Why workers, customers, and suppliers should be demographically harmonized.
By Jon Campbell
We’ve all seen statistics and predictions for the changing demographics of our nation—changes that are redefining how Americans look, sound, live, work, and play. According to the United States Census, by 2042 there will be no single majority demographic in the U.S. By 2050, people of color will comprise more than half of the U.S. population, and the majority of new entrants to the labor market will be globally diverse.
Many companies have already learned that effectively attracting and serving diverse and emerging populations is not only the right thing to do, it’s critical to their business success, here and now. Having spent my entire career in banking, I’ve experienced firsthand how powerful it can be when a company truly understands diverse cultures and how to serve them on their terms.
Back in the 90’s, I spent quite a bit of time with the Navajo Nation—the largest Native American reservation in the country—building a handful of banking stores to serve their reservation. This isolated and undeveloped land has no urban centers and covers 27,000 square miles in northeastern Arizona and southwestern Utah. Its communities are connected by unpaved roads; most homes lack electricity, running water, or phones; and 45 percent of residents are unemployed.
After a few faulty starts, I finally learned that to be successful I needed to put myself in their shoes, which meant spending time in their world, dropping the suit and tie for jeans, and becoming comfortable riding to meetings in the back of pick-up trucks. It meant employing Native Americans in our stores and in management, having new stores blessed by a medicine man, and contributing to local nonprofits to help stimulate the community’s economic growth. During my 10 years of working with the Navajo, through these activities and others, we were able to establish a good working relationship. We learned to rely on one another, which was not only personally rewarding, but also paid off in a seven-figure contribution to our bottom line each year.
Traditionally, the idea of diversity was focused on the employee experience, and diversity was housed in the human resources domain. Business groups focusing on diversity such as human resources, social responsibility, and multicultural marketing, each operated in their own organizational silos focused on a different area of the customer or employee experience with limited collaboration, and thus limited innovation.
Today, successful companies have shifted their thinking and actions to integrate diversity competencies and cultural sensitivities into all areas of the company—from staffing functions to products and services to servicing and operations. At Wells Fargo, this integrated diverse leadership commitment has resulted in double-digit growth. How does this approach work in real life circumstances? While there’s no magic formula, I can summarize what we’ve learned in three points.
First, leadership matters, and it starts at the top. It’s vital to have senior leaders who understand and endorse the need to drive diversity competencies and strategies into products, business plans, and performance goals companywide.
Second, success requires execution, alignment, and coordination among all of the key diversity areas—senior management, corporate social responsibility, workplace diversity, and supplier diversity are foundational pillars that support and enhance the business opportunity through product innovation and differentiation for diverse markets.
In early 2011, we restructured our corporate social responsibility work to include our diversity and inclusion efforts. And corporate social responsibility became more closely aligned with our multicultural marketing efforts. Why? Quite simply, we made this change to emphasize the connection among our commitments to diversity, social responsibility, and business growth. We realized our commitment to a diverse workforce was closely aligned with our commitment to expanding our diverse supplier base and our desire to serve diverse populations—and we could be more successful by leveraging these core strengths.
Third, success requires understanding diverse populations and how to serve them—as I noted in my experience with the Navajo Nation. Here are a few guiding principles that may help you.
• Honor the culture. Recognize the values, insights, and experiences of your diverse customer base. Focus on getting to know them as individuals—their cultural perspectives, how they want to be communicated with and want to be served—and meet on their terms.
• Stay true to your brand. Strive to be transparent and authentic in
ensuring your brand conveys values and characteristics that resonate with diverse communities.
• Engage team members. Provide a diverse and inclusive workplace
that embraces and values differences and fosters business innovation, making employees your biggest advocates.
• Contribute to diverse communities. Many diverse communities
place a high value on companies showing up in their neighborhoods—it helps attract top talent, which in turn allows the company to create more innovative products and services that have a value for diverse communities. When a company helps a community through philanthropic and community development activities, individuals in the community may be positively affected, and more likely to become customers because of this sincere good will.
• Deliver where and when your customers are—or where they
seek you out. It starts with distribution—having locations that are welcoming and reflective of the culture helps build good will and a sense of community. Where appropriate, speak to customers in their language through bilingual employees, collateral, and merchandising.
LGBT Outreach: A Case Study
An example of where this integrated approach has worked for Wells Fargo is with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. We were privileged to be able to market to the community because of years of community involvement and long-standing leadership in workplace equality. We also recognized that domestic partners face unique financial issues related to joint ownership of property, beneficiary designations, and other arrangements. In response, we developed the Accredited Domestic Partnership Advisor Program. As the first in the industry, Wells Fargo financial advisors who have earned this certification are able to provide LGBT clients financial guidance on key domestic partnership issues.
We didn’t create a new product in this case: We changed our focus to reflect the unique legal requirements for this community. And it was no gimmick. Knowing our customers and serving them on their terms was the way we poured the foundations for our success in the LGBT market. As a result of our efforts, Wells Fargo is viewed as one of the top brands marketing to the LGBT market and was ranked second by DiversityInc magazine in their “Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees” list.
The bottom line is that diversity is a corporate asset—and we treat it as such, just as we treat other assets that are critical to achieving business goals. We’re pursuing integration of our diversity efforts into all our business practices. We’re also focused on increasing diversity internally—particularly in our leadership ranks—because customers expect us to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. Our investment in corporate social responsibility, diversity, and inclusion are cornerstones for business innovation, marketing/communication, and business success with the diverse communities that Wells Fargo operates in and serves.
Jon Campbell is executive vice president, director of corporate social responsibility for Wells Fargo & Company, the nation’s fourth largest financial services company. For more information, visit: www.wellsfargo.com.