Plus action steps you can take to diversify your team
We’ve read the statements time after time that brands repeatedly release after pushing out problematic products and campaigns. Then they almost always follow up with an announcement that they’ve hired a new “VP of Diversity and Inclusion,” whose job it is to hire more underrepresented minorities and migrate them into company culture. Diversity and inclusion should not be an afterthought or hail mary, they are not safety precautions and they are not buzz words -- they’re conscious efforts. Diversity and inclusion ensures the varied perspectives of underrepresented groups are in the room and at the table. Let’s learn from five examples explicitly showing us why inclusion is an urgency.
Most recently, Dior Sauvage
American history includes traumatic patterns of racism dating all the way back to the “discovery” of The New Land. The indigenous people who originally lived on what is now American soil were nearly wiped out due to the white supremacy of European colonizers who saw them as savages. They took away their land, their way of life and pushed what is left of the culture and its people into reservations. So to feature a Native American person in an ad for a fragrance named Sauvage is extremely insensitive.
2. H&M's Monkey Shirt
Of the many derogatory terms used to describe black people, one of them is “monkey.” They said our strong features were parallel to that of apes. Thus, putting a young black boy in a monkey shirt, while not intentional, has the opposite effect than that of “aw how cute!” A-list celebrities vowed to never support the brand again -- Lebron James, The Weekend (who, at one point in time, was a brand ambassador) -- as well as everyday people like ourselves. As a result, the company took a hit in both sales and brand identity.
3. Gucci's Blackface Sweater
The high-fashion brand took to social media to advertise their Balaclava Knit Top that, coincidentally, looked a lot like blackface when the model pulled the neck of the shirt up over her mouth. It was classic, undeniable blackface -- black, thick red lips...you know, the same as we saw in the satirical cartoons, acted out by non-black actors in dramatic makeup, in an effort to poke fun at blacks.
4. Dolce & Gabanna's Instagram Ad
Why is this problematic? The videos were seen as racist and they featured outdated stereotypes of Chinese people. According to the CBC, the brand was forced to cancel a major extravaganza that the company dubbed one of its largest shows outside of Italy. The two designers resolutely issued a video apology following the entire fiasco.
5. Gillette's “toxic masculinity” ad
The shaving brand tried its hand at taking a stand against toxic masculinity. The brand aimed to show men how they could take a stand against inappropriate behaviors, using the tagline “the best a man can be” -- a switch up from its “the best a man can get” campaign.
The problem is the ad upset a lot of men, many of whom were longtime customers of Gillette. Some called it “feminist propaganda” in regard to the way the video depicted men. At the height of the #metoo movement, we can kind of see the statement they were trying to make, but the way they went about it alienated their primary target audience. As more brands aim to be politically responsive, many walking the fine line often fall off the deep end in by coming close but no cigar in how they use their creativity to demonstrate their stance. It would’ve been easy for the company to simply say they stand with women everywhere who have been victims of sexual assault without throwing all men completely under the bus. But the video, while a likely expensive attempt, did not say that. Pictures are worth 1,000 words.
How Do WE Fix It?
According to AdWeek, the purchasing power of women in the U.S. alone ranges from $5 trillion to $15 trillion annually, and African American buying power was roughly $1.2 trillion in 2017.
I learned in a February Forbes article that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, although women hold 72.8% of public relations (and fundraising) management jobs overall, only 10.7% of roles are held by those who are black, 3.1% by Asians, and 3.1% by Hispanics or Latinos. The article said marketing and sales managers share similar demographics, with blacks making up 6.7%, Asians 5.4%, and Hispanics and Latinos 9.7%. Women managers, overall, make up 47.6% of the industry.
A lot of that comes from a lack of representation in the field, so that means there need to be additional efforts made to increase diversity in marketing and communications overall. Moving forward, be proactive in:
- Taking a fine-tooth comb through all your marketing and PR efforts and checking for lice (patterns of unconscious bias, negative undertones, disproportionate representation in ad campaigns).
- Looking to see if your company spokespeople are diverse. Now, a lot of companies have one designated person who speaks to media, so another way to achieve this is to ensure statements are ran past a diverse team prior to release. That way your messaging is authentic and genuine.
- Diversify your recruitment and outreach efforts. PRSA has a diversity and inclusion program, but not every chapter includes a diversity officer on its board (that should change, actually). However, societies like National Association of Black Journalists, ADCOLOR, COLORCOMM... are good to partner with when you’re looking for diverse candidates to join your team, as well as to connect with college students studying marketing and communications for entry level positions.
- Conducting proper market research to gain true insight into your target audience and its consumer behaviors.