Research supports the idea of diverse and inclusive teams – maybe it’s time we listen

I’m a big believer in diverse and inclusive teams. From my personal experience, I have learned the most from the most diverse teams I’ve worked on. Additionally, there is plenty of data and research that has proven that diverse teams drive better results. Take the following examples:

A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. – HBR

Or this:

In a global analysis of 2,400 companies conducted by Credit Suisse, organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.

Despite this research, many companies still struggle to create diverse and inclusive companies.

Pepsi is the latest company to find itself under fire for it’s cultural appropriated ad featuring Kendall Jenner. I won’t rehash the details (there are plenty of other great hot takes out there) but upon reading on this I stumbled across an article stuck my eye. The NY Mag interviewed a handful of people who work in the advertising and creative world and asked them how this could happen. Here were a few of the responses:

“The younger people are probably the most junior people on the team; for them to say something, they would have to be really confident in themselves. To have a younger millennial account person go up to a senior creative person and say, ‘We’re not going to do this, we think there’s a problem with it’ — that’s an uncomfortable power position to put a young person into.

Or:

“This kind of thing happens when you don’t have inclusion. Inclusion has to be part of your decision-making process. If there are no decision makers that represent the world that it is now, the world as we see it, then these kinds of things of happen.

 

Or:

“I think it was the correct response to take it down. It opens up the conversation that way. Where did we go wrong? Now they can look at their process and really see who was represented. Who was at the table? At the bottom line, if your executive leadership or brand team is not diverse or inclusive, these mistakes are going to keep happening. The Tory Burch stumble. The Nivea stumble. It’s starting to get people to realize that we’ve got to have fair representation.”

 

A few things here:

  • Doing a commercial like this in-house is not uncommon. However, it’s important to seek out resources to pressure test things to make sure they still work. Without knowing the inner-workings of Pepsi’s creative process, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe they could have done more to really get honest feedback from other sources that could have raised additional red flags.
  • It’s one thing to have a diverse team it’s another thing to create an inclusive environment where all people feel comfortable voicing their opinion, especially more junior staff that may not feel as confident in voicing their opinion because of their pecking order in the hierarchy. To be fair, this isn’t just something that happens at Pepsi. I’ve certainly witnessed this in my own line of work where the most junior person who is often closest to the innerworkings of what we are doing remains silent because he or she is nervous about rocking the bote. (Note: this is an assumption/generalization and certainly not all young people would get it, but let’s assume this argument is valid for the sake of the argument)
  • The value of a diverse team of people with different backgrounds and perspectives is that because everyone has a unique experience their vision (which is informed by those experiences) allows them to see things differently. I’m inclined to think that if there were someone on that creative team who attended a Black Lives Matter protest, or who had lost a loved one to Police violence or who had even experienced it first hand would have brought that experience to the table and altered the trajectory of that ad. Or, at the very least, as one of the experts’ notes, getting the perspective of a multicultural agency who is trained on these things.

If you’re a brand that appeals to a diverse group of people, or a multi-cultural brand, it makes a lot of sense to ensure that whatever you are putting out there appeals to your consumers and paints yourself in a positive light. Certainly, there will always be critics of what you do, but there are ways to sell things and ideas in a way that is consistent with you brand but still appeals to the masses.

I think diverse and inclusive teams are ideal, but recognize that sometimes we are stuck with whatever we have, and there isn’t a ton we can do to change that in the short-term. Moreover, I also don’t think that simply having your “diversity” team member is going to guarantee you success. As such, here are my own suggestions for making sure you’ve gotten a diverse enough perspective on whatever you are working on:

Acknowledge your blind spots – Simply being cognizant of your blind spots is a good first step. While it won’t necessarily solve your issue, having that self-awareness can help you identify and problem solve for how to account for the blindspot.

Proactively seek out different opinions – Once you know you have some potential blind spots, proactively seek out different opinions to make sure you aren’t letting your bias or blind spots get in the way of objectively finding the best answer or solution.

Give a megaphone to the quietest voice – Some people are more talkative than others, and sometimes it take some people a lot of confidence to speak up. Actively seek out the quietest voice and make sure that it is heard.

You always need to do something that achieves your desired objectives or goals. You’ll probably never make every customer or consumer happy. And doing the right amount of due diligence is going to be important no matter what you’re working on. But just as the research says, having a diverse and inclusive team is one of the best ways to ensure whatever idea you come up with ends up producing the best possible result.

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