Amidst a national conversation on equity in all areas of society, companies large and small are turning their attention to creating a more diverse workforce and a more inclusive environment. More than a passing fad, diversity and inclusion are good for business: according to Harvard Business Review, companies with greater diversity in its work teams see larger returns and more innovation. A McKinsey & Company study last year found that companies in the top quartile for gender and ethnic diversity outperformed their peers in lower quartiles in both financial performance and value creation.
So how can marketing increase diversity, and help drive the culture of inclusion, so that diversity can thrive?
We spoke to Kristen Reese, Vice President of Talent and Culture at Bozzuto, a diversified real estate services company headquartered in Greenbelt, Maryland, about how companies can make diversity and inclusion a part of their culture. She emphasized that while diversity and inclusion go hand in hand, they are really two distinct goals: “Diversity is fostered by recruiting, developing, promoting, and retaining a diverse cross-section of talent. Inclusion happens when the workplace culture empowers employees to bring their true and best self to work while also embracing those who are different, welcoming tangible differences as well as intangible. Some might argue that creating an inclusive workplace is the greater challenge.” She also offered three areas where marketing can have the biggest impact on promoting diversity & inclusion within company culture to drive results.
Reese noted that employee resource groups (ERGs), which bring employees of similar backgrounds or interests together, can empower employees and bring tremendous value and insight to an organization. This in turn allows marketers to become more culturally competent and ensure their marketing is inclusive, relevant and compelling for the intended audience.
Bozzuto, for example, organizes celebrations around specific heritage/awareness months — Hispanic Heritage Month, Military Appreciation Month, Pride Month, etc. — with support and involvement from ERGs, and encourages employees to share their experiences with their colleagues. The company also facilitates a diversity and inclusion forum, which brings together employees from across the organization to discuss issues related to diversity and inclusion in a safe environment. Reese noted that marketing colleagues can ensure the visibility and success of these events by working with the ERGs and HR to communicate and promote the activities internally. “Marketing can and should be part of promoting, enhancing or even changing a company’s culture,” said Reese.
Aside from increasing the breadth of experience and insight for solving business challenges and charting strategy, diversity helps companies attract talent: according to a 2014 Glassdoor survey, 67% of job seekers say the degree of diversity in a company’s workforce is one of the factors they use to evaluate an employment offer. And 57% of those surveyed believe their current company needs to do more to increase diversity among its workforce.
To recruit a diverse group of employees, Reese advised that companies “be authentic and know your culture. Use real employees in photos and engage employees in company storytelling.” She also emphasized that diversity means all life experiences — interests and hobbies in addition to the traditional categories of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. Marketing can help with messaging and imagery, creating as well as sharing through social media and other channels in order to reach a diverse group of potential employees.
Whether the target audience is broad or tightly defined, marketers need to make sure their messaging will resonate with the intended audience, particularly when expanding into new markets. “Make sure you understand how your messaging will be received. This often requires a lot of vetting. Don’t assume the strategy you use in other places will work,” said Reese. For example, she noted that Bozzuto is expanding into South Florida; with a significant Latino/Hispanic population there, they have to be cognizant of cultural implications, language, living preferences, and desired amenities. They are working closely with their Latino/Hispanic ERG, Vida, to build a cultural competency plan to ensure their messaging is compelling and appropriate. “We want every person who works with us, lives with us, and partners with us to have an extraordinary experience,” she said.
Marketers should research the market and examine the data, but also use a human touch — spending time in the communities, asking questions, and getting to know people. “Apply an ethnographic lens to your work,” Reese advised. “We all have biases. It’s human nature. We need to recognize them and be open to seeing the world in a different perspective. Marketing and messaging should be reflective of the communities you serve, not your biases.”
Another important role marketers can play is educating customers and clients on the company’s commitment to diversity and why diversity and inclusion are good for business. “If people choose to live in our communities, it’s because they feel welcome,” said Reese. “Home is the place where they feel a sense of pride and belonging.”