DEI Is More Than Just A Checklist: How to Integrate into Marketing Strategy and Company Culture

By: Dara Reyes, Marketing + Events Associate at MassChallenge

From the Black Lives Matter protests to rampant hate crimes against the AAPI community, improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been a hot topic across all industries. While it is finally nice to see the masses wake up and recognize the value of DEI, all efforts aren’t genuine. As a marketer, how do you ensure that you are not being performative and your DEI is more than just a checklist?

Source: Nappy.co

On May 7th, 2021 MKTG WMN hosted an event, “Diversity, equity, and inclusion in marketing and workplace culture” to define performative versus genuine DEI marketing. We as women in marketing came together to critically think about their past, personal, and professional experiences with DEI to strategize ways they can improve it as individuals and within their organizations.

The conversation was split into two components. DEI & company culture and DEI & external marketing.

We all enjoyed hearing the various ways participants celebrate diversity in their workplaces. Danielle gifted women in her company with candles from a woman-owned business for International Women’s Day. For other cultural holidays, such as the Lunar New Year, Erin shared how her company asked employees how they celebrated Lunar New Year and they shared out examples of holiday celebrations — which proved that you should never assume people’s cultural backgrounds, ties, or traditions by how many people responded who would not identify as Asian.

Another essential method is education. To begin to understand the importance of DEI and the different experiences of individuals you must educate yourself. Pretending like oppression is something that does not affect people in all sectors of life including the workplace is counterproductive. Understanding and empathizing is the foundational step to creating content that is truly diverse.

For example, Basecamp ignored and gaslighted all employees who were calling for DEI initiatives. As a result of consistent DEI neglect, a third of their employees left the company. Basecamp serves as a prime example of the negative consequences that occur in the workplace if DEI is not taken seriously. If your organization takes DEI seriously and there is a presence of diverse voices, the external content created will reflect diversity on its own.

Liza told the story of a DEI initiative conference they attended. A CEO of a company was accepting an award for DEI efforts in the organization but was very open about not deserving the award as he really did nothing to start these efforts. The true winners of the award were employees who were most affected by the lack of DEI, Indonesian women working for the company. The CEO, a white German man, did nothing but listen and back the initiatives the women presented him with.

This sparked a discussion, who is really in charge of DEI? Employees or executive leadership? The conclusion we arrived at was that the best DEI initiatives come from the most affected- employees. This does not mean that all DEI efforts should fall on the backs of employees, especially if the employees’ job roles are not relevant to DEI. Employees should be able to contribute their voices and concerns about DEI to executive leadership.

It is the role of executives to listen and execute the necessary action to make DEI initiatives possible — and compensate employees for their time and efforts.

There has been a fair share of marketing mishaps due to a lack of cultural competency. Jenna discusses her time working as a consultant for a well-known fashion brand. They were attending a photoshoot for one of the fashion marketing campaigns and noticed appalling racial disparities that were occurring. The marketing team was deliberately selecting light-skin and racially ambiguous models to satisfy their idea of diversity. When confronted about the selections a marketing representative stated that the ambiguity checks off multiple racial boxes simultaneously as the models could potentially be any race. This response shows how disingenuous their efforts were.

How can we ensure DEI marketing efforts are genuine and not performative?

Simply having a checklist of diverse identities in a marketing campaign does not suffice. Performative DEI is equally as bad as not having any diversity in marketing. So what are the steps to create genuine DEI effort in marketing? One method that was mentioned ties back into what was discussed about promoting DEI. If there isn’t any diversity in your company, you will be faced with tremendous difficulty trying to create campaigns that are truly reflective of diverse identities and voices. Diversity in marketing is a must, which is why posting in diverse job boards such as Marketing Edge, is so important. If you can’t start there, then you will never be genuine in your DEI marketing.

ATTENTION MARKETERS: Your Call to Action

We as marketers hold immense power and responsibility to shape narratives. This power can be used for good or evil. I would hope that with more people voicing their experiences with oppression in this country, marketers see this as a call to action to critically think if they are doing enough to wield their power for the better.

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