Recently, I had the honor of speaking at the 2020 CMX Summit on the importance of building inclusive communities. I spoke about practical ways that business leaders can avoid divisiveness and promote positivity and acceptance. This is especially important in today’s highly-polarized political and social climate. Divisive language, actions that may negatively impact certain groups and/or favoritism can have serious, negative effects on the mental health of employees. Beyond that, having a blind spot around inclusivity will hurt your brand! This blog post summarizes the key takeaways from my talk. I hope it helps you carry this work forward within your communities and organizations.
Our country was built on discrimination. As much as we’d all like to think we’ve put it in our past, everything from street protests of police brutality, to the disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, to our current political climate make it clear to anyone paying attention that the fight against discrimination is far from over.
Discrimination, whether intentional or unintentional, directly impacts our emotional wellness. In the short term, it leads to stress, anxiety and feelings of loneliness. In the long term, not only does it lead to a sharp increase in risk for mental illness, but it can take a toll on our physical health – from increased fatigue and gastrointestinal issues to more serious ailments like blood clots, heart disease and memory loss.
Why do these individual impacts matter to our larger organizations? Because beyond the emotional injury to those targeted by discrimination, exclusionary messaging can hit a brand’s bottom line – HARD. Unchecked discrimination has tremendous ramifications for companies – from sharp declines in worker productivity to substantial increases in absenteeism and turnover. It also costs you customers and lowers your conversion rates.
However, there is good news! As decision makers for your brand’s marketing and community engagement programs, you can be the spark that ignites a movement promoting inclusion and diversity throughout your organization.
This includes members of your internal team, outside contractors and your organization’s leadership. Everyone must share in the responsibility of promoting diversity and inclusion. You should empower each team member to engage in the conversation, ask questions and contribute ideas. DO NOT rely only on a select few or the head of Diversity and Inclusion at your company to bear this responsibility on their own. This is a job for everyone!
It doesn’t matter if it’s visual or contextual collateral, or if it’s going to be seen on your website, social media, marketing emails, or elsewhere: You MUST ensure that every piece of content reflects diverse perspectives. This is especially true when it comes to visuals. Ensure your images and videos include people from all walks of life. In this way, you will not alienate customers or inadvertently harm the people in your organization working for the success of your company. The most important considerations to keep in mind are race, gender spectrum, LGBTQ identity, age, and ability.
Even in today’s tech-savvy environment, there are millions of Americans who do not have access to the internet. Remember, many people who did have access prior to the pandemic don’t enjoy that access any more. This is because coffee shops, offices and public libraries offering free WIFI have had to shut their doors to keep our communities safe from the virus.
Consider adding traditional marketing tactics to your campaigns, such as distributing mailers, making phone calls and hosting physical events. Tap into your organization’s collective creative genius to identify new ways to reach people offline.
People of lower socioeconomic statuses often have no or little access to computers, the internet and other tech-enabled resources. BUT these individuals are still consumers and have purchasing power. People of color make up a majority of communities of lower socioeconomic status. This is due to centuries of institutional racism. If you aren’t including these communities in your marketing strategies, you will be excluding millions of people from your reach.
The best companies constantly look for ways to expand their markets in order to acquire new customers. For example, Facebook is making a massive investment in encircling the African continent with a giant undersea internet cable that it estimates will bring three billion more people reliable internet connection. This investment interconnects 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Listen, even if your company doesn’t have $200M (an estimate of Facebook’s spend on this cable) for a project to allow access to broader, more diverse markets, there are lots of options that can work in a similar vein. See below for more ideas, based on a smart question from a CMX Summit audience participant!
A: As a woman and person of color, I’m building MentalHappy knowing exactly how it feels to be overlooked. I believe that I spark change by building a platform that welcomes all people despite gender, race, or socioeconomic status. I enable others to find healing and a sense of belonging.
A: Sending clear signals to teams about the importance of being vigilant around issues of inclusion in marketing materials and company culture will not incur significant cost. Trainings around inclusion do come with a cost, but the data indicates that this is a necessary expense to increase brand reach, boost employee productivity and reduce turnover. Investing now will pay off later.
A: Leadership sets the tone, for sure. Leaders need to be explicit that it is okay to call out missteps around this sensitive topic. Let’s face it, we are all learning here. People learn best when they aren’t afraid to be vulnerable about their mistakes. Leaders must signal that it is safe to raise awareness about improving (as individuals and as an organization) by sincerely thanking people for speaking up.
A: Recently, MentalHappy hired a designer on a contract basis to help with a project for our social media. While we were explaining the specifications of the project, it became clear that this otherwise talented professional was unclear on what diverse representation really means (and actually looks like). We had to be explicit with him about our expectations on diverse representation in the videos and images.
A: Please vote. For the love of God. Vote!
A: What a cool business! You’re savvy to realize that there is a big customer base who could benefit from your service if it was accessible. 11 million people in the United States consider themselves deaf or have a serious hearing disability. I recommend that you make it clear in your marketing materials that sign language interpretation is readily available for your clients who need that accommodation. A company like DIS can help you get this set up quickly. Additionally, you can reach out to the deaf community and make sure they know about your classes and that they are welcome.
A: Great question, thank you. Neurodiverse people may think, process, and react emotionally in different ways than neurotypical people do, and it’s essential to make space for these folx in our communities. Neurodiversity is a huge asset to our organizations, especially because being able to see the world through a neurodivergent lens can help everyone notice non-inclusive spaces and practices. One of the most important characteristics of healthy online communities is quality content moderation. Moderators help to ensure that everyone’s viewpoints are respected and heard, and that toxic messaging and trolls are spotted quickly and dealt with appropriately. My advice would be to make sure that neurodiverse moderators are actively recruited and then supported once in place.
A: Sure! You can work in partnership with places where people gather (pre-COVID). For example, partnering with a third party like a hospital, a school or university, a church, or fitness center that can pass along your company brand information via announcement or flyer or bulletin board. This is a very low-cost option to build an inclusive community and expand your brand’s reach.