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Diversity helps companies thrive—but how can we foster it in the natural products industry?

Here are three thought-provoking takeaways from the J.E.D.I. Collaborative’s recent benchmarking survey on the demographic makeup of leadership within the natural products industry.

We know that diversity matters and, thanks to research reports carried out in recent years by institutions including McKinsey & Company and the Harvard Business Review, we also know that diversity is good for business. Even so, companies have a long way to go when it comes to supporting diversity on leadership teams and in boardrooms. But how does the natural products industry measure up?

This was the overarching question posed by the J.E.D.I. Collaborative—an OSC² natural products industry collaborative whose name stands for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion—in a recent benchmarking survey completed by approximately 220 industry leaders and providing insight into approximately 1,000 leaders, 725 board members, 220 CEOs and 210 founders.

Carried out during the fourth quarter of 2019, the purpose of the survey was to measure current leadership demographics in the natural products industry and help inform future goals towards promoting and encouraging diversity in this space.

The results of this survey, presented in the J.E.D.I Collaborative webinar embedded at the end of this article on April 29, 2020, by co-founders Sheryl O’Loughlin, Lara Dickinson and New Hope Network's Senior Vice President of Content Carlotta Mast, showed that there is still a long way to go to in terms of supporting and promoting diversity in this industry. 

Here are three of the most striking takeaways from the survey:

1. Industry leadership teams and boards are predominantly made up of white men.

81% of board members and 84% of leadership teams are white, while 68% of board members and 57% of leadership members are men. These demographics are moving farther and farther away from the growing diversity of the U.S., where data from the Associated Press projects white people to be in the minority within 25 years.

Another jarring takeaway from the survey is that black and Latinx membership on industry boards is only 2%, while black and Latinx representation on leadership teams is 2% and 6% respectively.  

2. Smaller companies are more diverse, particularly when it comes to women CEOs.

Companies with fewer than 10 employees are doing better at supporting diversity, with women holding 60% of leadership roles, as compared to making up only 36% of leadership roles in companies with more than 10 people on staff. Companies with fewer than 10 employees also have more people of color in leadership positions, at 27%, as opposed to a mere 18% of leadership positions in larger companies.

As an industry, it is paramount to find ways to keep diversity thriving as companies grow.

3. Supporting J.E.D.I. can help stimulate new growth in the natural and organic industry.

“The lack of diversity is a missed opportunity for growth for the natural products industry,” says Mast, “which is not set up to serve an increasingly diverse and changing population.” Although women drive the majority of purchasing decisions, 73% of industry consumers are white and of privilege. Serving diverse communities not only represents a business opportunity, but also the responsibility that this industry has to ensure that its better-for-you products reach everyone. This is particularly true in today’s COVID-19 crisis, where personal health is more important to consumers than ever before.

A lack of diversity is also a missed opportunity when it comes to the innovation that will be needed to solve big problems facing people and planet in the future.

Next steps

In addition to sharing the results of this benchmarking survey—the first to look at the demographic makeup of the natural and organic industry—the webinar launched the J.E.D.I. Collaborative website, where companies can make a commitment to promoting justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in this industry, as well as find resources and tools designed to help them further and support these goals.

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