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Diversity and Inclusion in marketing – what it means, who has ownership and what brands are planning to do about it

by on November 29, 2017 in Latest News, Lead Article, Lead story, News you can use, Nuggets

Diversity and Inclusion in marketing – what it means, who has ownership and what brands are planning to do about it

Stuart Andrews, Senior Planner,  bigdog

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is an undeniably hot topic right now.

Large multinationals recognise its importance. As a result, the marketing and advertising sector is increasingly being challenged to help clients fulfil their obligations and meet evolving consumer and shareholder expectations.

At bigdog, part of The Mission Group, we strive to be at the forefront of these developments, both internally and client work-wise.

As part of this work we recently hosted a D&I event in collaboration with Barclays, with whom we have partnered over the past four years to help them amplify the impact of their own D&I initiatives. In the run up to the event we ran a broader awareness survey to a wide array of brand and businesses, asking them a few simple questions on the topic, with some interesting results coming out from the research.

Firstly, we asked what Diversity and Inclusion means to them, their brand or business. ‘It’s about attracting and retaining the best talent’ came out way ahead of all other responses, cited by a staggering 80% of respondents as one of their main reasons. The next two most popular choices – ‘It’s about being more relevant to today’s customers’ and ‘It’s about being more innovative’, were chosen by 63 and 60% respectively. Over half of respondents said ‘It’s about achieving better business results’, while points to do with enhancing external reputations and complying with legal requirements came bottom of the list.

These responses clearly support the changes in focus we’ve seen in recent years, and it’s encouraging to see a clear consensus emerging in relation to why embracing D&I is so important, beyond the ‘we need to be seen to be doing something’ approaches of the past.

But then we asked a number of follow on questions regarding where it resides, or ‘who’ “owns” it and how it is being driven, and this is where some interesting ‘truths’ started to come to the surface…

HR department

When asked where ownership of D&I sits within their organisation, 33% of respondents cited the HR department – which supports the top response to the first question: that D&I is about “attracting and retaining the best talent”. At present this is most likely where D&I sits in many organisations. No surprise: it makes sense for this function to own the initiative and drive the agenda. Interestingly, 20% of respondents said it sat with the board of directors, and 17% said it sits with a specifically created Diversity and Inclusion team.

This is great to hear from both perspectives: it’s fantastic to see that organisations are starting to appoint D&I heads and cross-functional teams, and we were really pleased to hear that boards are taking the lead. This is because it means there is potential for D&I ambitions, strategies and initiatives to be cascaded, embedded and driven in other functional areas of a business. For example, why shouldn’t it be an aspect of innovation, or product development, or marketing?  But, let’s be clear, the long-term ambition has to be that D&I is integral to the entire organisation – and every function should have it as part of its ethos and feel empowered, because every individual is ‘included’.

So, what do we know? Business UK is clearly on a journey with this, but what we found out next was telling (although from our experience is not unexpected and can be explained). We asked respondents to tell us whether their organisation has both a clear vision with regards to the topic and a strategy or plan to drive it forward, 57% said yes, they do, 13% said no they don’t, while 10% said there is a vision but no plan, and 13% said there is a plan but lack of vision (with 7% unsure).

Let’s simplify that: over 50% of respondents said that they have a clearly stated ambition / aim and a strategy that supports them trying to deliver on this, whereas 43% said they don’t!

Mixed results here, but what is clear is that while awareness of the need to do something about D&I is increasing, there is still some way to go from an organisational point of view.

What happened next however was both telling and honest. We asked respondents to tell us whether they believed that their own staff or colleagues know about their organisations’ commitment to diversity and inclusion and, crucially, if they buy into it.

The ‘gap’ in internal awareness took us by surprise! Given that in the previous question 57% said that they had both a clearly stated ambition and a strategy or plan to drive change, and that 30% said they at least had one or the other, the fact that only 37% said yes, they believed that their own staff did understand it and buy into it is worth noting.

This means that 63% of businesses who responded weren’t sure whether their own staff really understood what their own organisation was planning to do (or already doing in terms of the D&I agenda). A very pertinent and interesting point, because that’s potentially where things can get out of sync. Think about it like this: if your people don’t see it, don’t get it, don’t believe it or haven’t bought into it, you’re going to struggle to convince external audiences that you’re doing the right thing for the right reason.

We know from experience that making the first – if any – move is daunting. The agenda can be very confusing. It’s littered with potential pitfalls and booby traps and it’s very easy to see how many (often smaller) organisations fall back on doing the bare minimum – simply making reasonable adjustments – or stall and do nothing at all. Because in many cases, when a business’s management think about the reputational risk of getting things wrong, they err on playing it safe.

That said, what we also heard was that all respondents expressed a keenness to learn about how aligning diversity and inclusion commitments can add significant value to their business and brand.

Hot topic or not, there is still a lot of work to be done. Not just in relation to how D&I are viewed, but also in terms of the steps being taken internally and externally by businesses in relation to the issue, and how these ambitions, commitments, initiatives, campaigns and programmes are then communicated.

It’s tough to know where to start, so let us give you one simple but proven piece of advice: without doubt the worst thing you can do in terms of D&I is nothing at all. So, stop thinking about it, debating it and get something started.

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