This article was originally published by AdWeek @ adweek.com
Diversity and inclusion, both as a part of your work environment and your marketing efforts, are no longer nice-to-haves. They’re not something you do to show how woke your company is. Instead, promoting a diverse and inclusive work environment, where people feel comfortable presenting fresh and different viewpoints, is not only good for employees, it’s good for business. And it’s table stakes.
Hiring people with different perspectives and from different backgrounds, and then including their voices and points of view in all aspects of your business, increases your potential to produce work that better represents—and resonates with—the world around you. And that work will create a richer experience where everyone can realize true inclusion and belonging.
The world is becoming increasingly aware of how much of a singular voice it has been speaking from. And as that awareness grows, speaking from diverse points of view will be crucial for remaining current, modern, and relevant to the needs of the time. And any company that can’t will be left behind.
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) start from within
As the leader of a company, you must be willing to look within to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to create a diverse and inclusive culture. When you accomplish this, and live it every day, an inclusive viewpoint becomes ingrained in the way employees interact with each other at work, and how—as a company—you interact externally with the world.
But the work needed to authentically achieve diversity and foster inclusion is not something performative, something that you set goals for and then check off a list. It’s about setting the foundation to operate with a D&I mindset in all areas of your growing business. And the first step is to take a hard look at your company culture and work environment. If people of diverse backgrounds and points of view aren’t able to be their authentic selves in your workplace, you’re missing the boat.
Evaluation: conduct a cultural assessment
The road to authentic diversity and inclusion begins with a cultural assessment of your current environment. And the best way to effectively—and objectively—assess your company’s level of diversity and inclusiveness is via an assessment by an expert third party. It can be tough to let go of the reins for an assessment, but an outside consultant can help you identify areas that are lacking, understand and address biases, and work with you to change as a company. Areas of potential hidden biases are:
- Employees: How do they speak to each other? What intentional or unintentional biased or prejudiced interactions—microaggressions—are happening?
- Meetings: What’s being said? How are people reacting to each other’s viewpoints?
- Hiring: How are candidates being sourced? Are job descriptions using inclusive language? What’s asked, what’s said, and what’s covered in job interviews? And who is conducting the interviews?
A thorough cultural assessment will inform D&I training and hiring practices and, in turn, how you present yourself externally to the world. Your goal should be to create an environment that represents a lot of different things to many different people. This way, everyone can focus on doing their best work rather than having to process and navigate the effects of being excluded, diminished, or—in extreme cases—disrespected and discriminated against.
Training: foster an inclusive and diverse workplace
Training forms the foundation of an authentically inclusive environment and helps ingrain a D&I point of view into a company culture so that it becomes second nature. And when employees automatically think from a D&I perspective, it’s authentically incorporated into daily work life, making your company a more enjoyable, more comfortable place to work, positively affecting employee retention. Results and insights from your company assessment can help guide discussions and training. Here are some general steps to consider:
- Create a safe communications environment. For many people, talking openly about diversity and asking questions—particularly in the workplace—can be scary. Most of us have unconscious biases and no one wants to be seen as prejudiced, biased, or insensitive. So, it’s critically important that everyone knows the process will not be perfect. There will be missteps. There will be bumps along the way. And that’s okay—it’s all part of the learning process.
- Conduct trainings, facilitated group discussions, and internal focus groups. Training your employees to be conscious of their biases is an important next step in developing authentic inclusion in the workplace. A good place to start is with your managers and leaders to ensure they are capable of leading diverse teams in a diverse environment, with inclusion at the forefront of their leadership strategy.
- Onboard new employees with purpose. Ensure that new employees are made very clear of your company’s stance on D&I as it relates to how to conduct themselves as individuals and coworkers in the workplace, as representatives of the company in working with clients, and as members of the surrounding community.
Hiring: seek different voices
If your company is like most others, you aim to have the best talent that you can possibly have. And the best talent comes in all different shades, ages, and genders. When your staff is trained with a D&I mindset, they will hire with a D&I mindset. This will lead to a company filled with diverse points of view. And diverse viewpoints generate novel ideas. Here are some general guidelines for hiring different voices:
- Understand the communities that you exist in and serve. And then connect with them. As humans, most of us have unconscious biases. One type is affinity bias—the natural tendency to connect with someone who shares something significant with us (like attending the same school or living in the same area) than someone we have little in common with. What this means for hiring is that we all need to broaden recruitment efforts beyond our own circles to tap into different networks and pools of potential candidates.
