Diversity and inclusivity are important. Every person deserves to feel included and cared for, and it’s our responsibility to advance diversity and make that happen.
Diverse content reflects the world we live in. It tells the story of all people, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, skin colour, religion, body shape and size, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity. It allows people to see themselves in the content you’re putting out there, and it brings everyone closer together.
As marketers and leaders, have immense power to influence society in the ways we’re communicating to the world. We can shape cultural standards and change the world for the better.
And the truth is, your audience expects it from you.
New research tells us that 82% of people want a brand’s/organisation’s values to align with their own. They vote with their time for the best moral match. Three-quarters of individuals reported parting ways with a provider over a conflict in values.
So it’s important not only for the world, but also for own success.
The tricky thing is, knowing that diversity is important and handling diversity well are two very different things.
A lot of people fall into the trap of addressing diversity in the wrong way. Either by doing it inconsistently or only occasionally, doing it in ignorance, or reactively in response to a trend or external pressure.
What not to do: Tokenism - AKA "tick box" diversity
Tokenism is when someone from a marginalised group is included purely to make your brand "look diverse". It’s an insensitive and shallow depiction that fails to consider the needs and truths of different communities.
Furthermore, it alienates those communities and quite possibly pushes away everyone else too. It’s so obvious when tokenism happens because the inclusivity exists in a vacuum without any other purpose than to - as the name suggests - tick the diversity box.
You see this everywhere in the media. It can be based on skin colour, ethnicity or sexual orientation and can have a serious impact on people’s mental health.
What to do
Get away from the mentality that you're doing an exercise to make your brand look good. Your aim should be to make people feel genuinely included. This mental shift could profoundly change how you communicate.
Take the time to know your audience, so you can represent their true lifestyles and cultures.
Work with people who belong to the groups you’re trying to represent to get their input.
Better yet, make sure your work environment is as diverse as possible, so you have a more diverse sounding board.
What not to do: Performative diversity
Performative diversity is the superficial effort made by companies to create the appearance of inclusivity without addressing any underlying issues of systemic bias or inequality. It’s when specific communities are only highlighted when it’s beneficial, and this is especially damaging when the internal culture of the organisation doesn’t match the message.
A good example of this happening is during Pride Month where brands claim to be allies and use colours, symbols and logos to show that they are supportive, but that is about as far as their support goes. This is known as ‘rainbow-washing’.
What to do
Offer tangible support to communities all year round, not just during awareness days.
Live your values in everyday communications and actions.
What not to do: Tone-deaf trend-following
This is a general rule that applies almost anywhere, from your clothes to your content - don’t blindly follow trends. They come and go, and your content will date sooner than you can blink.
Trends are also especially important to avoid when it comes to politics. Trying to capture people’s attention by capitalising on social or political issues is the fastest way to go from a devoted audience to tumbleweeds.
Pepsi made that mistake when they featured a celebrity who has a history of racial insensitivity in a feature about police brutality against people of colour.
What to do
Do your research to make sure you're not making a tasteless blunder.
Do not attempt to put your content at the centre of trending social or political issues unless they align with the mission and vision of your company.
If you choose to speak on diversity issues, make sure you are able and ready to take concrete action on the issue at hand.
Have a clear understanding of what your brand is and what your values are. If your brand is fun, lighthearted and entertaining, then it may be that you don’t have the capacity to tackle important and serious diversity issues right now.
What not to do: Insensitivity
This is a result of ignorance at the heart of the content ideation and creation process. It’s hard for anyone to have an understanding of every possible human experience, which is another reason why you should consider expanding your team to include people from all walks of life.
We’re all prone to biases, stereotypes and default mental images, and we may not realise when we’re hurting a community of people with our messaging.
An example of this is this Dolce & Gabbana campaign featuring a young woman learning how to eat Italian food with chopsticks and an offensive voiceover that purposely mispronounced words to mock a Chinese accent.
Clearly, a disaster.
What to do
Make sure you follow the ‘nothing about us without us’ rule ("no policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy.")
Involve diversity, equity and inclusion experts that can review creative and messaging through different lenses and lived experiences.
What not to do: Unintentional specificity
Specificity can turn out to be your enemy. Say you include someone with motor disabilities, or a handful of different ethnicities. What about everyone else? You have accidentally excluded groups of people in an effort to be more inclusive.
What's the answer? Do you try to represent every single facet of human experience in order to be truly inclusive? This is a nigh-impossible task and will derail your main message. Fortunately, you don’t have to do any of that.
Headspace does this brilliantly. You don’t need to be so literal with your diversity. You can have characters that read like people but don’t look like people. Animals, abstract shapes, overly stylized humans - these can work especially well with short format content like animation.
What to do
Be abstract with your designs and references. Create voices and characters that are beyond race or ability, voices and characters that appeal to everyone.
It’s okay to focus on a specific group if your message is curated to them. But if your audience is very broad, avoid arbitrarily singling out minoritised communities.
Creating inclusive content isn’t easy. But it is necessary.
And it requires constant and consistent practice by those who are willing to have uncomfortable conversations and make bold choices. Being inclusive is not something that happens overnight. Or something that you do once a year. It’s a way of operating as an organisation. The best way to make sure your content is inclusive and promoting diversity is to adopt this on a philosophical level moving forward.
Who wrote this?
She / her. Iulia is Rusty Monkey’s animation, illustration and 3D expert. Responsible for making everything beautiful, she also dabbles in graphic design and UX design. Among her credits is an animated music video for local parody heavy metal band Evil Scarecrow. A talented artist, she showcases her work on her Instagram channel. She usually spends most of her time in some random corner of the house with a drawing tablet and a pen, scribbling away. Cat obsessed. Professional house plant killer. Autumn lover. Maker of things.