Understanding un-met diversity, equality, and inclusion needs in the world today, demands empathy and honesty—but also action. By creating ways that demonstrate support, by making bold commitments and seeing them through, and by creatively forging partnerships and coalitions, organizations can transform into a change-making force for good.

Business leaders increasingly recognize that, beyond delivering value to customers and shareholders, they have a commitment to all stakeholders, as articulated in corporate policies, investment strategies, and organizational purpose. This is especially true when it comes to fighting racial equity and social justice, which are everyone’s issues.

As the Business Roundtable declared in 2019 (in a statement signed by some 180 CEOs of major US corporations), investing in employees, engaging ethically with suppliers, and supporting the communities in which we work benefits not just our companies, but also is essential for the future success of our communities and our country. Companies should therefore revisit their corporate purpose and use this as a guide for appropriate action.

A corporate purpose moment

Purpose can illuminate a path, authentic and actionable, that an organization can take to do its part in advancing racial equity and social justice With purpose as both springboard and North Star, leaders will develop strategic action plans that include listening and acknowledgement, making bold commitments (now and in the medium term), and channeling their organizations’ unique role to advocate for long-term change.

Companies today that are taking a strategic, purpose-driven approach to appropriate action begin with three broad steps.

1. Listen first, then issue timely statements of values and beliefs. In the immediate aftermath of tragedy, whether it is experienced collectively or individually, people experience shock and grief. At that point, active listening is the most important initial response. The current context reveals what has been in plain sight to many; employees, colleagues, associates, and friends of color who have traditionally been underrepresented will be especially vulnerable. By listening and committing to learning, meaningful dialogue can take place. You can foster dialogue through a number of methods, such as small group conversations, one-on-one listening tours, formally facilitated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) discussions, or dedicated Slack or other technological channels.

Once you’ve authentically listened, then you are ready to demonstrate empathy and support by issuing a timely statement of beliefs. This statement should reinforce your values, bolster the organization’s commitment to DEI, and engage the organization through empathy and ongoing dialogue.

2. Commit to bold action. Even with a well-orchestrated and holistic change program underway, substantive outcomes might take time to become visible. To sustain support through this ambiguous interim, tap into your organization’s purpose to inform bold commitments that demonstrate intent and guide concrete action. Bold commitments and purpose go hand in hand. For example, to activate Mercedes-Benz’s stated purpose—“First Move the World”—the automaker pledged to make its German plants carbon neutral by 2022. This pledge constituted both a direct action stemming from the company’s vow to make change first, as well as a public commitment to that change. Likewise, the Bank of Montreal pledged to double its commitment to sustainable finance to CAD 400 billion to abide by its purpose, “To Boldly Grow the Good in Business and Life.”

What might your own company’s bold commitments be when it comes to Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI)? This is not about simply setting benchmarks, since DEI is not about hitting quotas. Rather, it’s about acting in a way that is demonstrably and palpably inclusive and supportive to stakeholders. Such corporate commitments should be specific, measurable, and public. Challenge your organization to show how it will reduce and eliminate barriers to inequality, and to redefine what success looks like through a different lens. As a starting point, take stock of your recruiting and hiring; team composition; retention and advancement parity, reward and recognition structures; training programs and conversations on DEI; purchasing and community investment practices; thought leadership and publications, and external commitments to local, regional, national, and international communities.

3. Use your organization’s unique role in the world to advocate for long-term structural change. Because reducing systemic inequality means attacking the disease rather than its symptoms, organizations will need to take continuous action, create strategic and creative partnerships, and demonstrate unwavering dedication—all of which takes tremendous energy. That’s why leaning into purpose—which provides both the rallying cry and the motivation to engage employees’ discretionary effort, while illuminating a clear and mutual path—is so suited to effecting substantive long-term change.

How do companies find their purpose? They start by exploring and then articulating the role in the world the organization is meant to play. Understanding how your company can tap into its strengths and uniquely address aspects of larger systemic issues is important for achieving the greatest impact. A knee-jerk reaction to injustice is to take action immediatelyto right what is wrong in a heartful but reactive way. Yet recreating efforts that others already do well runs the risk of duplication and can result in well-intentioned but subpar solutions. To change the system holistically and for the long term, rather than being reactive, companies should strive to be considered and thoughtful about where they can add the most value, honest about what they do well, and open to recognizing and embracing complementary partnerships.

Empathy and honesty are not enough

One of the greatest challenges in creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive world lies in infusing actions into the activities that individuals and organizations engage in—both the strategic as well as the day-to-day work. To overcome this challenge, companies must determine who they can be at their very best and then assess, with utmost honesty, how their people, processes, and behaviors measure up to this benchmark. For companies that desire to drive lasting change, consistently asking what specific actions they can take to further their purpose and align with partners is critical. Bringing unique value and equity to the large-scale problems we are trying to solve is a great means to beginning a purposeful journey with desirable and meaningful outcomes.

Interested to hear how we can help you on your journey? Contact us!

This post is based on an article published on bcg.com