the events affect different communities in various ways. But employees and customers still have expectations that companies will take some action in acknowledging all issues, even if they don’t directly impact their businesses.

Randy Irving, Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Nutrien, reflected on how he noticed the rise of companies speaking out.

“During the summer of the Aubrey Ahmad killing and the George Floyd murder, I think that created that perfect storm that opened up companies to be more willing to talk about these type of issues,” Randy said. “That was the first time that I saw a lot of companies speaking out against social injustice, specifically against Black people in America.”

DEI leaders agreed how there seems to be an increase in awareness of DEI in companies. But Randy stated how it’s important not to be performative as DEI leaders and for companies to make actionable changes.

“I’ve always wondered how much change has actually really happened since then? What are these companies doing now?” Randy asked. He continued by questioning if companies continue their focus around specific social injustices.

“The first thing that I look at when we prioritize those things is our ability to lead with authenticity, and are we credible in that space,” he said.

Randy noted that he’s partnered with his legal and communications teams, HR, and business unit leaders to create a communications protocol on prioritizing which issues they speak on.

Their priorities are put into matrixes using different factors to help make the decision process easier, including alignment with Nutrien’s mission and values, implications on business and supply chain partners, and their ability to lead with authenticity and credibility.

Darice added that there are obvious social issues that all companies should speak out on, but explained how her company handles complex situations.

“One of the recommendations I would have for anyone, any company, is to make sure at least twice a year that you are taking a look at your enterprise risks and also making a shortlist, because things pop up all the time of potential social risks,” Darice said. “Have some type of template, because most companies are global, and social issues now following 2020, they become global issues.”

Learn More How Senior DEI Leaders Speak Out on Social Issues

DEI leaders shared these insights during the DEI Board’s panel discussion on developing a crisis management plan where they shared strategies for informing stakeholders of how their organizations are taking action to address social issues.

DEI Board Members Monica Curry, Darice Brown, and Randy Irving have the opportunity to benchmark their strategies for emerging DEI topics every day in our community for senior DEI leaders at the world’s largest companies.

The DEI Board is the one place where you can get unbiased insights from your peers leading DEI to make informed, strategic decisions. If you lead DEI at a large enterprise, you have the opportunity to join the DEI Board, where you can learn more about how your peers are creating strategies to speak out on social issues.

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