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.

When you can still win when you lose in sports

Growing up, I played a lot of sports. It was a critical part of my childhood and insturmental to my growth and development. As a shy and quiet kid, sports gave me an outlet to learn skills like confidence, discipline and hard work. The team aspect enabled me to learn to build relationships and trust with others and helped me feel comfortable enough to come out of my shell. As I think back to critical learning experiences in my life, playing team sports has to be on that list. The memories I made and the relationships I formed still stick with me to this day.

As a now washed up “retired” athlete there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching, playing or talking about the latest game, especially if it’s basketball. As such, March Madness is a big deal for me and in some ways is like my second Christmas.

For those of my friends who know me well they know I have a bit of a conundrum when it comes to college basketball. I grew up in the house of a Duke Alum, did my undergrad at Boston College, and went to business school at the University of North Carolina. That’s three schools in the ACC, all who play each other regularly, two of which who literally are trained to dislike the other from the moment they become a fan. Upon hearing of my allegiances, many of my friends are perplexed about the situation, but when I explain it and they hear my enthusiasm for the game they appreciate my loyalty. In light of that, I take plenty of heat for cheering for certain teams.

The time I met Dick Vitale in 2007

Dick Vitale and I in 2007

As most people know, UNC played in the National Championship game last night and unfortunately lost a heartbreaker. Nobody, especially elite athletes at the highest level of competition wants to lose, but to do it after you’ve made it to the finals and to lose it on the last shot is absolutely gut-wrenching.

Since I’ve been affiliated with UNC for the least amount of time, my allegiance is probably not as strong as die-hard fans but I could very much feel and agonize with the pain of my fellow Tar Heels, not only because of the heartbreaking loss, but to see players like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leave the program on such a sad note after all they’ve done for the school.

My first Duke-Carolina basketball game in the Dean Dome (2015)

My first Duke-Carolina basketball game in the Dean Dome (2015)

Every now and then, a team will have a player or two who embodies all of the aspirational qualities that represent the core of the school and Brice and Marcus were two of those people. It was hard not to love them for their play on the court, but also for what they stood for and embodied as Tar Heels. Ask any diehard fan and they’d tell you how much pride they took in seeing Brice and Marcus with the Tar Heel Jersey. Furthermore, that love was mutual, as both Brice and Marcus loved wearing the Carolina uniform and served as incredible ambassadors of the team. Watching Brice sob while being consoled by teammates and not being able to see Marcus hoist the trophy made me feel a bit of pain in my heart, even the royal blue/white and Maroon and Gold parts.

Marcus-Paige-Brice-Johnson

One of the reasons that I love sports is because when the game is on the line it brings out the inner qualities that are at the core of human beings. Last night, Paige put on a hell of a show, and literally almost willed UNC to victory. In the most critical of moments, the smallest player on the court came up with big shot after big shot. While in the end he came up short, his indomitable spirit, leadership, and willingness to give everything he had are all incredible qualities at the very center of a talented young man. Brice’s raw emotion and passion for the game was evident from every reaction whether it was his thunderous dunks or watching the final shot go in. I think any objective sports fan would be proud if a guy like that wore his or her uniform.

Oftentimes in life, and especially in sports, there’s no prize in second place. And while nobody wants to walk away with just a moral victory it’s hard not to feel proud of the team’s accomplishment this season. Brice and Marcus may have lost the game, but they certainly won over a lot of hearts in Tar Heel Country as talented basketball players and exceptional Tar Heels. It may not be the only victory they wanted, but it’s sure one to be proud of.