Skip to main content

Marketers can rewrite the rules on inclusion

By Jamie Gilpin / April 30, 2019

A marketing department is responsible for telling a brand’s story and representing the voice of the customer. But as the country’s consumer population changes (as do its expectations) organizations only prove they’re behind in reflecting an accurate story.

More often than not, industry expert panels look like this. And even discussion around lack of diversity tends to be dominated by voices that don’t represent diversity. There’s no shortage of promises, but the numbers aren’t matching up. Almost every large U.S. company has publicly proclaimed its commitment to diversity, yet senior ranks largely look the same—even more so than they were a few years ago.

As the voice of the customer, marketers are in a unique position to rewrite the rules on inclusion in business. Marketing leaders have the power to be change agents—for your brand, your customers and your team—by promoting inclusivity beyond recruitment, and into in decision-making and career growth.

An important part of the equation

What tends to be forgotten is that diversity is just half of the equation. To achieve true inclusion, it’s not enough to have a diverse team. Marketing leaders need to not only advocate for, but represent, the ideals they preach in order to retain the right people and grow a team that truly lives up to their companies’ values.

Inclusivity is the nurturing ingrained in your culture. It’s bringing representation to the table. For measurable gain, marketers need to prioritize inclusivity as much as they prioritize diversity. Especially considering consumers expect these efforts from brands. Connection is the new currency, and people can’t connect to brands that don’t reflect them or their sensibilities.

The real work starts after hiring

Now that you’ve ensured that diversity of identity, background and experience are present on your team, make sure all voices are consistently heard and have a clear path to advancement. Too many leaders think the work is done after the hire is made. But the real work is retaining the diversity you’ve built.

It’s a cyclical pattern: Companies may succeed in hiring diverse candidates, but once those employees are in, they don’t see a path to move up. Logically, they seek opportunities elsewhere. And the company that hired them in the first place only grows more homogeneous.

Marketing leaders can start to nurture real growth opportunities by disrupting unconscious biases. BMO Financial Group recently faced their own unconscious biases. The team discovered that managers who made hiring decisions toward the end of the day when they were likely rushed or tired were more likely to select a candidate that was similar to them or their existing team. In mitigating those biases, managers used calendar notifications to prompt managers to review resumes earlier in the day. They also implemented online hubs with facilitation guides and questions for reflection, forcing managers to think about their own similarity attraction bias.

Also consider ways of nurturing current employees. Kristin Lemkau, CMO of Chase, wanted to commit to openly talk about issues women were experiencing at work, and attempt to resolve them as a leader.

“Women told me that one of the biggest barriers to women being productive and finding balance were bad meetings. That was one of the many reasons that led to declaring a war on bad meetings across the company and giving people their time back,” Lemkau told Adweek.

Just a few shifts in how you shape your team can help you avoid patterns that work against your values and your brand’s reputation.

Inclusion is a business priority

Inclusion is a valuable imperative in its own right, but it’s also a smart a business move.

Data shows that diverse teams deliver better decision making. One study found that inclusive teams make more effective business decisions up to 87% of the time. Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends report found that companies with inclusive talent practices generate up to 30% higher revenue per employee and greater profitability than their competitors.

Diverse teams operating in inclusive cultures offer viewpoints that drive innovation and move the needle for businesses. When Microsoft released its 2018 holiday ad, they featured a real nine-year-old gamer with a rare genetic disorder, which makes it tough for him to use a traditional video game controller. The ad shows both the company’s adaptive controller in action and an inclusive perspective of their product. The controller was named one of Time Magazine’s best inventions of the year and shows how a company can prioritize D&I efforts without taking a hit to its bottom line.

A team that reflects the incredible diversity of the marketplace is more likely to develop content that resonates. When you’re ideating with a team diverse in background, thought and experience, you produce a message your audience is more likely to connect with. Instead of relying on focus groups, include the actual voices in the room.

As marketers, we have to constantly ask ourselves, “Is my brand doing enough to be inclusive?” Because what worked 30 years ago isn’t working today. Consumer expectations are higher, and not recognizing the value in this shift is a big oversight on behalf of a brand’s leadership.

The value of inclusion

The right place to start is at the top. CMOs are in a unique position to rewrite the rules on inclusion in marketing. Lead by example and set initiatives in motion to do more than deliver lip service. By setting internal goals for inclusion, you can send an unmistakable message about the need to transform this industry.

For your team, what they see in their organization, they internalize. If they see themselves, it gives them hope that they will be listened to when approaching leaders with new product ideas, growth opportunities or simply to connect.

For your consumers, when they feel connected to your brand, you unlock potential beyond the bottom line. You activate a more hopeful consumer-brand relationship. And this hope fuels a commitment needed for innovation and the retention of A-team players across the board.

Jamie Gilpin

Jamie Gilpin

Jamie Gilpin is the CMO at Sprout Social. She is an experienced marketing leader with demonstrated success in growing brands in the technology space through strategic positioning.
Related Articles