Diversity matters, and how we achieve it matters too

Diversity is more than just hashtagging furiously on social media and shouting “we support diversity!” from the rooftops when the issue hits the headlines. Brands need to take steps to ensure their messages are backed by something meaningful.

In the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of US police in 2020, Nike was among a handful of big brands leading the way in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, creating powerful messages such as adjusting the brand’s tagline to “For once, Don’t Do It”. Other brands followed suit with equally powerful messages.

Nike’s BLM messaging followed on from its 2018 campaign in support of NFL player Colin Kaepernick, and others, who “took the knee” during national anthems to protest against racial inequality and injustice.

While the messages were mostly welcomed, they also highlighted a problem area for companies. Nike’s own records showed in 2019 that less than 10% of its 300-plus vice-presidents worldwide were people of colour. Worse, in 2020, only four out of America's 500 biggest companies had a black chief executive.

The lesson is that while it is admirable for brands to invest time and effort in corporate social responsibility, increasingly those public messages need to be backed up by meaningful action in their own workplaces.

Closer to home, in the AFL, Collingwood is facing this issue after the “Do Better” report found there was systemic racism at Australia’s biggest sporting club. The issue was not helped by a ham-fisted response to the findings by president Eddie McGuire who has since stepped down.

The club’s biggest sponsor, Insurance Group Australia, said it was disappointed by the report and expected the club to act quickly on the findings.

The optics are not ideal as Collingwood has no Indigenous players on its list for 2021. And while the numbers of Indigenous players among the AFL’s 18 clubs is increasing, that’s where diversity ends. At the start of 2020, of the 150 coaches in the league, only three were Indigenous.

According to Kenny Mac, vice-president at US agency Giant Spoon, taking action to improve diversity and inclusion at companies is not only necessary to improve internal culture for employees, but to make campaigns and messages that will truly connect with diverse audiences.

Increasingly, it makes good sense for brands to do that. A 2018 survey in 35 countries showed that 64% of consumers would reward firms they see as engaged in some kind of activism.

At Icon, connecting with diverse audiences is imperative in all the campaigns we work on – from creating a new website for the NDIS which allowed ease-of-use for those with disabilities; to connecting with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) audiences which may not speak English - like our Northern Cemeteries campaign.

However, this approach is also reflected in our own culture via ongoing measurable initiatives from our sustainability, innovation and social committees as well as within our HR policies.

Pepper Miller, a Chicago-based diversity consultant, says companies “need to draw long-term plans for social inclusion and racial equality that go beyond them saying that they ‘stand with black people’.” But, she says, most initiatives are one-offs.

All too frequently, workplace initiatives designed to drive diversity and inclusion are tied to one specific event – Naidoc Week, Harmony Day, International Women’s Day, Pride etc. Whilst these events are a great way to shine the spotlight on these issues, real change needs to be embedded through process and ongoing action.

There are many reasons why this key issue hasn’t been a success story within companies and why there is still work to do. One of them is that the very senior teams know they should be doing it but aren’t sure how.

David Bartlett, of the Lote Agency, who Icon often partners with when developing communication strategies for diverse communities, says brands need to ensure they are being authentic when trying to engage diverse audiences. “If you’re going to be successful in taking a multicultural approach, it’s critical that you’re being genuine, coming from an authentic wish to engage.”

As Icon’s founder and managing director, Jo Painter, says: “Silence feeds racism. All members of our society, including and possibly led by businesses, need to ‘take the knee’, and speak out and lend their voice to the chorus calling for change.”

Diversity and inclusivity is a journey for us at Icon. With 70+ staff from 13 countries speaking 9 languages, we are continuously evolving our business as well as the methodologies and user testing approach we use to ensure it’s an intrinsic part of our strategic positioning.