Guest post from C3MD member Danielle Marshall.
In the article, Unlocking the Benefits of Stakeholder Orientation, that I contributed last month to the Conscious Capitalism Central Maryland Chapter blog, I highlighted that businesses striving to become more conscious of their stakeholders and their roles in organizational operations can benefit greatly from embracing an equity lens. By utilizing this approach, businesses can broaden their understanding of who constitutes a stakeholder and re-examine the engagement strategies they use to ensure that everybody involved benefits in some way. As a continuation, this article focuses on taking the next step of engaging stakeholders through the application of an equity lens.
One of the most overlooked components in responsible business decision-making is stakeholder engagement – examining how our stakeholders are impacted from a moral, ethical, and economic standpoint. Taking on an equity lens when engaging with both internal and external stakeholders can help ensure we remain socially accountable for our actions as well as effectively build relationships with those that matter most to us: employees, shareholders, customers, community members, etc., involved or influenced by our company’s decisions.
As business owners in the 21st century, we live and work in a time of increased global awareness and interconnectedness. Increased public discussion around ethics, sustainability, economic disparities, systemic racism, and other social issues actively influence decisions made by companies around the world. Considering these factors has never been more critical to successful business practices than it is now. And yet how we advance business practices in these areas requires a shift away from the tradition of paternalism – the “we know best” mindset; to the active inclusion of stakeholders impacted by organizational decisions and practices.
What is Equity Lens and Why Should We Use It for Stakeholder Engagement?
An equity lens refers to a framework that prioritizes inclusiveness, fairness, and diversity in developing (or revising) policies, practices, and decisions that impact stakeholders. By integrating an equity lens, decision-makers can analyze and consider various stakeholder groups’ different perspectives and needs. Adopting an equity lens facilitates the identification of potential biases and systemic issues, allowing organizations to navigate complicated sociocultural structures and create more equitable solutions.
As we strive towards a fair and just world, incorporating an equity lens becomes essential for enhancing stakeholder engagement, ensuring diverse voices are represented, and driving meaningful change for the greater good.
Why Understanding the Impact of Historical Context in Stakeholder Engagement is Important
Grasping the significance of historical context is vital when it comes to stakeholder engagement, as it can make or break the success of a project or organization. Delving into the history of particular stakeholders, whether communities, companies, or government entities, can shed light on the unique experiences and perspectives they bring to the table. By recognizing certain past events or cultural sensitivities, stakeholders can be approached more respectfully and informed, ensuring that communication is constructive and fruitful. In addition, understanding historical context aids in identifying potential obstacles, which in turn allows for better strategizing and decision-making.
One can easily find situations in which being aware of the historical context matters in stakeholder interactions. Two examples are offered here.
Suppose a company wants to engage with a historically marginalized community, such as a Native American tribe, to discuss a proposed development project on their ancestral land. In this scenario, understanding the tribe’s history and culture would be critical to engaging with them equitably and respectfully.
For example, the company may need to understand the tribe’s relationship to the land, their history of displacement and colonization, and the ongoing effects of historical trauma on the community. This understanding can help the company approach the engagement process with cultural sensitivity and respect for the tribe’s sovereignty and self-determination. Without this historical context, the company may inadvertently perpetuate harm or misunderstandings that can hinder the potential for a productive and equitable engagement process.
Another example would be a healthcare organization looking to engage with a community of immigrants who have experienced trauma related to their migration journey. In this scenario, understanding the historical context of the community’s migration and the root causes of their trauma would be critical to engaging with them equitably and through trauma-informed practices.
The company may need to understand the political, economic, and social factors that led to the community’s displacement and any ongoing systemic barriers they face in accessing healthcare services. This understanding can help the organization approach the engagement process with sensitivity and respect for the community’s experiences and needs.
Without historical context, the healthcare organization may inadvertently perpetuate mistrust, cultural misunderstandings, or trauma triggers that can negatively impact the community’s health outcomes and the potential for a productive and equitable engagement process.
By considering stakeholder groups’ unique experiences, connections, and realities, decision-makers can better understand how to craft equitable and sustainable solutions that recognize all stakeholders’ cultural and current needs. Through this approach, businesses can foster meaningful relationships built on trust and respect while promoting sustainable business practices.
Considerations in Using An Equity Lens to Strengthen Stakeholder Engagement
Centering equity in organizational policies and practices starts with a more balanced representation of diverse voices, transparency, and mutual understanding. Companies can utilize an equity lens by assessing the current state of their organization’s policy, practices, and decision-making activities. This initial step should include analyzing existing power structures, identity biases, and untapped potential that may have gone unnoticed or been overlooked. Companies should also consider any narratives they may be telling themselves about this issue and consider alternative perspectives to get a more complete understanding of the underlying root cause of the issue.
Once these initial steps have been taken, companies can work on increasing collaboration across all involved parties by actively seeking feedback from stakeholders that are or will be impacted by any new policy, practice, or decision to ensure all voices are heard. It is worthwhile to consider the value proposition to the stakeholder group before reaching out, avoiding the tendency to request feedback without providing something of value to the stakeholder community.
Understanding the outcomes the company is looking to foster and how they align with the company mission, business strategy, revenue targets, and other organizational objectives creates a further opportunity to focus on and address potential unintended outcomes equitably.
Engagement with stakeholders should be conducted openly and transparently to effectively communicate new policies, practices, or decisions while keeping communication inclusive, culturally relevant, and accessible.
Last, companies should evaluate learnings from applying the equity lens — creating tangible next steps and building accountability measures into their initiatives.
By taking these preparatory steps before implementing an equity lens into stakeholder engagement initiatives, companies can ensure long-term growth and success for everyone involved and create meaningful solutions that make positive changes for anyone touched by the process.
Challenges and Opportunities when Taking an Equity Approach to Stakeholder Engagement
Taking an equity approach to stakeholder engagement may present challenges and opportunities for organizations, yet those challenges pale in comparison to what can be gained. One of the primary challenges is the need for a more significant level of involvement and communication from all stakeholders, especially those who may feel marginalized or underrepresented. An intentional focus on stakeholder engagement requires organizations to invest additional time and resources into creating and maintaining trusting relationships with these groups. Additionally, adopting an equity approach can lead to increased scrutiny. Organizations must closely evaluate existing power structures and identify biases that may have hindered truly inclusive engagement in the past.
In spite of these challenges, organizations that adopt such an approach gain access to various untapped talents and ideas, fostering better decision-making and, ultimately, a more resilient organization. Furthermore, by embracing this equitable perspective, organizations can deepen their commitment to social responsibility, develop mutually beneficial relationships, and enhance their overall reputation and standing with external stakeholders. Thus, implementing an equity approach in stakeholder engagement, while demanding, can prove transformative for an organization’s future success.
If your business is looking to create more equitable stakeholder engagement, download a free copy of the “At-a-Glance” Equity Alignment Lens™ and unlock potential opportunities for everyone involved with your organization.
About the Author
Danielle Marshall is a Racial Equity Strategist, and Executive Coach focused on strengthening collaboration in organizations to foster creative solutions and improve culture. She founded Culture Principles in response to a persistent need to move organizations beyond DEI statements to develop strategic and actionable equity goals. Danielle’s work inspires her daily, and she is committed to promoting systemic change that promotes equity and inclusion.
Thank you to C3MD member Danielle Marshall for this post. If you are interested in submitting a guest blog post please reach out. We want to hear what you have to offer!
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