Recent reports have shown companies pulling back from implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). A leader in global communications has spoken out against the matter.

At the 2024 Women of Color Connecting Summit, hosted by the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Edelman CEO Richard Edelman led the session titled “Data Matters.” During his presentation, he shared findings from “Edelman’s Trust Barometer Special Report: Business and Racial Justice,” according to the virtual summit’s website.

While relaying the findings was to inform allies, investors, and policymakers, Edelman took a moment to address the misconceptions about DE&I.

“This is one of the big problems in America. We lack reliable information,” Edelman said, per a news release.

He continued, “I have heard so much about ‘let’s drop DE&I as a phrase; let’s just focus on sustainability.’ Nonsense. We have to defend DE&I as an important part of the equation of ESG [environmental, social, and governance]. ESG matters. I know a lot of conservatives are blasting ESG and saying it’s ‘woke.’ No. We must not give up what we’ve achieved in the last three or four years. It’s really important.”

In addition, Edelman called out companies for failing to keep to their word with their internal and external commitments to marginalized groups.

“Follow through on your promises,” he said in a statement. “This is key to trust. Nearly two-thirds of people say companies are doing a mediocre job of living up to their promise or commitments to address racism within the organization. This is quite shocking.”

In light of organizations failing to address racism, Edelman said the expectation is justifiably high for the business sector to get it right. More than any other institution, it’s the one people have trusted to come through. Yet, “not a single business sector” is doing a proper job of doing so. He also believes that when companies are intentional about pushing for equality in the workplace, it’s both the right thing to do and takes their operations to the next level, which is vital to their own survival.

“Progress on addressing racism is a tangible—it actually improves my loyalty,” Edelman said. “I’ll stay longer at a company. It improves my advocacy, meaning I’ll recommend the company.”

As for potential solutions for companies to take real action regarding diversity and inclusion, Edelman advised people to hold their executives accountable and debunk disinformation. When leaders may still not understand or don’t prioritize their concerns, he said they needed to be reminded that this isn’t “a zero-sum game” and that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

“It has to be something that isn’t a campaign issue,” he said. “It is a country issue. …We have to make it about business progress.”

In addition, Edelman’s presentation shared his belief that employers must ensure diversity across all functions and levels, including the board and C-suite, in order to address racism and racial injustice.