"We need to show our daughters that nothing is beyond their reach."

  • Gail Tifford, Chief Brand Officer, WW International (formerly Weight Watchers)

For better or for worse, I’m a life-long marketer (and yes, most likely ‘till death do us part). More than three decades ago when I was in my mid-twenties, I started my ad agency. It has grown from two guys working from their apartments to six offices spanning three continents.

Way back then, my first partner was gay. The first graphics firm I hired was owned by a lesbian. So, as I progressed through my career, I saw firsthand that the bias against true equality—equality that embraces diversity and creates inclusion—has seemed an almost immoveable object.

Now, as I look both backwards and forwards, the thought that runs recurrently through my mind is that marketing needs to do more—much more—to effect change. In fact, marketing teams and their colleagues in human resources and corporate learning and development have a massive role to play in leading the diversity and inclusion agenda from the front lines.

Obviously, marketing already matters on many levels. It matters in building brand momentum, driving demand and contributing to business growth. It matters in better understanding customers’ needs. It matters in creating better customer experiences, which is projected to be the primary differentiator for almost all brands going forward.

Marketing matters, too, where it intersects with internal stakeholders. Marketing has a significant role to play in shaping and projecting corporate purpose, given that 89% of executives in a recent survey conducted by EY and Harvard Business Review Analytic Services stated that collective purpose motivates employee satisfaction.

But to date, marketers still are not doing nearly enough.

  • Marketing as a profession is fairly well represented by women, including at the CMO level. Despite that, pay disparity is a significant issue that must be addressed.
  • People of color are significantly under-represented in marketing. Underscoring this point, a comprehensive 2017 study conducted by ANA (formerly known as the Association of National Advertisers) in conjunction with the Advertising Educational Foundation (AEF) states that marketers have a long way to go when it comes to creating an inclusive atmosphere.
  • There is not nearly enough being done to create pathways for all leading to the marketing profession—at a time when marketing needs all the right voices to remain relevant. It’s important to note that creating such pathways is both the right thing to do and a necessary one if marketers want to connect with American consumers, who are becoming increasingly more diverse in ways that extend way beyond race.
  • Perhaps most of all, marketing is not yet doing enough to use its vast communicative power to drive society toward becoming inherently inclusive—making the very notion of ‘diversity and inclusion’ a thing of the past!

But that, at last, is changing. For example, the #SeeHer movement was launched in 2016 by a partnership between the ANA, the Alliance for Family Entertainment (AFE) and The Female Quotient (TFQ). The mission of the #SeeHer Initiative is to increase accurate portrayals of women and girls in media by 20% by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote.

By now, most everyone is familiar with Fearless Girl, the iconic statue and marketing campaign from State Street Global Advisors and its agency, McCann New York. For the notoriously conservative financial services category, Fearless Girl was an epically fearless campaign to promote its SHE index fund, which comprises gender-diverse companies that have a relatively high percentage of women among their senior leadership.

The campaign has turned into a cultural phenomenon as well as a massive and enduring success for State Street. Having had the opportunity to discuss the campaign with State Street’s marketing leaders, I can tell you it also has had a transformative impact within company.

Efforts like these build on each other. They force us to think about stereotypes and elevate to the conscious level our subconscious implicit bias. And, they make a compelling case that diversity and inclusion are now prerequisites for success in business—and must be in marketing, too.

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