Mastercard’s chief inclusion officer on the critical role of DEI (and 3 keys to getting it right)
When I started leading Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) 20 years ago in the hospitality industry, the topic was always raised as the last ten minutes on the HR leadership agenda. Leaders didn’t really see it as relevant or truly impactful to the business. And, I must say, until the landscape evolved, and I had the opportunity to work with leaders who understood the value in helping connect DEI to the bottom line, to include all perspectives and drive accountability, they were right.
Today, here at Mastercard, I am advising the CEO on a regular basis, meeting with key stakeholders from across the business, and considered a mission-critical leader within the organization. The irony is not lost on me at the intersection of Pride Month and Juneteenth, as a Black, gay man who has faced my fair share of “isms,” that the attributes I most tried to downplay about myself or that I felt others devalued are now the very things that I am winning awards for.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are hot buzzwords for a growing list of stakeholders. Investors and shareholders increasingly care about brands’ performance on ESG, or environmental, social, and governance metrics. Employees and consumers look at a brand’s values when they are considering where to work or shop.
What’s more, the sustained crisis environment in which we’re operating offers no shortage of social issues that are impacting all these stakeholders, and everyone is looking to the private sector to take a stance, to act, to be a part of the solution. According to a Harvard Business School roundup, 70% of Americans believe it’s either “somewhat” or “very important” for companies to make the world a better place.
DEI strategy is increasingly becoming the place everyone looks to for guidance, and frankly, solutions.
Brands large and small, legacy and startup, must accept that people see them not as neutral actors but as active agents in the interconnected web that is business and society and the wellness and equity of the people who live and work within it.
It’s not easy navigating in today’s world.
Here are some of the top lessons I have learned in my two decades leading DEI global strategy:
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach to DEI: While it’s important to create a DEI strategy and approach, it doesn’t need to fit into neat buckets or focus just on any one orang number of demographic groups or localities. In fact, it shouldn’t. Particularly for global brands that operate in different countries, but certainly also when we think about different views even within the same jurisdiction, what’s top of mind for people is going to differ.
It helps to also think about DEI beyond the obvious identity categories. Diversity also means diversity of thought and perspective. We must think about our intersectionality and invite everyone in. We are not doing our job as leaders if we leave anyone out of the conversation. We ought also to be thinking about people as multifaceted and not as members of monolithic categories with numeric goals stacked against them. That’s where my intersectional lens as a Black, gay man comes in handy; by leaning into the unique capabilities that diverse people bring to the table, precisely because of, not in spite of, what they look like or how they identify, we can begin to make the foundational, cultural shift required to actually move the needle on creating a diverse and inclusive workforce.
- Actions speak louder than words: The Great Reshuffle has forced many brands to see in starker contrast how employees feel. Consumers, too, increasingly see through the veneer of words that companies are purporting, particularly when there are no actions behind them. Better to commit to a small number of priorities and back them up with resources and meaningful efforts than to try to boil the ocean without any life preservers.
What’s more, beyond words and efforts are impact. How are you demonstrating the impact of your DEI efforts? And how are you showing that your purpose-driven brand has a net positive impact on your stakeholders and society? At Mastercard, demonstrating impact means committing to a companywide five-year effort bolstered by $500 million to help drive racial equity in meaningful ways, like our In Solidarity initiative. It’s creating products and solutions that solve for societal pain points that impact marginalized groups, like True Name, which helps create a safer, less stressful checkout experience for transgender and nonbinary community members. It’s acting thoughtfully, but swiftly and decisively, to turn intention into impact.
- Accountability is critical: Your DEI efforts will be rudderless without buy-in from the business, including leaders at the very top. More than buy-in, a brand can only really make tangible progress in driving DEI programs and objectives when leaders believe in the work and are helping to drive it. Tying DEI and ESG to the business is an important way to ensure those efforts are sustainable and business critical, and tying executive and even employee compensation to ESG goals is one clear way to do it. Going one step further, how can you make your DEI efforts commercially viable, creating business solutions that drive both equity and inclusion as well as bottom line?
The days of silence or performative gestures are fast evaporating. Brands must be sincere and consistent, and act with intentionality and accountability. We must connect the what to the why, and embed our DEI efforts into the business and vice versa. We won’t always get it right and we won’t ever solve for everything or please everyone. But the train has already left the station. Are you on it?
Randall Tucker is executive vice president and chief inclusion officer at Mastercard.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.
Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.