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Diversity for the Sake of Diversity Doesn’t Work

Posted by Donna Recchione on Mar 4, 2019 9:00:00 AM

In ICS insights, hiring trends, client

Diversity needs to be a core value and not just a policy that recruiters nod at with an occasional new hire who doesn't look like 95 percent of the rest of the company.  When you think about what brands and companies are asked to do in the name of inclusion, it should be about how you bring the outside world into the company. The question is, how do you make sure that the company's services, products, communications, and marketing reflect the real world if you don't include a broad cross-section in your hiring practices?

What Is Inclusion About Anyway?

In recent years, diversity has become an add-on in most marketing campaigns. You'll see token women of color, with curves, and occasionally Muslim women wearing hijabi smiling in the background or dancing across the screen. This step should be applauded for what it's worth, a baby step in the right direction. However, this trial-and-error methodology often misfires due to the lack of true understanding and sensitivity.

Recent campaigns for a particular GBK advertisement underscore the gap between lip service and true understanding. The video campaign on a newly minted Ruby Murray burger. The concept featured a man with a megaphone parading around Brick Lane and marching into Indian restaurants announcing the burger was the only true Indian. Within hours, GBK had to issue an apology and delete the campaign. The abandoned project, which hadn't been thought out, had to be abandoned, joining a growing number of similarly insensitive projects that had to be abandoned. This total lack of understanding may have been prevented if more diversity existed in the ad company itself.

The Lack of Diversity in Diversity Hiring

A typical argument when it comes to improving diversity and inclusion is the need to hire diverse talent. This may lead to quotas based on ethnicity and gender. There is undoubtedly a slew of industries, with a poor concept of diversity, that aren't taking steps to remedy the situation -- resulting in a stark lack of diversity in their workforce.

In fact, just look at FTSE 100 companies, mostly all led by white men and under-representative of women and minorities. A mere seven female CEOs sit in the corner offices of these companies. Looking deeper at class and race reveals a slew of other diversity issues.

Lack of diversity in just one company has wide-reaching repercussions-- ripple effects that are bad for business. Take, for instance, the world of advertising. If the person writing the brief, and the production team, share common backgrounds, the target audience becomes those like themselves.

Assume Diversity Is Wanted Unless Told Otherwise

It shouldn't just be a question of whether a brief asks for diversity and inclusion. Let's say a brief targets women 18 to 32. That doesn't mean all the women have to be white -- or 18. Advertising and media carry huge weight in our culture. It often defines how people see themselves and others. That makes it crucial that casting agents remember to air on the side of caution.

Power is still concentrated in the same male, middle-aged, and very white hands it has been for decades. The solution lies in hiring diverse talent and making sure the diversity candidates can do their job correctly. In the meantime, the structure and hiring processes of a company need to be prepared so that the culture can adjust slowly. 

Hands Off the Hair

Otherwise, it's highly likely that persons of color will feel uncomfortable in the workplace and leave as soon as they find new jobs. Whether it's mandatory sensitivity training or open and frank discussions, these issues need to be addressed and healed. Some minority workers have begun tweet series on the subject. Something as small as touching a black woman's hair speaks volumes regarding insensitivity to the culture. These small acts are known as microaggressions, and a little education goes a long way in preventing them.

Networks, often started by staff, create safe spaces for persons of color. POC sometimes end up with double work, their day job and their voluntary work promoting diversity. Nonetheless, these groups can add diversity and understanding wherever they pop up.

The Challenge of Creating a Diverse Workplace

Companies that want ad campaigns to reflect diversity should take the same skill and care to find employees that also reflect diversity. It's one thing to hire an advertising company for ideas that reflect diversity in the company's marketing, and quite another to make this effort at the office. We live in transparent times online and in reality. A quick tour of your company's LinkedIn hits tells any curious customers if you walk the walk.

Inclusion takes more than hiring a few women or people of color. In fact, diversity policies that are shoe-horned in can backfire and make the situation awkward. For example, some companies hire sensitivity consultants that advise them how many Muslims, black, and young women and men they should hire to improve their reputation. If that's the main reason for moving toward diversity, the correct answer is zero, because the existing staff hasn't received the appropriate sensitivity training to truly open up the company's culture.

Audit Your Culture to Emphasize the Importance of Diversity and Equality

Having people of color, various religions, and cultural backgrounds is generally thought to improve overall performance. It may improve focus in all areas. However, it's just as important for employees to audit their personal lives. Ask employees if they would talk to new recruits in the supermarket or at school functions. The answer is usually no, and it reveals where the true problem is. To help those of color feel comfortable, employees have to get out of their comfort zone.

It's also not enough to listen to the needs of a single minority and assume they represent the entire generation. For example, a Muslim woman isn't going to be able to comment on what an older Jewish man wants to see in the product. This is especially true if the Muslim woman is still struggling to make friends her own age and doesn't want to rock the boat. 

Open the Office to Great Inclusive

Companies need to spend as much time as possible setting policies and monitoring how effectively they're being adopted. This is the best way to include diverse candidates in a sustainable way.  Workers should not be asked to suppress their culture or beliefs, even if nobody gets why that's a big deal. Assimilation is a word that's bandied about quite a bit. However, it strips away an individual's right to represent their culture and what gives a person their individuality. 

The world is grappling with diversity that's more globalized and made of people that fit into neat quotas. That just makes candidates want to jump at the first opportunity they get to move onto a company that truly embraces diversity instead of chasing impersonal targets on a spreadsheet. 

Next Steps

Companies have a wonderful opportunity to author a deeper policy in terms of defining the value proposition of hiring people who look like the diverse clients and customers that they serve. And, many are embracing that opportunity.

If you don't believe that hiring diversity presents a full solution, you need to ask your leadership what the next step should be? This could include Q & A formats to help the rest of the office get to know a priority has been set. What are the biggest challenges facing your organization?

For example, Gal Dem is a magazine created by women and non-binary souls of color. This year the magazine took over the Guardian in over a weekend and tackled how to deal with these microaggressions against any women. One of the provocative topics included whether DNA home testing kits had a basic understanding of race. 

How You Can Model This Out

Models can be beneficial as the brand, and the independent company can learn from one another and gain a better working relationship. Another example of such collaboration occurred at Uniqlo and Hana Tajima, In each case, participants got a fresh look at the challenges faced in their partner's day-to-day business and were able to offer advice to improve the culture of diversity.

Beyond the Takeover Model

Not every company is able to hand its operation over to another business for a week or a month to chart out how diversity and inclusion are working or not at each organization. However, strides can always be made to improve hiring policies and encourage a company culture of openness and acceptance. 

The fundamental requirement lies in bridging gaps and amping up the benefits of having many voices in the marketplace. At the same time, the focus needs to stay on the brand so that the feeling of inclusion seeps into the consciousness of the target demographic. 

If your workforce reflects the outside world accurately, then brands, agencies, and everything in between leads toward creating products and services that resonate with all your customers. Contact ICS for help recruiting the people you need to be at your most effective. We won't let you fail when it comes to finding the right people. We're all in this together. 

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