5 things strong brands can do to end racial inequalities

The current movement triggered by racial bias under the #blacklivesmatter has by proxy made the global pandemic which has claimed close to 500 million lives, take a back seat and no longer headline news. This is a wake-up call globally, the rise in public solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, brands are facing growing pressure to act. Consumers and employees are demanding accountability on systemic racism. 

Initially, brands responded by issuing statements, social media posts, and ads, thinking they’d be able to recycle the relatively successful playbook they developed for the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pushback from consumers was forceful and clear: They wanted to see meaningful action from brands on the issue of race.

Leading tech brands like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have been releasing their diversity data to the public for five years. Estée Lauder, Sephora, and Revlon released their diversity data after a pressure campaign called “Pull Up for Change” was launched by Black cosmetics CEO Sharon Chuter. Adidas released its diversity numbers and committed to ensuring 30% of all U.S. hires were either Black or Latinx after mounting pressure from the public and internally.

Of course, rooting out systemic racism is a collective effort that won’t be solved overnight. But there are there is something brands can do right now to enact meaningful change.

Talk the talk

This moment is a stern reminder of the perils of top-down management. Ideas that sound great on paper can be disastrous in practice, and if you aren’t talking to your employees you will miss the failure. Leadership has pointed to a “lack of talent” or a “restricted talent pool” as the reason behind stalled diversity and inclusion efforts. But if they took a moment to ask minority employees how they feel, they’d uncover, but avoiding direct conversations with your staff will only lead to an exodus of underrepresented talent.

People won’t stay where they don’t feel heard. Any successful diversity and inclusion initiatives must start with frank conversations between leadership and the employees of color they serve. If you open your ears, we will tell you the change we need to see in order to feel included, supported, and positioned to succeed.

Genuinely open up for diversity and inclusion

Over the last decade, international brands have been more persistent on diversity and inclusion, however, statistics prove otherwise. For organizations looking to shape up their diversity and inclusion programs and policies, the change can be challenging — but highly rewarding.

The emphasis of the message has to come top-down and results have to strike the balance, and if not, there must be follow up and scrutiny. Racial bias starts with a genuinely open-minded HR team down to the employees. 

Most companies enact change to deliver business value, and many who launch diversity and inclusion initiatives cite research showing that companies with more diverse teams outperform those with a more homogeneous workforce,

Though diversity alone will not solve the challenge, it creates critical accountability for the inclusion of minority races that consumers and employees have been demanding for years. Leading brands must be more transparent with their diversity and inclusion if they want customers to believe that they’re taking systemic racism seriously.

Leading brands have a real opportunity to provide leadership to the rest of ‘wanna-be-global brands’ when it comes to diversity and inclusivity.

Hold your organization accountable

In 2016, General Mills required that all agencies pitching for its business were staffed with at least 50% women and 20% people of color within the creative department. The company issued this requirement not just because it was the right thing to do, but because it was the right thing to do for its business. 

Organizations need to ensure that marketing its products, and the advertising campaigns should better reflect the true diversity that the organization claims to champion. Leading companies like HP and Verizon have their own programs requiring diversity, leading to some radical changes in their creative staff’s makeup.

If all brands took the simple step of holding their agencies accountable to improving diversity, the impact would be immediate and incredible. 

Employees equally need to have the diversity conversation with their management, ask them how they are taking steps to address racial inequity in their teams. 

Being truly ‘colorblind’

“Colorblindness” — a practice in which racial identity is avoided — used to be an acceptable approach not only to diversity initiatives but how the success of a D&I initiative was measured. The reality is that “colourblindness” can actually work against diversity and inclusion by ignoring differences and failing to take into account how perceptions, thoughts and experiences are shaped by identity, says Miller.

It is one thing to say you’re colourblind, and another to be truly colourblind. It is vital to make it intentional to blur the colour factor to the human factor.

 If for instance beauty brands looked at their product as brands for a certain race or skin tone then they’re limiting their growth potential on the basis of colour.

According to a June 2020 poll from Edelman, 60% of Americans would now boycott or switch to a brand depending on its response to diversity and inclusivity. That number jumps to 70% when asked of the key 18- to-34-year-old demographic. Those findings underscore the sense of urgency this moment has rendered.

Creating a safe and welcoming environment for the minority

Some organizations have a basic understanding of where to begin addressing diversity issues in the workplace — through their hiring practices. Where they often fall flat, however, is on inclusion once diverse candidates are brought on board.

“The ‘diversity’ piece of this is actually the easier part,” says Tarsha McCormick, head of diversity and inclusion at ThoughtWorks, a global software, services and technology consultancy.

You want to attract and hire diverse talent, but then you need to take it to the next level, you need to focus on the inclusion part, and make sure you’re being inclusive of everyone.

It’s leadership’s responsibility to make sure the working environment is safe and welcoming for everyone, but also to take immediate and decisive action when there’s evidence that this is not the case. 

How well is your organisation embracing diversity and inclusion?