Diversity. It’s a popular yet loaded word in business.
As society at large has become more polarized, workplace diversity has become the hot issue, full of political baggage, legal risk and cultural barriers. If you put politics and barriers aside, the simple fact of the matter is diversity in a marketing department brings tangible benefits and skills and is in the end, good for business. In fact, it becomes riskier to not have a diverse team because you miss out on so many benefits.
Here a just a few:
Increased Empathy and Understanding of Your Customers
While marketing has largely maintained a bias toward workers from a white, suburban background, America’s demographics have been shifting for decades. While the lack of diversity in the industry may have worked well enough when marketing and media budgets were based on reaching large amounts of people for the lowest cost, consumer experience and empathy is much more important today, so understanding the values, experiences and aspirations of your target audience are a key ingredient to doing that well. Diversity will bring different experiences and a better understanding of the emotional drivers that make a brand attractive.
Remember the Pepsi, “Kendall Jenner” ad? It’s hard to believe that the Black Lives Matter movement would be used to sell soda if there was a truly diverse and fair team working on the campaign.
Improved Performance and Productivity
In 20 years of working in marketing and advertising, I’ve never met someone from a diverse background that “coasted.” Yes, it’s a bit of a stereotype, but institutional racism and bias means that every minority had a professor, boss or coach who forced them to work harder. Also, minority and LGBT candidates have higher barriers to entry to simply get into the field, so perfection becomes the norm, not the exception.
This leads to a thought about recruiting everyone leading a marketing department should remember. Too often an already under-diverse organization reinforces a lack of diversity by looking for a “culture fit.” If you focus on looking at performance and achievements, you’ll tend to have a more diverse set of candidates. I’d really recommend requesting HR adopt a “blind resume” policy where names/images of candidates are eliminated so you can focus on experience and achievements.
Having diverse life experience in your marketing department also creates “cognitive flexibility.” This is the ability to analyze and attack problems from different angles, based on life experience. It’s always interesting to hear and evaluate a creative solution that’s based on an entirely different life experience.
Diversity Brings a Healthy Dose of Productive Conflict to the Team
Conflict is a scary word for many managers, but in an inclusive, respectful and diverse team, conflict tends to be both healthy (since there’s a higher level of respect) and more productive because people aren’t afraid to share both an opinion and a rationale for that opinion. Great ideas can come from anywhere, and more often than not, are the result of the input of a team, not an individual contributor. The creative tension of opposite opinions tends to strip away the bad and only leave the good when there’s a passionate and respectful process.
While diversity is a hot topic, it doesn’t just happen on its own. Too often diversity is left to HR, but as a marketing leader, you must champion diversity ad push the issue and help find, nurture and encourage the talent you get. It takes time and commitment, but in the end, it makes you a more inspiriting leader, with a more loyal and driven team. Not a bad side benefit.