By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
Originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Growth Strategies.
While most conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) center around hiring and other HR-focused topics, creating a truly diverse and inclusive firm can have a measurable and lasting impact on nearly every other area of a firm.
The time to adopt DEI as part of a culture and growth strategy is now. Consider the recently released census data:
- While overall population growth slowed in the past decade, the growth that did occur (about 23 million people) was made up entirely of people who identified as Hispanic, Asian, Black and more than one race.
- The white population declined by 2.6% for the first time. People who identify as white now make up 58% of the U.S. population, down from 64% in 2010 and 69% in 2000.
- The largest population increase was among people who identified as more than one race.
- Nearly 1 in 4 Americans now identify as either Hispanic or Asian.
- 98% of Americans live in a county with a growing number of Latinos, and 95% live in one where the Asian population is on the rise.
- Diversity is rising in 19 out of every 20 counties in the U.S.
What does this data mean?
The U.S. is becoming more diverse than ever, and it isn’t a trend that will reverse itself. If your firm is in a city of any size, or even a suburb, your population is less white than it was 10 years ago.
Add to this the fact that firms are reporting an increase in DEI-related questions in RFPs, particularly those sent by financial institutions, government and nonprofits. Firms that can’t show they are making efforts toward being more diverse and inclusive are at a distinct disadvantage — and will continue to be — as more businesses want to know they are working with partners who approach DEI as an important part of doing business.
How can firms appeal to, and demonstrate they embrace, a more diverse population of clients?
“We approach business development in a way that makes us more welcoming,” said Jennifer Cantero, director of marketing and sustainability at Sensiba SanFilippo. “If we are going to call on a grocery store in the heart of the Latin community, we aren’t going to send someone who can’t speak Spanish. That is tone deaf. It’s all about understanding the culture and language of the prospect. We aren’t going to meet with a beer manufacturer in a suit but will wear jeans and plan to stay for a beer with them, too.”
Another firm focused on DEI is Crowe MacKay in Vancouver, British Columbia. “To be seen as authentic to a diverse pool of prospects, you must walk the talk internally first. If you start going external with your DEI message before changing your internal culture, you are setting yourself up for some high-risk kickback,” said Brittany Pitruniak, marketing manager. “It’s also important to be a true part of the community and to bake ‘giving back’ in all your markets. There’s a lot of risk in being first, but there is even more in being last.”
Jack Kolmansberger, chief marketing officer at Herbein + Company of Reading, PA, also likes the idea of giving back to the communities that support the firm. “We have always given back to the community, but it was often more business-focused in nature. This year, we committed to support a local hospital that is doing mobile mammograms for underserved areas to support the community and expand our horizons as well,” Kolmansberger said. “It feels empowering for our firm to be taking charge of our dollars and giving back to the community in this way.”
As firms work DEI into their culture and strategic business development efforts, they must consider the following:
- Train the partner group and entire firm on unconscious bias, including what it is, how to recognize it and what can be done to overcome it.
- Develop prospect personas to ensure marketing and BD efforts aren’t purely focused on homogenous target markets but reflect the characteristics and identify needs that are important to buyers.
- Create mentor programs that give women, people of color and LGBTQIA team members an opportunity to connect with firm leadership and show them how to navigate a path to leadership within the firm.
- Invite a diverse cross-section of firm employees to the room when decisions are being made about new markets to pursue or services to offer. Allow everyone to share opinions and insight without talking over them or dismissing their ideas. According to a Forbes study, teams that are more diverse and inclusive make better decisions up to 87% of the time. They also make those decisions twice as fast and with half the number of meetings and deliver 60% better results.
Any firm-wide culture change is hard. It takes time and is a collection of many small steps in the right direction. However, the results are well worth the effort. If firms aren’t thinking about these factors and making strides to move forward, they will start losing market share to their competitors — and no one wants that.