The New York Times recently ran a feature with a headline that began, "Black Superstars Pitch Adidas Shoes..." For decades, brands have built associations with black culture and influencers to promote their products. The second half of the headline, however, reveals that diversity may not run deep at many organizations: "…Its Black Workers Say They're Sidelined."
As brands and advertisers attempt to promote brand diversity and elevate minority cultures and black influencers in their marketing, the absence of internal diversity is catching up with them. Recognizing this disconnect, brands and advertisers should look inward first before promoting diversity externally.
While it may have come as a surprise to some outside of the marketing space, it's unusual to find a creative team that features diversity and a broad range of backgrounds. Many brands and agencies are still echo chambers, talking to themselves and looking like themselves, despite dramatic changes in the consumer landscape.
These are three ways marketers can authentically support diversity within their own organizations.
Hire people of color, at every level.
I'm often the only non-white person in the room, even with brands that purport to really "get" culture. There may be interns of color, but rarely senior leadership representing the diversity they portray.
While the ad world congratulates itself on embracing diversity in marketing, the Instagram feeds coming out of Cannes, featuring all-white panels discussing sneakers and counterculture, show how little the industry has evolved internally.
Brands and agencies need to go beyond the "superstars" to hire people who reflect the culture they are marketing, including directors, photographers, the HMU, production companies and creatives. Inclusion should be the norm when hiring for all positions and all campaigns—not just the diversity ones.
Empower the communities you draw from.
When brands and agencies draw on cultural references and influencers, they should take it upon themselves to better understand the suffering and structures that contributed to the art and community they are marketing. Black and Brown artists and athletes come from unique communities across the country and the world. Brands should seek to support these communities across the board from internal opportunities to community investment.
Choose inclusive vendors.
Brands need to hire vendors with a proven track record of inclusive senior hiring to demonstrate their commitment to true diversity. We've already seen influencers lead this charge. For example, when Beyoncé was pictured for the cover of the 125th September issue of Vogue, she insisted on using a black photographer. It's time that brands followed suit in hiring practices.
In the quest to embrace inclusive cultures in marketing, I often hear clients say they don't see color, they see only culture. That perspective is a privilege—a privilege that can lead to a problematic disconnect between external marketing and internal values.