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Denise Carter, VP, Diversity and Communications at designory, eg+ worldwide and mother tongue gives her very personal view about DE&I, why it’s good for business and why effective DE&I is just the beginning not the end
Good for Business
Besides being the right thing to do, intentional, mindful inclusion of diverse people and perspectives is good for business
In Health class in the 7th grade, my teacher went around the room and asked the boys who the prettiest star was. Her equal opportunity question for the girls was, “Who do you want to look like?” This was Colorado in the early 80s. Shows like “Dallas” and “Dynasty,” with their nearly 100% white casts, were all the rage, and tv was awash in shampoo commercials featuring models with glossy, tumbling hair in various shades of wheat.
The boys’ consensus that day was two American actresses and then-prominent Heathers; Heather Locklear and Heather Thomas, both blue-eyed blondes. I don’t recall the girls’ consensus, or if there was one. I don’t recall what on earth I, a brown-eyed, curly black-haired Black girl, said, but I remember being deeply, deeply embarrassed. Humiliated, at being so hopelessly distant from the pinnacle of the feminine ideal.
During that time, everywhere I looked, whether it was on the cover or in the pages of my Seventeen magazine, or nearly every other fashion magazine, or at ads for anything from personal care products to home appliances, the look was thin, white, able-bodied, and frequently blonde. For most of my growing up years, there were few public forums that showcased people who looked like me. When the vision of the ideal, or the standard, doesn’t include you or your community, it’s hard to imagine yourself as part of the vision.
Images matter. Images shape how we view each other, ourselves, and the world around us. Images frame the stories we tell about who we are and who we want to be. When the images we see aren’t representative of the world around us, we leave out critical parts of the story.
At eg+ and the designory, creating images and crafting stories is what we do. Diversity, equity, and inclusion undergirds every part of that, and every part of our business. Because DEI is simply about engaging with and portraying people and the world fairly and justly. It’s about making decisions that respect truth.
Ensuring diverse representation both within the images and stories we design, as well as among the ranks of the people creating those images and stories, is simply part of the process. It’s how we make certain that all parts of the story are represented.
DEI isn’t “an initiative,” it’s the way that we approach the work that we do, the teams that we build, and the organizations we partner with. The reality is that it may not have always been the way we have conducted business.
Last summer saw a convergence of events – global pandemic, economic catastrophe highlighting the chasm between the haves and the have nots, and another callous public murder of a Black man – that forced a reckoning in many segments of the United States and around the world. What was finally seen cannot be unseen. We, like many other organizations, are taking steps to ensure that what was finally seen is not forgotten.
Good for business
Besides being the right thing to do, intentional, mindful inclusion of diverse people and perspectives is good for business. Consumers have demonstrated their desire to engage with brands reflecting their beliefs, and brands’ diversity, or lack thereof, impacts consumer perception of that brand.
Report after report indicate that consumers are increasingly willing to apply their purchasing power to companies with values they support – and to withhold it from companies that don’t adequately represent them. Beyond simply withholding support, recent news evinces several instances where public sentiment forced wholesale changes to the structure of organizations that failed to grasp the importance of representing their audience.
Of course, representation has to go beyond what’s visible in ads. It’s now well understood that diverse teams perform better. Teams composed of people with differing ethnicities, genders, experiences, and backgrounds make better decisions, are more creative, and better manage conflict than do homogeneous teams.
A recent McKinsey report – the third in their investigative series on the business case for diversity – shows that the correlation between having a diverse executive team and the likelihood of outperforming financially has grown over time. At minimum, having a diverse team decreases the likelihood of tone-deaf missteps like recent ones by H&M, Dolce & Gabbana, and Burberry.
Like consumers, clients are also recognizing their clout in directing organizations to move the needle on DEI. Clients are asking questions about the vendors that agencies choose to use, and are making decisions about with whom to partner based in part on the answers provided. These conversations and decisions move beyond “diversity” and further into the realm of “equity,” as they require organizations to begin to make room for minority and women-owned businesses that may have struggled for attention.
It’s important to note that representation isn’t solely about ethnicity, race and gender. To be fully inclusive, additional, sometimes less visible characteristics including sexual orientation, religious affiliation, socioeconomic class, gender identity, disability, and veteran status, among others, need to be acknowledged and welcomed into the fold.
These categories aren’t comprehensive, and they aren’t conclusive. Because besides being foundational, DEI is ever-evolving. Inequality has been around for a very long time, in many different forms. To get to a true place of inclusion and belonging, we’ll need to re-examine our long-held beliefs about what’s standard, ideal, or expected – this time through a lens of equity.
DEI – Only the start – not the end
Our visual world is no longer so exclusively populated with images of long, flowing, flaxen-tressed white women. That’s a start. But if we are really to get to the goal and purpose of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, our work must also encompass changes around who’s hired, who’s promoted, who makes decisions, and who’s getting paid. When we arrive at a place where it seems such conversations are no longer necessary, then we check our biases again. And we keep doing it. That will be a good look.
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