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Diversity and inclusion: Creating marketing for everyone

A series of speakers sit in front of an audience.

We live and work in a global environment. The world’s becoming more diverse, and inclusion is becoming increasingly critical to brands and organizations across the world. To truly harness the power of diversity, creating inclusive cultures is a need. Inclusion is how we come together to meet business goals and specific to this conversation, how we help Black, Asian, and other ethnic talent thrive in the workplace.

Inclusive cultures extend to inclusive marketing and creating marketing that speaks to everyone. On the 13th June at the Microsoft Customer Experience Centre in London, Microsoft Advertising partnered with Media For All to have that very conversation with diversity and inclusion leaders across the industry.

Media For All (MEFA)’s mission is to help Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority talent thrive in the media and advertising industry to ultimately increase the ethnic diversity of the media and advertising industry in the UK.

Microsoft Advertising’s Ravleen Beeston, Regional Sales Vice President and Jeff Simmons, Senior Client Partner, joined a panel alongside Serena Lloyd-Smith, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Global, and Sufia Hussain-Parkar, Inclusion, Equity & Diversity Director EMEA at Wunderman Thompson.

Liam Mullins, Managing Partner at the7stars, facilitated the discussion.

The discussion focussed on three key areas:

  • Our collective roles in creating marketing for everyone
  • Lived experiences and intersectionality
  • Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion

This article gives an overview of the conversations and key takeaways.

If our collective role is to create marketing for everyone, what can we do as individuals and organizations to deliver this ambition?

As individuals: The panel agreed that as individuals, it’s important that people own their space and own their voices within organizations. Employees need to ask for what they need so that their organizations can respond in a way that’s meaningful and relevant. Employees need to engage with industry bodies, employee resource groups (ERGs) or the equivalent, and join in conversations like this in order to have an impact on an industry level.

As organizations: Sufia Hussain-Parkar commented we need to look at the data and get uncomfortable with the lack of diversity within our organizations. But sometimes even looking at that data is hard with such disparities. The All In Census, for example, highlights the distinct lack of diversity at C-suite level, whereby the IPA Report tells us we’re making progress. Companies need to look honestly at themselves and understand what’s true for them and where changes need to be made.

Seek ownership from the top to the bottom. Ravleen Beeston of Microsoft commented “From a leadership perspective, there’s a huge difference when there’s sponsorship from the top and when there isn’t. I’ve been at Microsoft long enough to see the difference. It’s very difficult to make any sort of progress when that isn’t there.

When Satya Nadella came on board as CEO of Microsoft, he put his stamp on diversity and inclusion and set it up so it had impact. It was set as a strategic pillar which employees had to align with as it impacted performance targets.

At times, it’s been difficult explaining to direct reports who ‘don’t get it’ why diversity and inclusion initiatives affect their performance reviews. It needs to be made clear that it’s as much a strategic business imperative as entering a specific geographical market would be.”

A diverse group of women sit as part of an audience.

Photo credit: Troy Aidoo James

Intersectionality and lived experiences

The panel discussed the intersectionality of diversity: Gender and race, income and race, and the results of MEFA Measures—Media For All’s survey on the state of diversity and inclusion in the industry—which indicates that issues of diversity are occurring highest in those intersections. The data shows the experience of Black women is at the worst extreme of the diversity divide. It also shows that the lived experience of people from Asian communities differs decidedly and is less favourable than that of white people in advertising.

When asked what can be done to help people feel like they belong, the panel shared the importance of owning your voice and sharing your story to find “your people”. Those people you can relate to and share lived experiences with. Finding those people lessens the feelings on “only-ness” one might feel.

Serena Lloyd-Smith of Global recounted a time as an industry junior in a prominent media organization when she sent an email to colleagues sharing her story growing up as a Black girl in a single-parent home in Peckham, and how she at times felt she didn’t belong. The response she got astonished her, as many others shared her feelings of not belonging. In that moment, she discovered the power of personal stories, showing vulnerability and courage as a means to help others.

Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion

Building on the responses from MEFA Measures, the panel touched on some key areas organizations need to work on.

