In 2022, every company is expected to have a diversity and inclusion strategy. The murder of George Floyd has catapulted corporate DEI commitments into the public spotlight. Many companies have made bold statements on diversity and inclusion in response to consumer demand. And now they have to deliver. There is nowhere to hide.
Gen-Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history. More than 48% are non-white. In the U.K., 40% of the population is estimated to be non-white by 2061. Meanwhile, in Brazil, most of the population identifies as Black or mixed race. The world population is becoming increasingly multicultural. In simple terms, young people are growing up exposed to different cultures. Thus, living in more diverse communities compared to their parents.
Unsurprisingly, most young people demand equal access to opportunities and social justice. Progress is measured through collective achievement, not only individual gains. Many will only work and buy from brands that contribute to a more inclusive world.
Historically, companies have taken the most convenient option when tackling diversity and inclusion. But the easy route isn’t always the best. The quick win for brands comes from showcasing diverse talent in advertising campaigns. Of course, representation matters. But onscreen diversity doesn’t always translate into a more inclusive and equitable company.
Consumers and employees won’t hesitate to call brands out for performative activism. Young people can now research and investigate words against actions. A quick Google search can reveal the disparity between your marketing communications and internal leadership team. If your advertising is more diverse than your company, more focus and investment need to be placed on internal action. The best place to start is identifying and removing all the barriers that prevent marginalized groups from having equal access to opportunities.
Once the internal work has been done to make the business more inclusive and equitable, brands can begin to diversify their list of suppliers. Around the world, there is an incredible number of so-called minority-owned businesses. Instead of working with the same legacy partners and suppliers, brands should actively seek out and collaborate with a diverse roster of agencies, consultancies and partners. After all, marketing should reflect the diverse needs and cultural values of consumers. The journey begins with procurement. Similar to nature, monocultures stunt creativity and growth. In contrast, diverse suppliers make supply chains more competitive and agile.
A supplier diversity program should be at the heart of diversity and inclusion policies. Being an equitable business includes every aspect of the supply chain, not only employees. Global brands have the platform and resources to support minority-owned businesses—facing systematic barriers. Inclusive procurement means creating new policies and KPIs. For example, make sure at least 20% of suppliers invited to your Request for Proposal (RFP) are diverse. Despite being harder to implement than a brand campaign. The impact on underrepresented communities is long term and structural. Unless we address financial inclusion for underrepresented communities, nothing will change.
For multinational corporations armed with big marketing budgets and global reach. It can be easy to position your brand as the hero of the story. But in truth, movements and organizations already exist in small pockets. The role of brands should be to listen to their stories, amplify their voices and accelerate their impact.
A top-down approach won’t be accepted or respected by local communities. If brands want to play a credible role in building an inclusive future. They need to collaborate with people with lived experience throughout the creative process. In other words, don’t create work for the community without the community. Besides, championing existing movements can be more effective than building your own from scratch. Young people have the answers but not the platform. Co-creation with relevant communities can create original and powerful results. But community members need to be credited and remunerated.
For a long time, the case for diversity and equity was centred around the business case. Most diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) projects appealed to business leaders and shareholders’ desire to increase profits. Now the conversation shifts to social justice and equal access to opportunities. The brands that make inclusivity part of their core mission—not a PR statement—will win the hearts and minds of a new generation of citizens. Not consumers.