Diversity and Inclusion: Rewriting the Rules for Marketing
By Shelley Zalis, CEO and Founder, The Female Quotient. Published on November 14, 2017.
Credit: Deloitte Digital
When it comes to diversity in marketing, we've come a long way—but we still have a long way to go. Marketing has a unique role to play in rewriting the rules on diversity in business.
Numerous studies show that diverse teams deliver superior results. For example, recent research found that inclusive teams make more effective business decisions up to 87% of the time. Even more compelling, Deloitte's most recent Human Capital Trends report found that companies with inclusive talent practices can generate up to 30% higher revenue per employee and greater profitability than their competitors.
Clearly, diverse teams operating in inclusive cultures can offer ideas and viewpoints that help drive innovation and effectiveness for the business. This is especially true in marketing, where a team that reflects the incredible diversity in the marketplace is much more likely to develop messaging and advertising that resonates. Yet, even with these clear ties to results, corporate America's approach to diversity hasn't resulted in dramatic advancements.
For marketing organizations—and businesses in general—diversity is important, but its benefits may not be realized without an inclusive culture.
Sadly, there's no magic wand to wave. But every little step in the right direction gets us closer to where we want to be (and is 100% better than nothing). Here are some things marketing can do to promote diversity at every level:
Hire diversity of thinking
Throughout the hiring process, it's worth taking time to remind decision-makers about the business value of diversity and encourage them to embrace various backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, rather than gravitating to people who are similar to themselves, which is a natural human tendency. After all, a diverse team can be more innovative and effective. To reach diverse pools of talent, it may also be helpful to broaden your recruiting sources so that you are meeting the talent you need where they already are.
Tackle the "messy middle
When striving to improve an organization's diversity, hiring is literally just the beginning. For many organizations, entry-level representation is often reflective of the available talent pool. Consider gender as an example. Research shows that, on average, entry-level representation is roughly 50% women compared to 19% women in the C-suite. This is especially true in marketing, where women are often a large proportion of the workforce at lower rungs of the ladder but a much smaller proportion at higher levels.
As with hiring, decision-makers should not only make a conscious effort to embrace diversity, but also model inclusive leadership behaviors. An organization's culture is greatly shaped by the people at the top. We need to reimagine workplace culture to retain our best talent.
While education to build awareness can be helpful, it isn't enough. Organizations now have the ability to make structural changes and implement transparent, data-driven solutions to make better decisions that lead to more diversity and, thus, better business outcomes, according to Deloitte's 2017 Human Capital Trends
Vote with marketing dollars
Marketing is uniquely positioned to shape how people think and should use that position to create positive change. It's not just about making sure ad campaigns feature different races, genders and ages; it's about making sure that different kinds of people are portrayed in a fair, accurate and realistic way—instead of cynically or lazily relying on age-old stereotypes that prey on and reinforce society's existing biases.
In June 2016, my company, The Female Quotient, partnered with the Association of National Advertisers and its Alliance for Family Entertainment to launch #SeeHer, an initiative to help achieve a more accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising and the media. So far, more than 1,000 brands, with $40 billion of U.S. ad spend, have joined and signed up to use the Gender Equality Measure to assess and eliminate bias in their advertising. And more companies are signing up every day.
A way to take this a step further is to include explicit diversity requirements in RFPs and agency partners. To win work, marketers can look for tangible evidence that their agency is committed to hiring and developing a diverse workforce and fostering an inclusive culture. Not only is that likely to land a better result, it begins to set a standard of expectation beyond your organization.
The ultimate goal: Driving empathy, not sympathy
At the end of the day, good feelings and supportive words are nice, but to really make a difference, decision-makers should bring the rational decision of supporting diversity back to the human level through an inclusive culture. Supporting a culture of empathy is what we're really driving at—so that we can understand people and different ways of thinking and truly value those for the insight they bring. When that happens, it is likely that inequality will begin to shrink and strength will begin to build as those numbers change throughout the ranks. After all, one person at the top of an organization has power, but a group of committed leaders has impact.
This could be the start of a major positive trend, and marketing is at the heart of the action. To change how people behave, we need to change how they think. And at the end of the day, isn't that what marketing is all about?
Shelley Zalis is CEO and founder of The Female Quotient. Launched in 2013, The Female Quotient emphasizes collaboration and mentorship to activate change in advancing gender equality in the workplace. It leads The Girls' Lounge, a destination at conferences, companies and college campuses where women connect, collaborate and activate change together. The Girls' Lounge has become the largest community of corporate women and female entrepreneurs transforming workplace culture. Deloitte Digital and The Female Quotient have joined forces to deliver joint programming that continues to promote equality and inclusion in the workplace, and the shared belief that they aren't a social imperative--they're a business imperative.