DE&I: Continuing the Conversation

Diversity Equity & Inclusion

Over 150 marketers and advertisers tuned in to gain insights and share experiences on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) at our recent series of virtual In-House Agency Roundtables. Corporate influencer Leslie Wingo led the talks and shared her unique point of view as an activist, sports fan, woman of color, El Paso native, head of Sanders\Wingo, and so much more.

Did you miss the event—or miss taking notes? We’ve got you covered. Here are some key takeaways from the series.

What is DE&I?

Before diving into diversity, equity and inclusion, let’s establish a shared understanding of what these terms mean. “Diversity is more than the color of one’s skin, gender or sexual orientation,” Leslie remarked. “It’s about seeing the world around us through the lens of culture and others.”

So where does inclusion fit in? One helpful explanation comes from Rita Mitjans, chief diversity and social responsibility officer at payroll giant ADP: “Diversity is the ‘what;’ inclusion is the ‘how’ … inclusion is a measure of culture that enables diversity to thrive.”

Equity, then, is about fairness. Per Leslie, it means “having policies, trainings and accountable practices in place to ensure that all humans have the same access to opportunities … It’s about creating a new status quo of inclusiveness.”

Why Business Leaders Should Care About DE&I

Brands and employers face growing calls to take a stand on everything from climate change to voting rights to racial violence. And, given the rise of social media, consumers’ and workers’ concerns are now amplified like never before. Sharing empty public statements or just ignoring the issues are no longer viable options.

“Social issues are becoming brand issues, and vice versa,“ said Leslie, who compared the idea of cancel culture to the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. “Customers are using their wallets, their social platforms and centers of influence to demand more. Some would call this … cancel culture. But others would call this quite powerful.”

Measures of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

As marketers and advertisers, we tend to seek out the right metrics and tools to measure success. Yet trying to quantify diversity, equity and inclusion can quickly become a flawed “check-the-box” exercise that misses the mark.

Leslie cites two economic principles here: “Goodhart’s Law, that says when a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure; and Campbell’s Law, that says the more a metric is used, the more likely it is to corrupt the process it was intended to monitor.”

Ironically, some efforts to quantify DE&I—like always hiring a set number of people from predetermined social groups—can actually compromise the diversity and complexity they aim to promote. So, how else can we work toward positive change?

How to Promote Diversity, Equity & Inclusion In House

Following Leslie’s presentation, those attending this year’s discussions broke off into small groups to brainstorm ways to foster DE&I in house, from the talent we hire to the stories we tell and the images we choose to tell them. Here’s what our in-house agency community came up with:

For Individuals:

› Check yourself for any biases or blind spots about different issues and groups.

› Listen to other people’s ideas and experiences, even those with whom you don’t agree.

› Allow for mistakes and questions. Creating a safe space for people to speak freely can lead to increased vulnerability and mutual understanding.

› Ask for clarification when someone says something that strikes you as offensive.

› Ask people with whom you disagree if they’re open to a different point of view—if not, you can save time and avoid tension instead of trying to change their minds.

For Organizations:

› Spark authentic conversations.Try to use current events as a starting point for a more relevant, effective dialogue with team members and customers.

› Consider under-represented minorities (URMs) for leadership roles. Their expertise not only brings a different perspective to the organization but helps more-junior URM talent see themselves as future CEOs, CMOs and EVPs.

› Assign a partner or mentor to new employees, regardless of their social identity. In one attendee’s experience, employees who have had this connection are more apt to feel respected, accepted and comfortable contributing to the group.

› Allow for direct engagement between customers and the C-suite. One attendee noted that “part of a CEO’s time should be spent talking to customers … if you’re not getting down through the filters to talk to [them], you aren’t going to understand what’s really important.”

› Diversify your supplier base. Working with a wide array of partners and vendors can help stimulate new ideas and perspectives that your go-to suppliers may not offer.

› Embrace an ongoing process. “I think it’s hard to measure all of these changes in a quick snap,” someone added. “It’s going to take more than one initiative or one speaker or one thing.”

› Evaluate your metrics, models and data ethics. Be mindful of how you’re using customer data, what details you might be missing, and any unconscious biases that might be built into your metrics or modeling.

› Manage friction. Leslie noted that “as marketers, we are taught to take the friction out of the process” for seamless messaging and transactions. We can use that skill to promote increased engagement in conversations around DE&I. However, we also need to accept that these conversations can be uncomfortable. Keeping some friction in the process might be necessary.

› Set the tone from the top-down. How leadership approaches and discusses DE&I will pave the way for employees to follow suit.

› Establish a DE&I panel or committee. These groups can weigh in on both external communications and internal processes, sharing perspectives and establishing best practices to create opportunities for organizations to do better.

› Include everyone. In our organizations and the work we produce, move beyond the traditional dimensions of DE&I like race and gender to consider people with different abilities, health conditions, ages, religions, lifestyles and more.

› Learn from (don’t lean on) URMs. Done correctly, providing URMs with a forum to share their experiences can be a tremendous learning opportunity for the whole organization. Done too frequently, however, it unfairly puts the onus on the people experiencing related challenges to also find the solutions.

› Engage external stakeholders. Some team members might find it more comfortable to be vulnerable and open with people outside the organization instead of their peers. Soliciting outside opinions can also reduce the risk of an echo-chamber effect—some ideas sound great until you share them with others.

› Audit your social channels. Can your workforce and customers see themselves reflected in your organization’s social presence? If not, make this a priority when selecting talent for photo shoots and other projects. Inclusion is just that.

DE&I in Action

One more thought on diversity, equity and inclusion from Leslie: “If anybody tells you they have the silver bullet, the list, all the answers, I truly believe they are wrong. Many of us are coming into this space with very high expectations and we don’t even know where to begin.”

Given the importance and complexity of these issues, we’re not ready to move on just yet. Join our DE&I in Action series in the coming months to hear what in-house agency leaders at Deloitte and HP Studio are doing to promote positive change within their respective organizations.

Want more resources to broaden your own understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion? Check out these recommendations from Leslie Wingo:


Stop Hiring for a Cultural Fit

The Profound Significance of ‘High on the Hog’


The Danger of a Single Story




Against the Rules

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