The New (Ab) Normal: Remaining Relevant Amidst Crises

At W2O, we define corporate Relevance as being thought about, sought out, talked about, engaged with and believed in among your stakeholders. Relevance is attuned to cultural, societal, political urgency and currency with organizations that reflect consistent, persistent, clear, and often bold stands that invite dialogue, discussion, debate and action.

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and global awakening on racial and social injustice, Relevance has never been more important, critical and powerful to an organization’s sustainability. The dueling pandemics we’re bearing witness to have made true equity one of the most urgent corporate and societal priorities of our time.

I recently had the pleasure of serving as a faculty member for the annual Fierce Life Sciences Pharma PR & Communications Summit on a panel titled “Relevance is the New Reputation: How Companies are Staying Relevant Amidst Crises.”  During this conversation, we explored how current global and U.S. events have made it clear how central Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) is to relevance and why corporations need to tear up the standard playbook and lean into the DE&I journey with authenticity, commitment and powerful resolve.

During the panel, I unveiled findings from W2O’s latest study, “Remaining Relevant Amidst Crisis & The New (Ab) Normal,” which outlines the current U.S. societal landscape identifying where select companies are in their DE&I maturity journey. The report provides considerations for how companies can and should move forward, no matter where they are in their commitment to DE&I.

The study’s findings solidify just how transformative 2020 continues to be, and the unveiling of a new era of corporate citizenship. With companies navigating the lightning rods of upheaval and the resulting new expectations their actions are under the microscope, with powerful shifts in perspectives from the general public – including employees – to commit, lead and engage on social and civic issues. “Walking your talk” has never been more important, and there’s a clear need for strategic, authentic action around DE&I to positively impact the path forward.

To help ascertain what this next normal can look like, we qualitatively analyzed the DE&I progress of five companies – across Fortune 500 and the healthcare industry – to establish a DE&I maturity journey. Maturity was mapped across five key pillars: Authenticity, Accountability, Action, Transparency and Frequency.

All of the companies analyzed fell in the middle of a 5-point scale of stages from Novice to Champion, pointing to the inroads made and work that still needs to be done.  Addressing growing stakeholder expectations around DE&I in a transformational moment for society can be daunting.

Following are four key considerations for moving forward:

  1. DEI is a mindset not a message
    Recent societal shifts have highlighted the critical need for companies to commit to and take clear, measurable action around DE&I. Start where you are, take ownership of where you’ve fallen short to date, and be ready to embrace discomfort as you grow.
  2. Authenticity starts with Clarity about who you are
    Throughout the journey, remember that authenticity is key. Make authenticity a North Star in foundation-setting efforts and beyond. Stakeholders, particularly employees, should believe that DE&I efforts align with the brand and its core purpose/values.
  3. Educate. Highlight. Share.
    Education and policy are top-of-mind for stakeholders. Authentic partnerships are a way to address this need, no matter where you are on the maturity journey. Showcase how the company is listening, learning and sharing information, and be ready to go well beyond “performative” monetary donations.
  4. Connect the Dots
    Civil unrest has sparked a realization for some that there is uncertainty around what DE&I truly means. In many cases, this has been a catalyst for increased consumption of educational resources. Companies can, through their educational efforts, help create interconnectivity between education and DE&I topics within search.

Why does this matter? It all comes back to Relevance. How relevant are you?  In today’s social and digital world, if you aren’t relevant you don’t exist.

Organizations are being judged on Purpose as much as Product. As such, they need to allow stakeholders to discover rather than sell their narrative regarding DE&I. The world is watching, and there is an imperative to close the gap between rhetoric and stakeholder expectations by aligning with the societal and cultural urgency of DE&I​. Embracing the maturity journey now will align action with urgency – authentically, thoughtfully and transparently.

Be unafraid to take a stand. Now more than ever, Relevance is your most potent path to the future.

Abby Hayes
Abby Hayes

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