- Keep your unconscious biases in check. Unconscious biases can also cause us to buy into stereotypes about various social groups, which can prevent us from being objective during the hiring process. We need to learn to recognize and overcome our biases so the recruitment process is more equitable.
- Set benchmarks as recruitment guideposts—not goals. Reviewing company data and setting benchmarks can help guide your D&I recruitment efforts. Numbers on who your customers are—age, ethnicities, gender, etc.—can provide insight into what areas of your company might be lacking in a diversity of viewpoints.
- Start small. If you’re hiring for specific teams or projects, look at the focus of the project and what perspective could bring a different point of view. Once you start bringing fresh voices in organically, diverse viewpoints and perspectives will begin to flow through the entire organization and into your work—authentically.
- Focus on inclusive interviews. While the hiring process is our opportunity to assess candidates, keep in mind that they are assessing you too! Highlight areas of your company that will help those you’re interviewing feel comfortable and envision themselves there.
Externally expressing D&I through marketing
Once you’ve assessed your current situation, begun training employees, and started hiring with diversity in mind, building diverse and inclusive marketing campaigns becomes more natural and intuitive. Creativity and innovation are coming from a place of authenticity. You start to see where client messaging can improve and you naturally see campaigns through a D&I lens. But where to begin?
Before you even get into creative, the most important place to infuse diverse and inclusive thinking is in your research. Who is your target audience? Whose point of view are you seeking? Is the scope of your research appropriately broad? Are you asking questions that make sense to the audience you’re trying to reach? Are you using appropriate language?
Keep in mind that insights you gain directly correlate to the way that you conduct the research. If the research is flawed—let’s say you’ve inadvertently blended multiple audiences together, or asked them questions that have an unintended cultural tilt—the results will color everything you do and may create a feeling of disconnection and alienation among your ideal audience. So starting with an awareness of diversity and inclusion in your research—who you’re asking, how you’re asking, and what you’re asking—is a very important first step in creating authentic messaging.
When looking at target audiences, it’s easy to take broad approaches that cover the most ground. For example, if 80% of the audience you’re trying to reach visits one channel, there’s a temptation to optimize toward that channel. But what if that 80% comprises a limited subset of your intended audience, even if it represents a numeric majority? If you’re not paying attention, you’ve just excluded a more diverse audience that lives within the 20%. When targeting and optimizing, you really need to look at more than just the numbers.
Just as unconscious bias can come into play when hiring, it can also show up in data analysis. As long as people are interpreting data, the results are always going to be biased—it’s unavoidable. And if computers are interpreting data, their results are going to reflect the bias of whoever wrote the software. The key is to expose as many of your biases as possible so that you’re aware of them and have tools to override them while you’re analyzing data.
In creative work, you need to appeal to the people you want to have buy your product. Ideally, they represent various groups who respond to messages based on their diverse backgrounds, upbringings, and world views. You, as a brand, need to acknowledge this and your marketing needs to reflect your target audience’s diversity or you’ll miss the mark. The key is to be aware and honest about the areas of diversity you need help on. For example, if your company is trying to reach a group that’s very important to your business, but you don’t have firsthand experience with that group, bring in people who intimately understand the culture of that group so that whatever is said to them, is said authentically.
Making the ultimate the norm
To become authentically diverse and inclusive, companies must look within for opportunities to improve training and hiring, which in turn results in outward-facing work created with D&I in mind. Fully integrating D&I into your organization from the inside out takes planning, time, budget, and teamwork across many people at your company, from HR all the way down to individual contributors.
However, the ultimate goal—the holy grail of D&I programming and the reason for all of the strategizing, coordination, and practice—is to make workplace diversity and inclusivity the norm. So ingrained and widespread that it no longer stands out as unique or interesting. Something that we all just do and live—authentically.
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