Diversity marketing needs to be more than skin-deep

As marketing - and the world at large - continues to face rapid change, marketers will need to reframe the issues of diversity and inclusion, transitioning from a moral matter of representation to a problem-solving necessity. Time for the #DiversityRevolution, writes Rebecca Coleman.

Diversity marketing needs to be more than skin-deep

Looking back at some of the biggest, social-media-frenzy-inducing news and brand stories of the past year or so, there is one theme that recurs with startling frequency: equality.

From Procter & Gamble’s ‘Like a Girl’ campaign for Always, to same-sex marriage being legalised across the US, and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner’s unflinchingly open account of her transition from living as a male to female, the Western world has been set alight with powerful stories of our need to embrace human differences. So why, in 2015, are we still talking about the need for greater diversity, equality and inclusion within the marketing sector?

We live in an age where customers want brands who don’t bat an eyelid at any aspect of themselves  - Jan Gooding, Aviva

Results from Marketing’s Salary Survey, conducted in partnership with the CIM, found that the marketing sector is still underperforming when it comes to these issues. Only a quarter of those 3445 people surveyed felt that there were no areas of weakness in terms of equal opportunity and diversity.

And the gender pay gap continues to loom large, with notable schisms between not only salaries, but also bonuses, commissions and additional allowances. Where publicly, marketing is progressive and active in these areas, it seems that behind closed doors disparities abide.

Considering the breadth and depth of humanity, diversity should go way beyond gender to encompass (in no particular order) race, sexual orientation, experience, age, background, disability, mental health and any other possible variation of individual characteristics imaginable. From a marketing point of view, the need to accurately represent society is central to success.

In a globalised, multifaceted environment, how can brands be expected to reach a diverse public without a diverse team, asks Roisin Donnelly, brand director, Northern Europe, at Procter & Gamble. "Diversity in our organisation better represents diverse consumers; it brings new ideas, new perspectives and helps us challenge the status quo," she says. "It stimulates innovation on our brands and in our marketing. And it builds better, stronger and happier teams."

Diversity has moved beyond pure representation. We are beginning to see a paradigm shift in thinking; evolving from diversity and inclusion being viewed as a socially responsible thing to do, into an era where it is seen as vital for the formation of great ideas.

An age of cognitive diversity born out of teams formed from a perfect mix of natural and nurtured human variations. A utopian view, perhaps, but we are in a transitional phase. The marketing profession needs role models, creative recruitment and more supportive infrastructures before it will be truly able to capitalise on cognitive diversity.

A gender agenda

Women account for half the global population, so it’s almost unbelievable that we continue to talk about gender as an aspect of diversity. Nonetheless, there is still a gap across too many facets of society, from business to politics.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement, in July, that UK businesses with more than 250 employees will be forced to publish gender pay differences, holds the promise of transforming transparency from internal corporate responsibly into national legislation.

However, the government remains undecided on how this will work. After all, simply publishing a single figure for each employer could be misleading.

Annabel Rake, UK chief marketing officer at consultancy Deloitte, highlights that an overall figure doesn’t tell the whole story, as it misses the point that women are underrepresented in the so-called ‘C-suite’.

"Deloitte’s gender pay gap stands at 17.8%, about 1.3% below the national figure. However, when looking across the organisation as a whole, the pay gap between male and female employees at each grade is significantly lower, at 1.5%. This illustrates that for Deloitte, the issue is far less about how we pay our people and more about the number of women employed at more senior grades."

Not in my image

A lack of representation and role models in the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy is an issue across the spectrum of employee diversity.

Alex Goat, deputy managing director of youth marketing agency Livity, believes that the lack of diversity, in all respects, can be overcome by thinking more laterally when filling vacancies to avoid the tendency to "hire in one’s own image".

She adds: "When you get to a more senior level there may be a less diverse pool to choose from.

It’s about thinking creatively, bringing in people with different experiences to be able to add massive value to your business. It’s about active consideration rather than quotas.

When you’re trying to solve a problem, bringing in people with different points of views and backgrounds is going to result in the most innovative solutions. I guess it’s the virtuous circle of proving that more open and innovative businesses will naturally be more diverse because that’s the way they think and act."

Goat is passionate about increasing the diversity of role models in senior marketing positions to encourage young people from different backgrounds to enter the industry and create a new dynamic within it. #

"You can only be what you can see. So if at the top of all our client groups and all our agencies are only white, middle-class men, then it’s really difficult, as a younger employee, to say that’s the person I want to be in 10 to 15 years’ time," she says.

The performance pay-off

A global study by consultancy McKinsey, published in late 2014, backs up the idea that more diverse teams lead to tangible financial returns.

It found that businesses with the most gender-diverse leadership were 15% more likely to report financial results above their country’s national average, whereas those with the most ethnically diverse boards performed 35% better.

Donnelly notes that P&G, too, has found that more diverse teams lead to better ideas and, in turn, a boost to the bottom line.

