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Interview with Diane Primo: Why DEI Is Important and How Businesses Can Incorporate Diversity

Interview with Diane Primo: Why DEI Is Important and How Businesses Can Incorporate Diversity

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DEI is becoming somewhat of a buzzword in the business world. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is an incentive and a movement that is helping diversify the workplace by helping more people of color and people of diverse backgrounds get hired. It also ensures that once minorities enter the workplace, they feel they are included and accepted and can thrive in the space. 

Since August is Black Business Month, BGN spoke with the CEO of Purpose Brand, Diane Primo, via email. Primo is a woman on a mission to make DEI a top priority for companies everywhere; she shared why and how DEI matters in today’s business world. 

Please tell readers about yourself and what you’re passionate about.

It’s all about passion, isn’t it? As CEO of the Purpose Brand marketing and public relations firm, I help brands and organizations speak authentically to diverse audiences and connect to the values they hold close. After years in corporate America, I’ve found it liberating to grow a business and set my own path. I believe I’m the only Black female CEO of a purpose-driven communications agency, and I’m very proud of that. 

I am also deeply invested in passion projects. My husband and I co-chair a charity that continues the community work of his father, Bishop Quintin E. Primo Jr. The Primo Center is now Chicago’s largest center for homeless families.

In this digital age where content is king, what are some important things Black business owners need to know about producing content for their business?

Black founders have a dream platform in social media. It’s easier than ever to find an audience. All of us — business owners, employees, community members — are living in an unprecedented time, when we can all be activists or branders. We’re free to make our opinions and needs known and enjoy a drop-the-mic moment on social media. 

As consumers, we see our purchases as extensions of ourselves. But we don’t want BS. We want to support brands that are doing good, not just talking a good game. Producing convincing brand content takes soul-searching and incorporating a strategy with trusted advisers authentically speaking to our audience. 

Business owners must know their audience and position their products and themselves wisely.

Recently, there has been a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the business world. Why is DEI so important, and why should businesses focus on it? What are some of the benefits of DEI?

The U.S. is poised to be a majority-minority nation within the next generation. Companies will have to adapt to be relevant, and not just for the future. The talent pool that exists now wants to bring their whole selves to their work and has higher expectations for corporate culture. In my latest book, ADAPT: Scaling Purpose in a Divisive World, the title is a mnemonic for how purpose-led companies Assess, Define, Amplify, Perform, and Transcend. They use DEI as a competitive advantage. Executive teams that elevate diversity outperform their peers in financial performance, value creation, and innovation, while firms lagging on DEI underperform.

In your experience working within DEI and as a keynote speaker, where have you seen the industry expanding when it comes to DEI? Where are the areas that need improvement?

The case studies in ADAPT show that productive organizations put diversity at the heart of everything they do — from hiring and supply chain to product development and marketing. A great example of this is Nike, who thinks in holistic terms. They want a better employee experience and a more inclusive community to build next-generation leaders and a better environment to ensure a future for sports.

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Regarding improvements, we need to continue to be intentional about DEI and always measure ourselves by results. Regrettably, the DEI rhetoric falls far short of the reality we witness across much of corporate America.

What are some steps businesses can take to create a more inclusive culture?

First, make inclusion everyone’s role. Learn about employee issues and how they intersect. Give employees opportunities to learn from each other. 

Then, get serious about inclusive job recruitment and retention. That starts at the top, with directors and executives representing all stakeholders. Supplier diversity should not be overlooked — it makes for a more resilient supply chain, especially when contractors have the chance to earn more-demanding roles over time. 

Employee resource groups are valuable and have become commonplace in many companies. They should be assessed for how they help guide crucial initiatives in the company, such as the capacity to develop unique products or attract new customers. In the end, DEI has to be intentional. Set goals, then make people accountable for meeting them.

How can employees of companies that don’t have a strong DEI culture be advocates for more inclusion?

Hiring managers often keep going to the same pool of candidates, consciously or unintentionally, and that limits the viewpoints and experience their workforce can bring to any project. If diversity is a priority, then it’s not acceptable to say, “We couldn’t find qualified women and minority candidates.” How does that make sense? Why aren’t there multiple diverse candidates involved in any new hire, promotion, or buying decision? 

There’s a lesson here for employees who aren’t in a hiring position. We all have unconscious biases. Not all of us are willing to admit or curious enough to act on them. However, the goal should be to learn more about DEI issues, find out who in your organization is interested in them, and work together with those allies on solutions. The bottom line is you need to speak up. Refuse to perpetuate the status quo. 

Why is Black Business Month so important, and how can people honor and celebrate this month?

Being a Black business owner is wonderful, but the obstacles are still significant. Black business owners struggle with financing, investment, and working capital.  Despite lacking resources, many Black entrepreneurs thrive, and their ingenuity and excellence are worth celebrating. 

Black Business Month is an opportunity to connect Black founders to peers, advisers, investors, and consumers who can help them reach the next level. Black businesses always need more customers, but visibility also helps Black business owners expand their knowledge, connections, and funding. 

Anything else you’d like to add to the topic?

DEI is a polarizing topic. To some extent, that’s because we’ve made diversity an abstraction when it is a fact of life. We live in a rich and multifaceted world and can interact with it more deeply than any past generation. 

We need to focus on solutions as we pull ourselves out of our shells, interact with those around us, and advocate for one another. Those solutions are in the best interests of our citizens, businesses, and ability to compete globally. That’s not a monthlong project but a life’s work.

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