A few weeks ago, my brilliant colleague Donald Chesnut (@D_Chesnut) moderated a highly rated session at the Cannes Lions Festival, which focused on access, inclusion and diversity (or the lack of it) in the creative disciplines, globally. As I was reflecting on what Donald and the other panelists had to say, it dawned on me that diversity continues to be a challenge in the parallel worlds of marketing and technology as much as it is in the word of the creative sciences – whether it be on billboards, websites and print media world-wide or in the offices in Silicon Valley and Bangalore.
Why, I wonder!
The business benefits are well known. Diversity has been a top CXO agenda for quite some time now. The Internet and print media are awash with thousands of pledges, promising to make the world more inclusive, tolerant and diverse. Articles authored by industry stalwarts and revered academicians continue to scream a common set of insights along the following lines.
1. Without true diversity, the work we create fail to reflect our world.
2. Diversity is a competitive advantage. Numerous studies have shown the positive correlation between superior business performances and diversity in organisations that deliver those performances.
3. Creating a more gender-diverse organisation is good for the bottom line.
We all agree that with our world becoming more complex and connected than ever, the rate of change is unprecedented. Geographical boundaries have disappeared for all practical purposes. We can’t allow boundaries limiting us anywhere – including the workforce. A diverse workforce helps business thrive – especially in changing conditions.
All this would seem to make diversity a slam-dunk.
Yet it is not that apparent, is it?
I read somewhere the other day, that one of the main obstacles on the path of diversity is that executives do not have enough time to focus on it. How laughable is that? As organisations work to transform themselves to stay relevant in these changing times, the reality is that any effort to seek diversity actually steers us to the path of excellence. The reverse is true as well. A relentless focus on excellence swings the spotlight on diversity. How many executives are out there that are not focused on excellence?
The problem lies elsewhere. There’s far more conceptual alignment than real action. Truth is, we will not make a dent without
1. Challenging the status quo and speaking up against all kinds of biases that thwart us today.
2. Investing in diversity
3. Taking specific steps in our own spheres to make this happen
From the standpoint of the marketer, diversity is at the top of the marketing agenda. However it is also a common perception that largely the industry is failing to reflect the communities it serves. Marketers must help the industry reflect on the world we find ourselves in today. There’s simply no other way to stay relevant.
There’s no way that Silicon Valley, or anyone else for that matter, will be able to solve its workforce diversity problem if companies do not get the basic marketing materials right. Every photo of a user in an app screenshot is an opportunity to be welcoming. Every actor cast in product photography is a chance to be inclusive. And yet, if one looks at landing pages and product videos featuring humans one would be led to believe that primarily only one kind of people use technology. This has to change, and it’s up to marketers to help that change precipitate.
Diversity is not just an issue of gender, as ethnic and class background differences may also play major roles in it. Diversity is not about overlooking inherent differences in people. It is quite the opposite, really. There are always cultural, geographical (and other) differences to handle. A product or service is rarely laser-focused on a thin slice of any population where everyone looks and feels the same. A “one size fits all” approach just doesn’t work. Not for the consumers and not for employees.
And it is not about hiring more people from varied backgrounds and meeting diversity quotas in the process. It is about being inclusive in all endeavours and providing unrestricted access, unaffected by bias – unconscious or otherwise. An investment in diversity is an investment in the future itself.
Donald points out – “You cannot do new world order business from an old world order place”. If marketing is all about creating meaningful connections with the customer/consumer network, it has to make diversity a priority to help businesses make some room to include all kinds. The proverbial pot of gold is at the end of that rainbow.