Malia Lazu

2024 is going to be another year filled with cultural landmines for companies. The Republican Party primary seems to be centered around cultural wars, pushing banning books, doubling down on abortion bans and distrust of people of color.

While we may feel immune here in Massachusetts, it seems as though local law firms, financial institutions and other companies are being targeted because of the affirmative action legs of their strategies.

The fact is even in our “liberal” commonwealth, this fight is going to affect your employee’s everyday lives, whether that’s growing anxiety they feel when their community is targeted as “the problem in American society,” an increase of violence against certain communities anywhere in the country and a shift among employees emboldened by the insular rhetoric coming out of prominent politicians.

This will be bad for business. Period.

Business leaders beware. Reversing commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion will not be without consequence. Customers and employees will be watching to see who is the first to announce their “regrets” over scaling back or ending their programs. The cost of doing so will be far greater than most companies would ever realize – according to one estimate, as much as $5.4 trillion.

That number comes from an analysis by Kantar, a marketing data and analytics company, that tracks consumers’ perceptions of brands’ DEI.

Its Brand Inclusion Index, Kantar said, seeks to give a voice to those who are often under-represented or excluded by brand–providing inside into how brands can become more inclusive.

As Valeria Piaggio, Kantar’s global head of DEI said in a statement, “Our analysis of what’s behind the most inclusive brands is that they all have three things: A well-thought-out DEI strategy that stems from company actions and is committed long-term, impeccable creative execution and bravery. The element of bravery will be increasingly important.”

To evaluate the importance of inclusion, Kantar’s study found:

  • 65 percent of the U.S. population believes companies have a responsibility to make society fairer;
  • 63 percent of the respondents report experiencing discrimination in the last 12 months (whether rarely, often, or all the time);
  • 44 percent of those who experienced discrimination said it happened at a commercial location, which puts a company’s brand at risk of losing the purchasing power of underrepresented populations;
  • That loss of purchasing power could amount to as much as $5.4 trillion.

“Brands are operating in a very complex socio-political environment, often maneuvering through cultural landmines,” Piaggio said. “Loud voices are trying to silence brands’ inclusivity efforts. But amidst the smoke and confusion data tells us that those screams do not reflect the sentiment of the sensible majority.”

It’s a new year, and we are going to be pushed to reverse progress back decades, not only in the civil rights arena, but in the economic growth and innovations we gained by the diversity in business after every civil rights movement.

There will be more people going to work and buying things on election day than voting. Younger generations vote with their feet and wallets. They are watching, whether they vote or not, and how you navigate this year could set your reputation for generations to come.

Malia Lazu is a lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, CEO of The Lazu Group and former Eastern Massachusetts regional president and chief experience and culture officer at Berkshire Bank.  

How to Get DEI Right in 2024

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min