Be clear on the issues

Sometimes an organization may feel like they’re making progress, but if you dig a little deeper, you see it’s not the case. Serena Lloyd-Smith gave the example of an organization that may be hitting all their diversity recruitment targets, but when you take a closer look at the data, you see there’s more diversity leaving the organization than is being recruited. It’s important to really understand the issues and be realistic about what it’s going to take to unfold and unpack those systemic institutional factors that aren’t clearly visible.

The importance of board level sponsors

Having board level sponsors of ERGs is crucial. Serena Lloyd-Smith shared her experience of having board sponsors join ERG meetings and listen to the lived experiences of people of color, and witnessing the lightbulb moment when they finally understand. Then subsequently attending board meetings where that sponsor takes the learnings from those conversations and shares with the rest of the board. “And that’s where you can see the real change happen. That’s the best part of my job.”

Keeping diversity and inclusion front of mind

The importance of diversity and inclusion issues can sometimes wane within an organization. With rising inflation, the cost of living crisis, the war in Ukraine, and businesses trying to make money, how can we keep diversity and inclusion a priority?

Jeff Simmons of Microsoft made the point that having it linked to real business consequences and accountability, particularly at the board level, would help keep it front of mind.

Ravleen Beeston added that diversity and inclusion can become fatigued if there’s a one-track focus. Helping people figure out what’s important, what topics and challenges they’re passionate about, and what’s real and relevant to them. It makes the issue personal, and they can now explore with a lens that feels important.

Speakers sit in front of an audience.

Photo credit: Troy Aidoo James

The panel discussion rounded off with a few questions from the audience and responses from the panellists.

How do you build a strategy in an organization or sector that is resistant to change?

It’s important to pick a battle and commit to it. At times, the task can feel too huge to tackle. Find one thing you can change, however little, make it really simple and laser focus on it. Ravleen Beeston recalled a time where she advocated for free tampons and sanitary towels to be supplied in all bathrooms in all buildings. This took a year, and at times it felt repetitive and futile. But her commitment paid off, and this came into effect and has remained ever since.

Communicate in a language your stakeholders understand to get their buy-in and bring them on board.

Build influence by finding allies.

Focus on one issue, measure it, and keep the execution of a solution time bound. If it gets to a point when there’s no change, maybe consider if it’s time to move onto another issue or organization. Sometimes, it comes to a point where you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall and have to make that decision. At times, it’s at this point when your absence is felt the most.

How do we effect change outside of the conversations within the ERGs?

Employee resource groups are generally seen as safe spaces for people to share, ask questions, and learn. In a sense, people can “air” what’s bothering them, and this can be quite cathartic. The question was posed as for how learnings can be shared within the ERG, and out of the safe space so that ultimately this is socialized across the business.

This is primarily the role of the Executive Sponsor. To listen, to work with the diversity and inclusion lead on making changes and then drive implementation, which sometimes means taking it to the board.

As a mid-sized agency starting global ERGs, how do we keep the conversations relevant to all members?

In global ERGs covering many geographical locations but with a relatively small number of members, the cultures and even the language used on certain issues can be vastly different. This can cause miscommunication and even offence. For example, how members from the United Kingdom and the United States talk about race issues can be very different. The same can be said for Europe and the United Arab Emirates on LGBTQI+ issues.

One solution is to keep the global ERGs but keep conversations local (however small the numbers), so there’s affinity with local issues. The local learnings can then feed into the global ERGs to work towards global goals.

Left to right - Jeff Simmons - Senior Client Partner, Microsoft Advertising; Sufia Hussain-Parkar - Inclusion, Equity & Diversity Director EMEA at Wunderman Thompson; Liam Mullins - Managing Partner, the7stars; Ravleen Beeston - Regional Vice President Sales, Microsoft Advertising; and Serena Lloyd-Smith - Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Global.

Photo credit: Troy Aidoo James

A huge thank you to all who attended the event and contributed to such an insightful and important discussion.

Finally, a special thanks in particular to Andrea Djan-Krofa for her support in putting this article together.

For more information and to become a member, visit Media for All.

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