Which brands do Canadians see as champions of D&I?

From the C-Suite newsletter: A survey ranks Walmart and Nike highest, with perceptions driven by workforce diversity and ads.

Walmart

Walmart, Nike, RBC, Tim Hortons and TD are the top-five companies that Canadians perceive as being champions of diversity and inclusion, according to the first phase of a new Diversity & Inclusion Monitor syndicated study conducted by Solutions Research Group (SRG).

Walmart ranked #1 nationally and received the greatest number of unaided responses from Canadians in Western Canada, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. The retailer ranked #7 in Ontario, where Nike – the #2 brand overall – was seen as the most diverse and inclusive company.

Twenty-two of the top 25 companies on the list are from the retail (5), banking (5), communications (4), sports/leisure (3), QSR/food service (3) and technology sectors (2).

Behind Walmart, Loblaw Companies (#7 overall) ranked as the second-highest retail brand, followed by Amazon (#13), Canadian Tire (#15) and Costco (#19). In #3 overall, RBC leads in being perceived as the most D&I-friendly company among the big banks, followed by TD (#5). QSRs also ranked highly on the list, with Tim Hortons landing at #4, followed by McDonald’s at #6. A regional breakdown of results can be found below.

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The ranking is based on the unaided mentions of companies during a survey of 1,350 English- and French-speaking Canadians in July. In September, SRG conducted follow-up interviews with a sample of 420 consumers to better understand what influenced their perceptions.

“The biggest drivers of perception come down to four things – workforce, advertising, sponsorships and media coverage,” says Kaan Yigit, president and research director at SRG. “All of these provide cues to consumers about how committed a company is to this cause.”

The mix of perception drivers varies by sector, he says.

For companies with a large number of customer-facing employees, such as Walmart – which employs 90,000 Canadians and recently announced it will hire 10,000 more – having a diverse workforce is an important factor.

Many respondents applied a broad interpretation of inclusion to the survey, one that takes into account people of different ages, sexual orientations, and abilities, according to Yigit. This is something Walmart seems to have benefited from in the survey, as a number of people “commented about not just ethnic diversity in the employee ranks, but also [mentioned] how Walmart hires ‘young and old’ and as well as inclusion of people with disabilities.”

The diversity seen behind the counters and cash registers at the country’s retailers and QSR chains could be seen as a sign of broader socio-economic inequalities in Canada, as those jobs are typically entry-level and lower-paying.

However, the companies are “significant and stable employers,” whose roles have arguably become even more significant during the pandemic, Yigit says. “The diversity of their workforce speaks to the fact that their hiring and selection practices give groups that are often overlooked an equal chance for employment – whether it be racialized youth, newcomers to Canada, seniors or persons with disabilities. I think consumers broadly appreciate this, as well as employees themselves.”

For brands with fewer visible employees, including companies like Nike, Adidas, Google and Dove, advertising is one of the primary drivers shaping impressions of diversity and inclusion, according to the research. For example, with the debut of its “For Once Don’t Do It” spot, Nike became one of the first companies to take a stance on the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Flloyd. For Yigit, the spot represented “something of a turning point where large companies started signalling they can’t stay silent on matters like this that impact their customers and employees.”

For the vast majority of companies, however, Yigit says perceptions of D&I are driven by a mix of factors, including “what you say in your advertising, who is included in those spots and, importantly, how they are portrayed and in what roles, and how consistent you are with your messaging. Same with the causes you support, and the athletes, events or sports you sponsor.”

The research represents phase one of SRG’s Diversity & Inclusion Monitor survey. A second phase of the research will be conducted in November, with results expected in January.

Phase two will include responses from a cross-section of consumers and employees, with the goal being to understand the impact D&I has on consumer behaviour and choice, as well as to “obtain baseline measures of employees’ sense of belonging and inclusion at their place of work and how this differs by company size, region and employee background,” according to Yigit. He says the firm hopes to turn those insights into a series of best practices and suggestions for companies as advertisers and employers.

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