Diversity means more than putting the word “Equity” on your website. After George Floyd’s death this year, many CEOs and marketing departments rose up to express their thoughts on racial unification and demonstrate their company’s plan to embrace the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Others quickly put together a webpage to express how their product, content, services or programming provides equity for teachers and/or students. At the same time, some businesses and sales teams awkwardly defined what “equity” truly means and struggled to articulate their company’s alignment to that goal.
I watched organizations pull together panels of African American and Latino education leaders to openly share what has been discussed for years in small minority homogeneous group settings or at conferences where the sole focus has been how to drive equity for black and brown students. African American and Latino educators were screaming, “FINALLY, we can share our thoughts and visions without being chastised for being ‘too racial’.” Companies sponsored these leaders of color and embraced the conversation as a way to show solidarity when historically these views were seen as polarizing and swept under the carpet.
Unfortunately, some companies continue to struggle with how to position themselves in this new paradigm of racial understanding. There may be several reasons why an internal spotlight on such issues does not appear important:
- It may be that a company has never invested in the concept of diversity, equity or inclusion (DEI)
- The idea to adjust their thinking may be uncomfortable to their current staff members
- They don’t realize this to be important for business growth
- They think addressing DEI will only be a temporary situation and jumping on the bandwagon might not be necessary as the topic will just “go away.”
Whatever the reason(s), businesses who want to continue to thrive, would be well-served by considering public education’s future demographic landscape…because a change is gonna come!
Over this decade, American student demographics will drastically move towards a minority majority. Enrollment of Hispanic students has more than doubled since 1995 and projections show that it will reach 27.5% by 2029. The percentage of black students is projected to be static yet comprise 15.2% of the total student population. Asian-Pacific Islanders will be at 5.9% and students with two or more races will rise to 5.8%. Meanwhile, the white public school student population has been on a steady decline and by 2029, it will be about 44%.* The student body make-up will be unlike ever before and meeting the needs of a diverse population will no longer be a “good-to-have” but a “must have.”
Having the benefit of working with hundreds of school district leaders over the years, I know that they seek to do business with companies that are dedicated to addressing the needs of ALL students. Some district administrators say they go directly to a company’s website to see if there is diversity within an organization that is seeking a partnership. Businesses may have content that translates into different languages or black, brown or Asian students visible in marketing collateral, yet they fail to practice what they preach through their own hiring practices.
Wise companies are ensuring that their HR departments specifically reach outside of their own personal network or geographic pools to seek new hires. There are many qualified candidates of color that await an opportunity to get a foot in the door yet have been historically overlooked. One company I spoke with has decided to reach out to industry organizations that support minorities and place job advertisements on those websites. They also are seeking ways to ensure there is succession or a growth plan for anyone hired. Other companies have come to the realization that having diverse participants present while discussing content development or marketing initiatives helps to bring varying perspectives and thoughts into their overall organization.
Is your company prepared to meet the needs of ALL students and educators by aligning your equity goals to the K-12 marketplace? Do you have equity goals? If your company is serious about long-term business growth and building relationships within these ever-changing American school districts, here are some questions to consider:
- Have you had an equity audit for hiring, content, marketing or outreach?
- Have you thought about the skills that may transfer to a specific job even if a candidate’s experience is outside of the industry?
- Do you seek diversity for your business or customer advisory boards?
- Do you understand the nuances of diversity go beyond just placing various ethnicities on your website and marketing collateral?
- Do you align customized marketing materials or content to match the diversity of the districts you seek?
- Do you have diversity within your sales and marketing teams?
- Do you understand that “diversity” should mean a mix of people that includes different ethnicities, ages, races, religions, nationalities, cultural experiences, sexual orientations or differently-abled?
- Do you have diversity on your leadership and/or executive team that goes beyond the DEI compliance officer?
- Do you hire African American or Latino sales reps to solely address “urban markets” when they can connect with other markets as well?
- Do you encourage team players to work together for the good of the whole by recognizing what works for different districts and different relationship connections?
- Do you encourage and build your sales team, no matter who they are, to understand, relate and feel comfortable speaking to administrators about DEI and diverse public school demographics?
- Have you built a succession plan for new hires to grow within the organization for retention and longevity?
“Equity” is more than noun. It is an action word and moral imperative for businesses wanting to work in the K-12 marketplace.
Paula Reed is President of BizEducation Consulting, Inc. She provides advisement, equity audits, marketing and sales strategies, executive coaching and professional development to organizations seeking to do business in the K12 marketplace.