"We’ve studied this, and diverse teams deliver, on average, 5% better sales results than a homogeneous team – even when working on what would be considered gender-specific brands, like Tampax, beauty brands like Olay or shaving brands like Gillette."

Create a culture of confidence

Once a diverse marketing team has been assembled, the next task for employers and those in senior positions is to create a perfect incubator for ideas to form and breed.

Jan Gooding, group brand director at Aviva, believes this is all about making people feel able to be themselves day after day, in every professional situation.

"I know, as a gay woman, that it’s not a case of coming out once. I come out most days. We need to make people feel more comfortable [with talking] about it.

There are many aspects of people that you don’t know just by looking at them, or even working closely with them.

Even within LGBT communities there are issues. For example, how reluctant people are to describe themselves as bisexual. There are still these areas of discomfort."

Gooding agrees that if people feel entirely at ease and confident in the workplace, they will be much more productive, collaborative and better at problem-solving. While she sees this as common sense, she also argues that until organisations have a truly supportive infrastructure in place, individual and team performance won’t reach its peak.

The diversity compass

To cite LGBT as a case in point, several brands have recently made a statement of support for gay pride and same-sex marriage by turning their logos rainbow-coloured.

However, there is a need to prove that diversity marketing is more than skin-deep.

We’re quite quick to link mental health to things that go wrong in society. When you see headlines about depression, it’s usually negative

"We live in an age where customers want brands who don’t bat an eyelid at any aspect of themselves," says Gooding.

She contends that as long as everyone in a team feels empowered to draw on their personal experiences, they will act as a consumer compass, ensuring that marketing strategies are targeting different groups in the most appropriate and non-tokenistic way.

"The marketing industry has been a little bit lazy. I find the interest in the so-called pink pound almost marginally offensive – this argument of ‘you should show some gay people in your ads because it’s a bit edgy and you should do it because they’re quite rich you know’. I dislike the potential tokenism of doing that if the reality of the customer experience doesn’t back it up."

Gooding says that the reason Aviva can represent LGBT customers with confidence is because of the strength of the organisation’s Aviva Pride employee network. Members are able to provide a realistic analysis of how Aviva is performing in this area and how best to represent LGBT customers in marketing materials.

Shifting the taboo

It is not solely internally that marketing can have a role to play in altering people’s perceptions and making diversity something unremarkable.

As a consumer- and business-facing industry, there is also the opportunity to reframe common issues, kick-start conversations, educate and, crucially, eliminate stigma and prejudice.

Speaking from personal experience about another kind of ‘invisible’ diversity, Jayne Hardy, founder and chief executive of The Blurt Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to help and inspire those affected by depression, is clear that there is more that the marketing sector can do to heighten awareness of mental health issues.

"The way the media talks about mental health is still quite archaic," she says. "We’re quite quick to link mental health to things that go wrong in society. When you see headlines about depression, it’s usually negative.

We don’t say ‘depressed Kelly Holmes wins gold’, but we do say ‘depressed person goes on gun attack’. It breeds fear and that’s a really big thing we’re up against, because the media is everything, it’s everywhere. That’s a huge part of marketing, too."

Innovate from diversity’s experience

The vast majority (82%) of UK marketers surveyed agreed they would like their employer to take diversity issues seriously, even if they were not affected by them. However, this would not necessarily influence their choice of employer, nor would they turn down a role if they didn’t agree with a company on diversity issues.

While this might seem disappointing, it is understandable. Both Hardy and Gooding highlight the fact that marketing is a competitive world and not everyone has the courage to take a stand at the risk of losing the prospect of employment.

Deloitte’s Rake says we need to keep going. "To achieve diversity in business we realise there is no ‘quick fix’. It will take a combination of cultural change and deliberate actions. An inclusive culture is critical for business," she argues.

With continued and prolonged advancement, the hope is that eventually no one will have to make a choice between principles and a great job. However, as momentum grows for cognitive diversity, this may become irrelevant; the only brands and organisations flourishing will be the ones that are innovating through the varied thoughts and experiences of their workforce.

Beyond the morals

It’s now often true that younger generations of digital natives have more in common with people their own age across the world than older people who live in the same region or country.

As traditional demographics become less meaningful to these youngsters, we should begin to see a shift toward the ‘new normal’ of ‘no normal’.

A report released in July by Deloitte concluded that millennials will lead the transition from representation and assimilation to diversity of thought and perspectives.

It found that global millennials view cognitive diversity as a vital component for innovation and are 71% more likely to focus on teamwork than older colleagues. Diversity is no longer a purely moral issue.

Organisations will have to adapt to these new mindsets. They will also have to keep pace with the ever-changing nature of the industry. If marketing and global trends continue to evolve at the rate to which we’ve become accustomed, teams will have little choice but to diversify in order to survive.

*Source: CIM survey of 3445 UK marketers, 2015

**Source: Deloitte, 2015