When I founded UPD in 2005, the mission was simple: help build better, higher performing, and more resilient organizations.
From the beginning, Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI) has been crucial in this mission, not from a moral stance, but because, over and over, studies have shown investment in ADEI leads to better performance outcomes for companies and organizations.
2005 was an interesting year. A new site called YouTube had just been launched. Brad and Angelina were the focus of the tabloids. And modern ADEI training was in its infancy, largely flying under the radar for most Americans.
Times have changed. For one thing, ADEI principles have become more widely known, a long-overdue result of social justice protests and organizing. Companies have slowly begun to institute reforms, and corporate America has deliberately inched in the direction of achieving the elusive promise of meritocracy. But these developments, predictably, have brought considerable backlash.
The New York Times recently revealed in an eyebrow-raising investigation the extent to which the backlash to ADEI has become a highly organized and concerted social and political campaign. Email blasts from donors have flooded higher learning institutions, demanding a retreat from ADEI and threatening divestment. Corporations that just within the last couple of years championed ADEI are now wiping all mention of it from their public pages.
Is ADEI just the latest victim of America’s ever-expanding culture war? Yes, no doubt. But its susceptibility also reveals what some in marketing might refer to as a “branding issue.”
Let’s be clear: instituting ADEI principles is not just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.
Research overwhelmingly shows the ways diverse teams lead to better outcomes for companies. One 2017 study found that teams with ample gender, age, and geographical diversity outperformed individual decision making 87 percent of the time, compared with a 58 percent rate by all-male teams of similar age and geographic distribution. Another showed that revenue from innovation was nearly double for firms with an above average diversity rating.
Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity.
And yet another study links “psychological safety” within organizations to their ability to handle unique challenges. Unless employees feel they are safe to voice differing opinions or perspectives without fear of punishment, companies are unlikely to benefit from diverse groups alone. In other words, an investment in all the aspects of the ADEI acronym (with an emphasis on inclusion) must take place for companies and other organizations to reap the rewards.
These findings, among many, many others, show the path towards more effective and profitable organizations is through further engagement with ADEI, not backtracking away from it.
My message to performance-driven organizational leaders is don’t fall into the calculated trap of the status quo preservationists. Act instead on your bottom line.