With growing socio-economic, gender, racial and ableism inequity around the world, business leaders are thinking more critically about the role they need to play and the types of commitments to make to advance equitable results for individuals within their companies and in society. As companies work to live into those commitments, many leaders are still grappling with how to move from intention to action and from action to results.
In May 2022, the Shared Value Initiative and FSG published the Centering Equity in Corporate Purpose guide with input from more than 80 experts from around the world. This guide was developed to help leaders reflect on the critical practices needed to design and implement strategies that advance equity within and outside their companies, as well as the enabling conditions required to support that effort in the long term.
We asked our community how we could support them in activating the guide and lifting the learnings off the page and the resounding reply was a request for smaller, peer-to-peer learning discussions. So last month we brought together a group of about 20 corporate leaders from 10 industries, all dedicated to advancing equity and social impact through their work, for a virtual, off-record conversation on the opportunities and challenges they navigate as they work to advance equitable outcomes in their companies. We focused on the first three practices in the guide – (1) New materiality and being in relationship with the problem, (2) choosing which equity domains to create change within, and (3) equity alignment and defining how to deliver change. In the spirit of learning, the group agreed to share some insights and breakthroughs from this experience.
Top Five Takeaways
- No company has it fully figured out and progress takes time. Some companies or industries may be further on their journey, but we know the systems change we are tackling is a long-term commitment that takes ongoing dedication, flexibility and a willingness to pivot and celebrate small wins along the way.
- Establishing internal learning and development opportunities and other support mechanisms can help build empathy, bring others along the journey, and develop a bench of champions within the organization.
- Companies can’t make progress without being in relationship with the problem. It takes deep self-awareness, humility and emotional intelligence to navigate, change mindsets and build relationships with others. Businesses should prioritize listening and developing strong channels for feedback with the community most impacted by the issue to help shape the company’s understanding of the problem, recognize and repair harms, and identify possible solutions. This is a key step to begin building trust. As one participant stated, “The lives we’re trying to impact will feel that authenticity if we truthfully acknowledge it.”
- Companies need to dedicate resources, leadership, and technology to monitor and track progress and use data to set goals and tie results to concrete business metrics and performance scorecards. Leaders at the top and Boards of Directors also play a critical role in supporting the evolution of the work and to holding companies accountable to their equity goals over the long run.
- External partners can help drive impact, offset risk and create critical mass in improving systems. They also bring expertise and may be more proximate to the issues your company is trying to address.
Above all, equity efforts need to be deeply integrated into every aspect of an enterprise in order to have sustained impact over time and yield meaningful societal and business returns.
As companies take this journey, we encourage them to find a safe space to connect with other leaders and be vulnerable. Conversations like this roundtable can help inspire new ideas and approaches, uncover what may be missing from your own efforts, and remind you that you’re in good company. As one participant concluded, “We are not alone. We are all working to achieve the same thing, equity centered on humanity.”
Special thanks to Nikhil Bumb, Chirlie Felix, Gail Gershon and Bobbi Silten for co-facilitating the roundtable and for collaborating on the takeaways.