I want to state up front that I work at Mighty Citizen, a branding and digital agency for mission-driven organizations based in Austin, TX. We are on a diversity and inclusion journey. We’re doing some things right, including establishing an agency goal last year to increase our staff diversity in 2020 and changing our hiring practices to accomplish that. But we still have work to do and are learning more each day about how to do it better.
As an organization, your content speaks volumes about who you are and whom you serve. And if you didn’t know, EVERYTHING you put out in the world is content. The stories you tell? Content. Your tools and resources? Content. Your website? Your biggest piece of content! Your direct mail, SEO, display ads, polls, infographics, memes, voicemail messages, events, and press releases?? It’s all content!
The makeup of our country is becoming more diverse, and people want to be represented. Not just represented, but represented authentically. As marketing and communications professionals, our jobs are to tell stories. We depict value through words and imagery, and we segment groups of people to do it. Marketing has become so fine-tuned, using demographics and psychographics to create entire user personas to drive engagement. It’s necessary to question the intention and authenticity behind how you’re marketing your brand, and how you could be doing it better.
Disparity in the Industry
Diversity in the marketing and communications industry is a multi-faceted conversation. Many of the marketing and communications teams running campaigns simply don’t reflect the people and cultures that they’re trying to reach. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 8.9% of marketing and sales managers are Hispanic or Latino, 6.1% are Black or African American, and 5.6% are Asian. These percentages do not align with national demographics.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the dimensions of diversity span across identities like ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, and many more. Often, the demographic makeup of the communications industry doesn’t even come close to reflecting the demographic makeup of the communities in which we work.
With a lack of in-house diversity, your marketing strategies aren’t informed by perspective. It’s a big blind spot that has affected the image of some of the most prominent players across various industries. That perspective lives on the right side of the fine line between authentic representation and pandering — and far from plain ignorance. It’s the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. There is power in cultural competency, especially in marketing. Getting it right shouldn’t be a bottom-line issue, but it just so happens that authentic representation is great for engagement, too.
You don’t have to take my word for it, though. In partnership with The Femail Quotient and Ipsos, Google’s Consumer Insights surveyed nearly 3,000 consumers from various backgrounds: gender identity, age, body type, race/ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, skin tone, language, religious/spiritual affiliation, physical ability, and socioeconomic status. 64% of those consumers took some sort of action after seeing an ad that they deemed to be diverse, inclusive, and representative. For some groups, that percentage spikes even higher. For example, an overwhelming 85% of Hispanics and Latinos, 85% of members of the LGBTQ+ community, and 79% of Black consumers surveyed said they took a specific action on ads featuring this diversity.
You just can’t expect to accurately represent or market to a group of people if there’s no representation from that group in the room. It’s because we all have something called implicit bias. It refers to how we internalize attitudes and stereotypes about the world around us. In terms of diversity, implicit bias is a social cognition that informs how we view other groups of people. It’s why we’re less prone to understand different cultures and experiences, or worse, why we assign certain stereotypes to those groups.
Think about how this might be playing out on your team. If you work on a homogenous team — where everyone looks like you, comes from similar backgrounds and experiences, etc. — then implicit bias is at play at an organizational level. It’s on all of us to do the work to dismantle those systems of thought and actively work to cross lines, leading with a willingness to understand.
What You Can Do as a Communicator
Real, actionable change in issues like diversity and representation doesn’t happen overnight. Most realistically, these things take a shift in culture. It’s a matter of recognizing a comfortable status quo and wanting to be better. A lack of diversity isn’t an indictment on your organization, but rather a symptom of that implicit bias. Here are some internal practices you can consider:
Your hiring practices
There’s diversity, and then there’s inclusion. The distinction is made in considering who is invited to the table, and who feels comfortable actually contributing to the discussion. Many organizations have language in their job listings about diversity or even full-fledged diversity programs, but that’s the bare minimum. It’s easy to get a member of a marginalized community in the door. However, studies indicate that retention of those employees is low when they aren’t supported within the organization’s culture. For a homogenous organization, that creates a cycle. It may be time to start thinking about hiring less in terms of who is a good culture fit and more along the idea of expanding who you are.
Implicit bias rears its head in nearly every step of the hiring process. You could ask any type of minority about their experiences applying for jobs and get a million different stories.
A great place to start evaluating your internal practices is within your job descriptions. Are you focusing more on experience or skills? The former is more limiting to those from different backgrounds and potentially less opportunity. And why not focus on the candidate’s skills? Of course, practical application matters, but there’s going to be some learning curve no matter whom you hire. We’re conditioned to value past successes and experiences, so much so that larger organizations have reduced the entire process down to an automated resume scan for keywords.
Where are you sourcing your pools of candidates? Try refreshing the way you market your job openings to reach different groups of people. Do some research locally — you can start with professional groups that exist to serve different communities, many of which have online forums and job boards.
To help attract diverse candidates, include a statement of inclusion in each of your job postings. For example, Mighty Citizen’s says:
Mighty Citizen is an equal opportunity employer and welcomes everyone to our team. We strongly encourage people of color, LGBTQ and non-binary people, veterans, parents, and individuals with disabilities to apply. If you need reasonable accommodation at any point in the application or interview process, please let us know.
You could also outline the exact expectations you have for the role beforehand to help promote objectivity across your interviews. Keep yourself honest and challenge what you may be inclined to believe about an individual candidate.
Representation in your content goes a long way. Imagine someone coming to your website interested in donating, volunteering, or learning more about your organization, and they don’t see anyone that looks like them or anything that reflects their experiences. It’s a turn-off and begs the question of who the work is really for.
Your thought leadership and content should showcase diverse perspectives. If they don’t exist internally, then the best place to start is to amplify those voices that exist outside of your organization. That demonstrates a clear commitment to representation, and it’s an actionable step you can immediately start implementing.
Be intentional about your photos and illustrations. Another manifestation of implicit bias is a lack of importance around diversity in imagery and design. Black Illustrations is a company that recognized the lack of representation of Black people and other people of color across the internet. They set out to create a resource depicting people of color in various tasks, FREE to download in all formats.
Changing your culture comes with ongoing education internally. For some organizations, concepts like representation, implicit bias, diversity, and inclusion are foreign — and even uncomfortable. A commitment to diversity and inclusion as an organization means a commitment to organizational shifts in perspectives and practices. Those shifts require personal introspection and cognizance of the ways our social cognition appears in systems around us. The work is ongoing, but it’s necessary for a more inclusive and equitable industry.