Actions points for businesses aiming to make a difference around diversity and inclusion

With Cannes Lions now underway this year, I thought it was important to reflect on where we are and I’ll be honest: Our industry has a long way to go when it comes to diversity, inclusion and equity.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen many agencies treat diversity and inclusion like another box to check rather than something that should be an integral part of their organization. Make no mistake: Diversity and inclusion efforts are a fundamental business imperative, not just in terms of company culture or clients but your bottom line as well.

Study-after-study has shown that more diverse and inclusive companies get ahead in every sense of the word from creativity to revenue—and yet, we’re still seeing depressing statistics with too few women at the helm and in the C-Suite at global agencies across our industry.

I get asked a lot how can marketers do better with their diversity and inclusion efforts. Here are some recommendations for actionable steps you can take right now:

First, diversity and inclusion need to be integrated into all aspects of an organization’s business. Look at companies like Netflix and most recently, WarnerMedia. They are companies that get it!

From how an office conducts itself internally to how team members pitch clients, if diversity and inclusion isn’t the lens through which you look at your business, you’ll never be able to make the long-lasting impact our industry needs right now.

The same goes if you try to leave any diversity and inclusion work to single person or department; you just won’t see the deep, tangible results you’re looking for unless everyone is committed.

This brings me to my second point: Deciding to make diversity and inclusion a critical pillar of your business is only one part of the equation; actually, holding everyone—and particularly leadership—accountable is a whole other story.

But for diversity and inclusion work to really take hold at a company long-term, there needs to be a promise by all employees, managers, and executives to call out one another when someone isn’t living up to these principles, remain open-minded when being called out by others, and make a sincere effort to change.

While leading on these efforts on the big stage is important, the most critical work happens day-to-day, when the stakes are small and no one’s watching. Whether it’s mentioning an issue during a meeting or talking to a boss about a project, we all need to take the pledge to not let those little moments pass.

And, last but most certainly not least, organizations need to set metrics to track progress (or lack thereof)— and following up on those metrics and making adjustments accordingly.

It’s not enough to just do a survey of your company’s diversity and inclusion work once and then stuff that report into a drawer. Organizations must constantly take a look at where their numbers are and find areas to improve. They must also make sure they’re not looking at one side of the diversity and inclusion equation and not the other. Just because your company is diverse, for example, doesn’t mean that all employees feel like they’re valued members of the team. Diversity and inclusion also don’t necessarily mean equity, so that needs to be another dimension to your metrics.

The other big question I get when it comes to diversity and inclusion efforts is how companies should work with the press in all of this. How can you showcase your company if you have in fact made strides with your diversity and inclusion work? And how can you lessen the blow if your company’s left much to be desired on that front?

The most important advice I can give is to be transparent and authentic with whatever your organization’s story is. If that story isn’t as perfect as you’d like it, be honest about that. The media loves to follow the journey; don’t be afraid to let them in. If anything, knowing that the press is “in the know” on your organization’s latest developments will be important as you move forward.

The bottom line is, we can’t change this industry unless all of us decide to change. We can’t make a long-term impact unless everybody buys into it. One person can’t do the work to change who has sway and who doesn’t; we must all pitch in and help. The path to getting there won’t always be easy, but I know we’ll get there because we’re #BetterTogether.

Jennifer Risi is the president and founder of The Sway Effect