Beyond Cosmetic Corporate Social Responsibility

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The field of corporate social responsibility will be at the center of corporate innovation in the coming years.  The intertwined crises--pandemic, economic disruption, racial inequality--are highlighting the deep divisions in our economy and our society.  And those divisions may be widening.  This creates a crisis of legitimacy, not just for our social and political institutions, but also for corporations and economic institutions.

It is a moment of both high risk and high reward for corporations.  Corporations that want to connect with the public and their stakeholders need to put their values upfront.  But the crisis is so deep, and many stakeholders, including younger workers and consumers, are so disillusioned that statements of values need to be backed up with clear commitments and results. Stakeholders demand data to see that a company is moving the needle.  Statements of value that are not backed up by programmatic change and real results could be worse than not even trying corporate social responsibility initiatives in the first place.

Diversity & Inclusion and the Dangers of a Cosmetic Approach

Corporate progress in diversity and inclusion provides a textbook example.  Corporations realize that their workers, consumers, and regulators expect to see real progress in diversifying their workforces.  But dangers loom for corporations.  These dangers go way beyond legal risk--even beyond the risk from a raft of recent shareholder derivative lawsuits that seek to hold Boards liable for a lack of diversity.

The first danger is that corporations may mistake the real reason that a diverse workforce matters,  Diversity is not just a cosmetic “political” or “marketing” question.  It is about competing in globalized markets. Only a diverse and inclusive workforce can foster creativity and avoid groupthink to generate the best decisions and strategies.   

Mistaking the need for a diverse and inclusive workforce as a cosmetic need will lead to corporations continuing to suffer from self-inflicted crises and business losses.  The losses could take many forms: bad connections to consumers, falling short in the race for talent, poor strategic decisions, and even legal liability.

The second danger for corporations with diversity and inclusion flows from the first.  Data needs to drive actions.  Benchmarks need to be set and achieved. Managers need to be both empowered and held to account.  

The Upside: Product Inclusion

It’s important also to see the upside of diversity and inclusion. One surprising way diversity and inclusion can pay dividends is in product development.  “Product inclusion” describes the practice of developing and refining products to fit the needs of a diverse customer base.  This succeeds by applying an inclusive lens throughout the entire product design and development process to create better products and accelerate business growth. 

Product inclusion succeeds when the workforce is diverse and the work environment is inclusive.  Product inclusion is directly related to the culture of a company.  A company with an inclusion mindset is humble: “I don’t know everything”, so let’s be open.”

Ethical AI has opened the door for conversations that were not happening. The hiring process is another good example too, let’s look at our hiring practices, our HR product, and see if we need to revisit it to be inclusive.  

Product inclusion can improve a company’s bottom line by reaching more customers.  It can also reduce risk by recognizing when a product is not being used by certain customers in the way it was designed. 

Join us for our inaugural “Equity Conversations”: Cultivating Black and Latinx Communities through Product Inclusion

  • The business case

  • How to present it to leadership?

  • How to get buy-in, alignment, and proper metrics?

  • Who should have oversight within the company?

  • How you create an effective product inclusion culture?

When? Thursday, September 10 at 4 pm PST/ 7 pm EST

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Codero Davis: Growing up in a small, segregated Mississippi town, Cordero Davis may have always been poised to seek out a better and more inclusive world. Through his international consulting work, he has impacted over 80,000+ employees and students globally and, in the US, has assisted top Silicon Valley tech companies like Airbnb, Facebook, and rapidly scale their workforces resulting in hundreds of diverse hires.

After his in-house experiences, Cordero created his own black enterprise by launching the consulting firm, Cordero Davis International. There, they focus on assisting black and brown individuals with navigating their careers in corporate America and assisting tech companies with the infrastructure to design inclusive and diverse workplaces.

Andrea Guendelman: Andrea Guendelman is a lawyer, entrepreneur, public speaker, and thought leader. She has a consulting practice advising companies on corporate social responsibility. he also coaches CEOs and other members of the executive leadership team at progressive companies.

She has founded mission-driven tech companies that create more opportunities for underrepresented talent. Most recently she founded Wallbreakers, which offers apprenticeships to CS using an unbiased AI matching technology.

Andrea was raised in Chile and moved to the US to attend Harvard Law School. She practiced law for over a decade in NY and Washington DC, before moving west and starting her entrepreneurial journey.

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