Dear Colleagues:

Diversity & Inclusion is getting a lot of attention in the board room, human resources policies and practices, employee conversations and in business news. At the same time I have noticed an increase in diversity among talent featured in advertising - on TV, video, digital, print, et al. In the past year commercials and television/video/cable programs I've watched have featured more mixed race couples, more diversity among types of families and relationships. By a lot! 

As noted in this insightful DM News articleHow Cultural Inclusion Improves Customer Experiencesthe demand for diversity and inclusion is causing brands to make increasingly sophisticated and genuine cultural appeals.

This got me thinking about whether the growing visibility of the desire for diversity and inclusion in the workplace and marketing is a coincidence or a causal relationship. So, I reached out to several leaders in advertising, multicultural marketing, corporate talent and diversity to solicit their observations and opinions on trends in diversity in marketing and hiring, in particular if they thought any interconnectedness was occurring. 

You may be surprised with what they had to say.

How Diversity & Inclusion Impact Marketing - and Vice Versa

AirBnB Super Bowl ad #WeAccept

Is Marketing Contributing to D&I Outcomes?

With so much talk about diversity & inclusion goals in the workplace, and a growing representation of diverse talent in recent advertising, it raises a question: How and has corporate marketing contributed to corporate diversity & inclusion goals or influenced the environment for diversity and inclusion? 

"Marketing and D&I strategies and tactics intersect across talent, customer strategy and innovation," explains Raquelle Zuzarte, founder of EQUITY Project For All. "Some see a link between a talent pipeline with diverse the ability to attract a diverse customer audience." There was consensus among the experts I spoke with that some companies have taken bold steps to expand diversity in their hiring, while others have provided little more than lip service.
Jackie Bird, founder and CEO of Redbean Society also finds that in reality "in spite of research findings indicating that diversity and inclusion drive stronger business results, numbers are still very low for women in top positions and for ethnic diversity, which may vary by industry and state." Underscoring her observations is a Forbes article on why diversity programs may not work. Bird points to  HP, Unilever, Blackrock, Ernst & Young (EY) as examples of companies who have stepped up to the task.
While Zuzarte sees marketing as having less of an impact on diversity hiring, she does see diversity as making an impact on marketing in four ways: talent, marketing process (Grey's Progress Brief), marketing promotional messaging (#WomenNotObjects) and platforms, and final product (Stoli LGBT platform).  She points to SAP as a brand that has been successful in marketing their D&I initiatives through a global platform - UN Global Goals - and linking it back to technology and their own SAP products, with a big focus on gender equality.  
In a recent AdWeek articleVann Graves, Executive Director of The VCU Brandcenter,discusses how brands and agencies need diverse decision-making teams all the time, "not only when in crisis mode after a brand or advertising campaign offends people." In his article Graves provides examples of cultural and diversity snafus and offenders from Gucci and Adidas to H&M, Prada and Dove to demonstrate this point.

Embracing diversity and inclusion in the final marketing product can have a tangential impact on one aspect of diversity hiring. "When potential recruits see themselves reflected in marketing campaigns this leads to brand advocacy, and more importantly from an internal perspective, brand affinity. People holistically want to feel that a brand sees them and understands them; when brands make an effort to talk to diverse audiences from a consumer perspective, it's that first touch that can impact a person's decision to work with a company," explains Robyn Streisand, Founder & CEO, Titanium Worldwide. 
According to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau figures, 41% of the country's population is multicultural and identifies itself as either Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American or a combination of two or more races. That accounts for approximately 128 million consumers. The multicultural component is statistically projected to be 51% of a total population of 438 million consumers by 2050. This said, it's clear that population growth will be driven by different cross-cultural segments that will be primarily Generation Z and Generation Alpha consumers. (Source: Patrick Harrington, MediaPost).

Is Workplace Diversity Influencing Marketing?

Vann Graves observes that "given recent events, I personally don't think so [that the state of workplace diversity and inclusion has influenced corporate marketing (campaigns)], at least, not in a meaningful way. There are recent examples (Gucci and Adidas) and examples from recent years (H&M and Dove) that emphasize the problem: there is not enough diversity in key leadership roles helping make important decisions, and those missteps impact our marketplace in a negative way. It's not about headcount; it's about heads that count. These decisions about marketing stories, creative and talent are often made without participation of employees who have experience across multiple cultures." 
Jackie Bird finds that more and more "brands recognize the diversity of the marketplace and seek diversity in their teams to ensure the appropriate application of consumer insights. As they evolve with their campaigns, however, often the application borders only on inclusion and doesn't go deep enough to drive true relevance in the message or execution." 
"Campaigns of today are definitely more reflective of the ever changing diverse landscape. It's what brands do with them that make them real and authentic," says Robyn Streisand. She notes that social media has helped elevate these conversations inside and external to companies, as so widely recognized by all of the movements around women, LGBT and African American communities. 
"Our goal has always been to bridge the gap between Diversity & Inclusion and Marketing. (So long as) marketing campaigns are always funded with the appropriate dollars and are treated as a profit center, we believe that funding all diversity (diverse audience) programs similarly to general market programs will only allow for greater customer loyalty and affinity," Streisand explains.
There are situations where brands are blending social good and diversity in their marketing. Zuzarte calls out Nike and Gillette from a male perspective, Always ("Like a Girl") from a female perspective, and Airbnb as an all-inclusive example. She sees the marketplace challenge as "ensuring authenticity and consistency in the eyes of the ever-skeptical and jaded consumer." As Zuzarte says, "brands that demonstrate cohesiveness and integration across their diversity and inclusion strategies, marketing campaigns and corporate growth agenda will win. Nike is a good example of achieving just that."
Zuzarte explains that "another key challenge is ensuring a strategic approach to D&I as a business imperative, not just an HR or legal requirement. It is critical that companies tie their D&I priorities to what drives their business growth strategy and curate a targeted portfolio of initiatives that deliver on established KPIs -- the very KPIs that drive profitability and growth."
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