What’s your organisation’s legacy?

30 June 2020 -

Ball of water about to splash on outheld handThe Black Lives Matter protests and the Covid-19 crisis have evoked important conversations about equality in business and society

Mark Rowland

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that organisations are having some difficult conversations. Many have had to quickly rethink both their short-term survival measures as well as what their future might look like. It has also compelled organisations to look long and hard at their legacies from a diversity and inclusion point of view. Conversations inspired by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement are encouraging the public to push for greater change. Already businesses, governments and universities are responding to pressure to make a difference in how they operate.

Sandra Macleod FIPR, CMgr CCIM, group CEO of Echo Research, believes that this will be a moment of lasting change when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Understanding History

One impact of the recent protests and discussions is that some organisations are being presented with their historical legacies. Companies and organisations have been challenged by the public over their past links to the slave trade and Britain’s colonial past. Denial, burial and obfuscation is not the right strategy, says MacLeod – organisations must recognise their history, admit wrongdoing or false claims, and find ways to atone when needed and where possible.

“There are all sorts of things that organisations can do, and that’s where a ‘purpose lens’ becomes helpful; ‘looking at actions and commitments through the lens of our purpose now, and we’re building in measures to make sure it never happens again’. If organisations come through a truly authentic and human voice, they will get through it much faster and will be able to rebuild trust and loyalty. It will be a long, hard road if they don’t.”

There are clear guidelines already around best practice with regards to BLM, all focusing on equality of opportunity, development, pay and recognition, with clear and transparent targets and KPIs. When it comes to corporate leaders, it is instructive to consider those who have dealt with legacy reputational issues such as those around the environment. Unilever, for example, under the leadership of Paul Polman and Alan Jope, has been very open about its environmental legacy and the steps it has taken to transform the company into something better.

Diversity and inclusion – a major reputation issue for the future

Diversity and inclusion will be a major issue from a risk and reputation point of view, Macleod explains. She believes that investors and shareholders will start to ask businesses about their culture and diversity and inclusion policies. “All these things show how you’re building resilience into your organisation. Not just to make that sale tomorrow, but show that you’re aligned with the direction society is going, where your employees are going. Investors are looking at this because it’s a risk if you don’t do it.”

“Everything about this pandemic has highlighted gross inequalities across BAME communities and other minority groups,” she says. “This has brought us to a point where society is saying it cannot accept it any longer. Things have to change, and if organisations aren’t changing, we can see people taking to the streets and walking out of their employers, saying: ‘you’re not doing enough and we’re not prepared to accept it’.”

We recently hosted a roundtable with key thinkers on the topic of inclusivity - take a look at the conversation's highlights here.