The equity gap is one of the most pressing issues facing businesses and communities. Many thorny issues surround it, which makes most of us uncomfortable. But for leaders, continuing to ignore it is not an option. It’s an issue that affects us all. While the problem is more visible to minorities, women and anyone else who faces systemic and economic discrimination, any kind of systemic inequity exerts a drag on the economy. This is an international problem.
Since the U.S. turned toward market-driven wealth rather than production-driven wealth decades ago, income inequality has tilted ever faster toward the 1% and the speed of the trajectory accelerates.
Yet many businesses and communities are bridging this gap, and nations will sooner or later follow.
In this blog post, we explore one potent instrument that companies and communities have employed in their efforts to close the equity gap inside their circles of influence. This is not a product, but a practice. The practice employs the power of storytelling, data, and language as tools for bridging the equity gap.
We’ve compiled a list of steps to help businesses and communities use the power of storytelling, data, and language to make real progress towards equity.
- Question your intention for gathering data. Are you collecting the right data? Are they providing you with the right insights?
Data collection is the critical step in addressing income and opportunity inequality. Consider that your existing data can be useful as a compass to guide your fundamental understanding of the problem you wish to address and help you uncover potential solutions. Spend a lot of time on this step. Without relevant and accurate data, you will not correctly identify the disparities in your ecosystem, or their underlying causes. Be sure to align your methods with the specific facets of inequality you are examining: income, wealth, education, gender, geographic, or other types of equity gaps.
- Examine your data to locate disparities and provide evidence of what’s working and what’s not, so you can build more effective strategies and create measurable progress. This provides a roadmap for leaders to take more effective actions and measure their progress towards equity.
Most companies keep this kind of data under lock and key, afraid for what they might find and unwilling to risk public scrutiny. But in our experience, as time goes on and companies get a clear picture of where they are winning, they loosen up on this. Can you acknowledge problems and then demonstrate progress toward their solutions? This is one way to provide context for people inside the organization and inspire them to get on board, driving the effort forward more quickly.
- Magnify your impact by finding the stories within your data that provide context for your audience.
Complex ideas are best communicated using stories. This is because the human brain is wired to retain information that evokes our emotions, provides us plenty of context, and gives us visual images to hold onto. Telling stories from your organization’s experience can “personalize” the information even though it’s about the company. This is true whether it’s a story about a triumph or a challenge. The human element can convey caring, and trial and error is a form of action everyone can relate to. All your stories don’t have to be about your trophies.
- Create an emotional connection that leads to action by showcasing the “why” of your data to build empathy and understanding.
With stories, especially stories about real people or events, you have the opportunity to help people understand why the organization is undertaking equity work. If they are inside the organization, they get real time insight into the company’s values. If they are external stakeholders, for them these “whys” become part of the company’s brand identity. This emotional connection is what gets people on your side, both internal and external to the organization.
- Identify your intended audience to create a framework for information consumption that they are familiar with when sharing your narrative. This helps to ensure that your message is heard and understood.
Build your stories inside a strategic content plan. Who are you trying to reach with your message? Each audience requires a unique approach, from internal staff, suppliers, or customers to a specific demographic or industry profession, to your entire local community. Once this is established, you can tailor your dissemination tactics to the intended audience: Will your primary communications channel be social media? An annual Community Impact Report? A dedicated website or landing page? Email campaigns? Events via a platform like Facebook Live? It’s likely to be a mix of these tactics, depending on the size and culture of your audience. Encourage engagement to create a feedback loop with the community (providing you with even more data).
- Speak to your stakeholders to gain insight into how your decisions are affecting others. This information can be used to make informed decisions that lead to a more equitable community and aid in crafting more relevant and effective communication.
Some of your data will be based on direct conversations with your stakeholders. Use it to build your data architecture and data management, and measure progress. Ongoing communications with stakeholders will lead to modifications and alterations to your plan as you move through the process, saving time and helping to avoid mistakes and tactical errors. Keeping them in the conversation ensures that their voice is heard. As you show success, you have also created allies that will help amplify your story and message.
- Build in transparency and accountability by having a plan to share the goals/milestones you have set and your plans to reach them. Be willing to share your progress.
Share your plan. In addition to setting lofty goals, have some signposts and milestones built in so that everyone can see progress. Then share when those milestones are met. This is the trust-building sequence of stating a promise, being transparent about an outcome, and then making a new promise. Systemic change takes time. We all need encouragement along the way. Built-in transparency and accountability can help the whole team stay optimistic and move forward. Communicate your best efforts so internal and external communities are aware of your work, building trust and credibility. As the saying goes: “The best way to climb a mountain is one step at a time.”
- Inspire others to take action by showcasing your community. This includes employees, suppliers, and those working with you to close the gap.
Closing the equity gap is community work. No entity can do it alone. Let the community see itself in the work through the stories you tell. Spotlight people who represent the work, those inside and outside your organization who make significant contributions, and even external agencies to show that you are part of a larger movement towards equity.
- Ensure an objective view of your organization’s impact. Hire an expert.
A company’s DEI, ESG, and other data-driven business challenges are often best evaluated and measured through an objective lens. Companies hire consultants when they need that objective perspective, along with specialized expertise. Hiring outside experts can also lend credibility to the journey as well as the end product, building alignment inside the company while relieving inhouse teams of the full responsibility for executing complex, interdisciplinary initiatives. Starting with data collection to build a framework for accurate and relevant measures, and subsequently applying them to the right problems, sometimes the best results can be achieved by hiring a consultant.
Closing the equity gap is not an easy task, but it’s an important one. By leveraging the power of storytelling, data and language, businesses and communities can make tangible progress towards equity. As an experienced advisory firm, Laisar excels in guiding organizations on their journey towards contributing to a more equitable economy and society. Laisar offers tailored solutions that help businesses understand, engage with, and be a part of the dynamic process of closing the equity gap. By building your plan around the steps listed above, and with Laisar’s strategic support, your organization can make giant strides towards creating a more equitable workplace and community.
About Florence Amate
Florence Amate will be speaking on this topic of Leveraging the Power of Storytelling, Data and Language to Bridge the Equity Gap in Business and Community at the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council Conference in Baltimore, MD, October 24, 2023.
Florence Amate is the Founder and President of Laisar Management Group. A management consulting company based in Silver Spring, Maryland, that is helping organizations rethink the role Supplier Diversity and Sustainability plays in their overall business strategy. Organizations in every industry have relied on Florence and her team to shape their community engagement and sustainability strategies.
Florence’s belief that companies are stronger when they take the time to understand their common interest within the communities, they choose to operate has been evident in the projects she has worked on over the last 12 years. Since 2011, she has successfully developed and managed economic and workforce inclusion solutions utilizing various proprietary business and data analytics applications. Organizations have embraced how internal and external data can be used to improve their bottom line, tell their story and build stronger and more vibrant communities.
Laisar provides supplier diversity, sustainability services and solutions. Laisar’s innovative, and integrated solutions for economic inclusion and workforce utilization, shapes community engagement and overall corporate strategies. We work with clients to develop and execute programs that bring socio-economic benefits to the communities where they live, work and play.
By Florence Amate published on Medium on October 21, 2023, 7mn read.
Photos: iStock Images.