Inclusion in the age of the glass box brand

The truth is, all businesses, irrespective of their age, sector and employee make up struggle with diversity and inclusion, and need help on their journey to ensure that the behaviours, biases and cultures that result in exclusions, discriminations and ‘we think’ are eliminated.

It is easy to get exasperated by the fact that industries led by such talented, creative and vibrant individuals can leave so many employees feeling like they don’t have a place.

Yet we need to feel inspired by all of the many examples of the positive steps individuals and companies are taking in order to make a meaningful impact on shifting the inclusion dial. Just the fact that the Diversity in Marketing & Advertising Summit (DIMA) was so well attended by so many glittering marketing and advertising brands is in itself grounds for hope.

The key is action – for all of us. What is each of us doing today to include and engage the teams that we work with?

The rationale is familiar.

At DIMA, I spoke about a concept originally reported in TrendWatching of brands no longer being ‘black boxes’ carefully crafted to be neatly engaging and alluring for consumers.

Once, consumers interacted with brands only through micro-managed advertising which was purposefully selected to portray a certain image.

We no longer live in the age of the black box: the walls we built to protect our brands are now transparent, and the actions and behaviours of every individual within our organisations are under the spotlight. The experiences of a single person are enough to topple the leadership of some of the world’s largest companies, as demonstrated by Susan Fowler, the whistle-blower who exposed a deeply concerning culture and record of behaviours at the leadership levels of Uber.

Glass box brands means accountability does not rest squarely upon the shoulders of the C-Suite: everyone is a leader.

We live in a world where 70% of millennials and Gen Z are more likely to base purchasing and loyalty decisions on brands which appeal to their values, so never has it been more important to ensure that inclusion permeates our messaging and corporate culture.

When 65% of customers tell us that they would feel more favourable about a brand which reflects diversity in its advertising, we have to see this as a wake-up call.

Diverse advertising and marketing is only possible where there are diverse teams empowered to speak up and share their real experiences, where necessary, to challenge brand assumptions.

So much of advertising is based on stereotypes. Even today, The Times published an interview with Rachel Pashley, an advertising executive who has smashed the traditional definitions of female tribes used to create campaigns. It said, “In her 20-plus years working in advertising, Rachel Pashley lost count of the times clients informed her that they wanted to design a campaign for “busy working mums”. “No one ever mentioned busy working fathers,” Pashley says.”

Perhaps not surprising then that “research by Enterprise IG showed that 91 per cent of women believe that advertisers do not understand them and 58 per cent are positively annoyed at how they are targeted.”

The impetus for inclusion in advertising and marketing is not just about how agencies and marketing departments behave with their people. It’s also about the aspirational, entertaining, deliberately engrossing content that is the product of these departments.

2014 study found that on average, children between the ages of two and eight spend around two hours a day with screen media. Neuroscience tells us that the images that we are exposed to on a daily basis unlock neural pathways, which over time reinforce stereotypes, and that all this happens unconsciously.

Present a young woman with unrealistic advertising images of women day in, day out, and that will be her reality.  Diversity and inclusion is an enormous social responsibility.

Brands provide leadership in a society that mirrors itself on what is seen in the media. Businesses change our society by how they treat their employees. Brands change the world by how they treat their customers.

Events like DIMA are designed to help us all take action. So what should we do?

Here are my key takeaways:

Focus on a few key efforts and stop focusing on company-wide change as it may be too big. Start small, set little targets, and focus on shifting the dial an inch today, then an inch tomorrow, with one individual or one team. What gets measured gets done.

Go beyond your usual suspects and include everyone in the change process. Engaging men to champion inclusion is essential to making a difference. A study by BCG found that 96% of gender diversity initiatives report progress when men are involved in comparison to 30% which are driven by women alone. Everyone is diverse, and diversity includes everyone.

Live outside of your comfort zone. Be a disruptor, a challenger and an amplifier. Don’t go with the flow — disrupt the status quo. Being an inclusive leader is not easy: it requires courage and determination.

But when has this industry ever backed down from a challenge?

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