Are we squeezing marketing into a spangly new jumpsuit called Diversity for a comeback Vegas tour or is it time to rethink the whole act? Lauren Bowden, Chief Content Creator at London agency The Comms Crowd makes the case for change.

Diversity and equality have been interests of mine for longer than I can remember, and I have been collecting thoughts and quotes on the topic like its vinyl.

It never seemed right to me that some people who looked, acted and seemed a certain way were always at the forefront.

I 100% subscribe to Groove Armada’s belief that “if everybody looked the same, we’d get tired looking at each other”. And if recent column inches devoted to diversity are anything to be believed – most of us are not just tired – we are knackered with a lack of representation. But the flurry of ideas, arguments and counterarguments that circulate such a contentious issue makes it hard to find where to begin.

If everybody looked the same, we’d get tired looking at each other

Groove Armada

So, let’s start at the very beginning. I hear it’s a very good place to start. Definitions.

Aside from the first definition that sprung into my head, “I could be wrong, but I think diversity is an old wooden ship used in the civil war era” from the oracle that is Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, I found consensus on what the word itself meant, but less so on what constitutes a diverse group. On the whole, I see it as a term to describe many people including a range of races, genders, sexual orientation, ages, physical abilities, social mobilities, and religious beliefs all working together.

Working for over 15 years in the financial technology industry, indisputably chocked full of Ron Burgundys, I was curious to find out just how diverse the marketing industry is. Way more, right? Turns out, not so much…

While 45% top marketing positions at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) client-side member organizations are now held by women. But only 13% of CMOs or CMO equivalents are people colour: 5% are Hispanic/Latin, 5% are Asian and 3% are black, according to an ANA report. As for every other type of person, I found nothing.

But what I did find when I searched for diversity in marketing, there was an overwhelming amount of results was about a whole subsection of marketing that I hoped didn’t exist, but when I found out about it, didn’t surprise me in the least. A sector called diversity marketing (aka inclusive marketing, aka inclusion marketing, aka in-culture marketing). This is doubtless where tone-deaf creativity and opportunistic coat-tail riding campaigns collide. I’ll leave it to Trixie Mattel, superstar drag queen and folk music star artist to get to the point: “During (US) pride month major corporates are your best friends, and then July 1st – its crickets, bitch”.

This contentious area which has sparked countless debates and arguments. My friend and ex-colleague, Josh Owonaiye wrote a great summary on a couple of campaigns from earlier this year ‘Can brands truly support social issues? A Gillette and Nike case study’, which emphasized the responsibility brands have on making sure the execution of these types of campaigns is right. Stuart Lambert, Founding Partner at Blurred, added another optimistic layer to this discussion: “Irrespective of executional quality, authenticity or purpose… ANY big brand doing “woke” stuff means they have crunched the data and decided that misogynists/nativists/racists/whatevers are not a market worth worrying about. They have been weighed, measured and found worthless. Not even capitalism wants them. That’s a good thing.”

While we are on an optimistic note – I have been lucky enough to work on two financial technology companies’ projects recently – JDX Consulting’ superb Learning and Development festival and Identitii’s diversity and inclusion blog series. Both are authentic, long term, parts of the company’s DNA that complement their main service offerings. That for me is how it’s done.

The problem with thinking diversity is an HR or CSR issue or *shudder* a “type” of marketing means it will always be ‘other’. It needs to permeate every department to make a real change, improve decision making and avoid groupthink across the board. And for those who believe businesses’ only responsibility is to only increase the bottom line? Research from McKinsey & Company shows that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially – and that this outperformance is growing. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are now 15% more likely to outperform their peers; those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to outperform.

I could go on and on about this topic. It’s a complex and exciting area of change, but I must stop somewhere. So, I’ll leave it with a notion that I heard at an event I went to a few months ago, who I, unfortunately, can’t name drop (Chatham House rules and all that). It’s something that as someone who has been told in the past that ‘I’m just not a good fit’, I took comfort in.

Diversity in action is about not changing square pegs to fit the round holes of existing corporate cultures. We need to change the hole, not the peg, otherwise, nothing will change.

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