CMO of Jellyfish, working closely with global brands and their millions of customers to create their perfect digital partnerships.
As a Black woman who works in an often male-dominated industry, I think my perspective on diversity is both well-informed and worth hearing. Now, personally, I look forward to the day when that disclaimer is totally unnecessary; when unification on the topic far outweighs any division that persists; when we all care much less about being right and much more about what is right; and when everyone’s opinion holds an equal amount of weight.
Today is not that day. Today, I’ve found that the visceral understanding of how diversity affects businesses still belongs disproportionately to workplace minorities, which is why it’s so important to keep sharing our perspectives. Here’s mine.
The Five Myths
The myths we collectively choose to believe can turn into defining elements of the space they occupy. I believe these five desperately need to go.
Myth No. 1: Quotas are the answer.
Publicly and in the boardroom, quotas are often used to demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion. The problem with this is twofold (at least).
The first problem is that quota fulfillment is often treated as the finish line. Too many executives believe that as long as human resources are kept topped up with enough minority employees, a company has done its part. It’s one of many ways that diversity and inclusion (D&I) gets pushed “out of the way.”
The second problem is that quotas reward the appearance of inclusion but don’t necessarily incentivize true diversity — because true diversity isn’t just about skin color or gender identity. It’s also about the unique perspectives and insights that diverse groups bring to the table. If we implemented a quota for every one of them, the table would no longer fit in the boardroom — which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t solve the real problems of equity, inclusion and belonging. The dimensions of diversity should actually be represented and drive impact for the business and society as a whole — not just check a box.
We should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Quotas may indeed be helpful. But if we’re going to accept them as value indicators, then we should also be open to redefining them and make sure they are part of a dynamic D&I policy, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.
Myth No. 2: You can reap what you don’t sow.
Many large and small companies are well aware by now that diverse advertising leads to improved consumer perception and even stock market gains, as illustrated by a Heat study (via Marketing Dive). To the extent that socially conscious marketing resonates with consumers, grows the bottom line and provides external opportunities for disadvantaged groups, it should be considered a good thing. Once again, however, there are at least two issues to be concerned about.
If marketing is where the diversity buck stops, then there may be an expiration date on the benefits, and that date is the day customers or competitors discover the lack of authenticity. It’s something we’ve seen with the growing awareness of greenwashing, and I’ve found that it’s equally true with D&I. As the necessity for transparency continues to grow, this could increasingly represent a blind spot for companies.
Secondly, I believe organizations whose commitment to diversity is superficial are actively depriving themselves of the full benefits. A bit louder for those in the back — diversity empowers. But you only get out what you put in. If you want to go a little deeper in consumer’s pockets, then maybe diversity in your ads is enough to do the trick. If you really care about your business and want the full range of benefits that come from true diversity, you should pursue a multidimensional and authentic approach.
Myth No. 3: All diversity leaders should be minorities.
Anyone can be a leader in this space. There seems to be a belief, though, that the people being negatively impacted by societal and institutional bias are inherently the best equipped to speak out loudly for change. Don’t get me wrong; the marginalized people I know are both willing and passionate, but the responsibility doesn’t fall on them alone. For diversity initiatives to create meaningful change, they should come from the top — regardless of who’s there.
Myth No. 4: It doesn’t affect everyone.
No matter what your job is, who you work for, or who you work with, diversity — in business and beyond — is for everyone. The more diversity becomes the rule and not the exception, the more we all stand to gain: individuals, departments, companies, industries and the world.
Myth No. 5: Profit and purpose are separate.
I think we care about inclusion and equality because they align with our values and goals as a society, and their importance in a business context comes from that. At the same time, there are other big conversations (the rise in suicide rates, for example) that don’t make it into most boardrooms — and that may be in part because there’s no financial incentive to take them on.
There are many financial incentives, however, to embrace diversity. Research published in the Harvard Business Review (paywall) in 2017 found a correlation between high cognitive diversity — “differences in perspective or information processing styles” — and high performance. In 2017, BCG found that companies with more diverse leadership earned more revenue from innovation. According to 2017 McKinsey data, “Companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams — not only with respect to absolute representation but also of variety or mix of ethnicities — are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.”
In our collective push for more equality, we may have embraced some of these myths blindly, and that’s okay. Now that the locomotive of change is in motion, though, let’s try to make sure it stays on track. Let’s support our businesses — and each other — by pursuing diversity in truly authentic ways.