5 Ways to Transform ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ From Buzzwords Into Action

By: Sophie Maerowitz

March 29, 2018

What do Dove, H&M and Heineken have in common?  All of these brands have run ads that received widespread backlash for racist undertones. All four ad fiascos harmed brand reputation and alienated customers, eroding goodwill with audiences.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, says Jessica Fish, principal of inclusiv.us, a West Coast-based agency that works with organizations to ensure their diversity and inclusion programs are not just skin-deep.

leader networks, senior consultant, jessica fish

Jessica Fish, Principal, Inclusiv.us

“If you realize your whole marketing department is made up of white people who went to Ivy League schools, you need to figure out how to bring in additional voices,” says Fish. “Because unless your demographic is ‘white people who went to Ivy League schools,’ you’re going to miss the mark.”

Fish shares five ways that communicators can help drive meaningful, effective diversity and inclusion programs at their brands:

Think about what perspectives are missing. When starting to plan any campaign, Fish says, communicators must always ask themselves: Who is not at the table? “As communicators, whether we’re working on internal or external campaigns, we need to think about who is missing within the visual design process. What identities aren’t showing up?”

If your communications or marketing department is full of a lot of people from similar backgrounds, Fish adds, “you need to step up and think about how that might be compromising your work.” And when you do ultimately gather colleagues with diverse backgrounds around the table,  make sure their visual design ideas are woven into the implementation process.

Clearly define what diversity and inclusion means in your business. “Diversity has become about checking boxes in terms of representation,” says Fish. “But when we talk about inclusion, we’re talking about creating an environment in which folks can authentically bring their experiences to the table—and one in which power is spread evenly.”

Give every piece of marketing and communications material a clean read. “Using plain language, describe what you see to another person,” Fish advises. “Imagine you had to call your great aunt and describe the Heineken ad. What language would you use? Look for feedback outside the department and the group of people working closely on the campaign.” The key, she adds, is trying to get people to catch themselves.

Build a relationship with your chief diversity officer or human resources equivalent. “There’s no way the Pepsi/Heineken folks ran their harmful ads by the people at their brands who do diversity and inclusion work,” says Fish. Breaking down silos between your department and theirs helps, “but you still have a responsibility to diversify who is on your own team, bringing more viewpoints to the table.”

Drive community and collaboration within your team. Internally, Fish says, “your team needs to look at power dynamics. Work on sharing the mic and developing a deep appreciation of lived experience as well as acquired knowledge.”

Teams behind the most dynamic campaigns talk about their collaborative process as a group of artists rather than marketers. “Collaboration is king, and experiential knowledge is valuable. Take it seriously, weaving it beyond your own feedback loops and focus groups to gain insight outside of normal avenues,” she says.

Follow Jessica: @fishica

Follow Sophie: @SophieMaerowitz


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