How would you feel if with a great sense of anticipation you walk into an ice cream parlour just to find out that the only available flavour is vanilla?
Or what if you go to a home improvement centre to buy paint to redecorate your house and to your surprise the only colour in stock is beige?
These two analogies seem quite appropriate to make the point about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. That’s because more and more these three words are becoming quite ubiquitous in our industry lingo, and we should ask ourselves why it took so long or why just now? Should we attribute it to the current political environment? Or should we acknowledge that cultural conversations on race have reached a fever pitch against the backdrop of the political environment? One might argue that the social movements we are seeing are in fact the tail that is wagging the dog of politics. And this is what has made some companies suddenly feel obligated to make public, sometimes empty, gestures with regard to diversity and inclusion. And some others are simply very late to the party. For example, the advertising industry, as close as it is to consumer understanding, should have been paying attention and addressing representation all along!
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) cannot be just a quota or the politically correct thing to do. Those efforts should be a key component of the DNA of a company culture and be an uncompromising commitment. I say this as an entrepreneur who started a company to ensure the acknowledgment of the enormous value and benefit that comes from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and diverse perspectives relating to origin, race and gender. The more diverse a company is, the more it creates a unique ecosystem that generates a fun, engaging environment, that fosters respect, openness and a spirit of collaboration where people are encouraged and empowered to celebrate their different backgrounds.
Actually, one of the most compelling arguments for diversity, equity and inclusion from a business standpoint is innovation. Just as biological diversity leads to evolution (in fact it’s key to ensuring the future of humanity), diverse perspectives in the workplace lead to business innovation.
Diversity is good business… diversity pays off… but above all, diversity is a mission statement that should be nourished, continuously enhanced and celebrated! Diversity should be a firm's firm commitment, and clients will certainly reap the benefits of the rich currency of insights and freshness. Interesting ideas come from interesting people. It’s as simple (and complex) as that!
But I have an important caveat to make: Diversity and Inclusion is not the same as Multicultural Marketing!
The last few months the conversation around DE&I has become the ‘flavour of the month’ in Corporate America, and of course this is great news. The not-so-great news is that for some corporations, DE&I may be implemented in lieu of multicultural marketing programs, at least from a resource allocation perspective. Both concepts are equally important, and they might even be related. But the risk of treating them as the same may end up damaging a brand’s bottom line.
Today more than ever, a committed DE&I program is a must for corporations to build an organisation that better reflects the society and the marketplace. Diversity helps bring the right representation; equity is the recognition of everyone’s value in their difference, and inclusion is a must in order to have these voices heard at the decision-making level.
An effective DE&I program can serve as a springboard for an inclusive approach across all stakeholders, including not only employees but also suppliers, retailers and consumers. And precisely because retailers and consumers should be engaged in this effort, the multicultural marketing discipline and its specialised expertise is required. DE&I efforts are not truly complete without a multicultural marketing strategy, and multicultural marketing strategies may be incomplete and ineffective if developed without people who understand and engage with the new demographic and psychographic paradigm of America, especially as 2020, in more ways than one, will be a turning point for our nation.
DE&I is an internal effort to which a corporation commits to encourage a work environment that inspires diversity of representation and thought, promotes and celebrates inclusivity, and provides equitable opportunities to all. Meanwhile, Multicultural Marketing is an external effort for a corporation to promote and sell products or services, including market research and advertising to one or more audiences of a specific cultural segment.
There’s now proof that DE&I is a source of enormous benefit for organisations as differences in background, experiences and thinking lead to increased innovation and insight. However, those innovations and insights need to be communicated to multicultural consumers in a relevant and authentic way, and that is only possible by having a proper multicultural marketing strategy. Or in other words, a DE&I program is always welcome for a corporation to create an inclusive working environment, but a multicultural strategy is imperative for a business to grow. D&I is about values, and multicultural marketing is about driving value.
It’s time to vote out ‘vanilla’ and ‘beige’ by committing to real, long lasting DE&I initiatives. And it’s time to channel the power of those initiatives into culturally meaningful marketing programs that engage the modern multicultural consumer. This is who will truly propel brands in order for companies to grow.
Luis Miguel Messianu is founder, creative chairman & CEO at Alma, Miami, Florida