Businesses around the world are finally starting to realise that representation matters. A McKinsey report revealed one reason why. When it comes to profits, on the global level companies that are the most ethnically and culturally diverse outperformed their homogenous counterparts by 36%.
In terms of gender diversity, the most diverse companies beat out the least diverse ones by a whopping 48%.
However, diversity is about a lot more than profits. In the U.S., an Arizent survey revealed that 66% of employees feel diverse companies make better decisions overall. And when it comes down to it, how you portray your company visually to the public is one of the biggest decisions you must make.
The way we talk about and portray others has a meaningful impact on the way we see the world and the people around us.
As a business leader, this means that the way you tell your visual story carries ethical and moral weight. The folks you choose to highlight on social media or your website reflect your values and commitments.
However, true representation goes beyond surface-level imagery. You have to stand by your commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion if you want to pitch yourself as a diverse, forward-thinking enterprise.
Every marketer worth their salt knows that the visual representations of a company should reflect the business’s broader values and commitments. This is why major brands like Nike spend millions on branded social media campaigns that focus more on “image” than the actual product being sold — no one wants to hear about the new glue they use in their sneakers, but they do want to see Lebron James training hard while sporting the iconic “swoosh”.
Strong, cross-platform visual representations of your company can recession-proof your business, too. During times of economic downturn, folks still turn to brands they trust and value. This means that creating branded content that promotes diversity in your company’s visual story is vital. Consumers want to buy from brands that promote equity and inclusion on flyers or social posts, and will remain loyal to companies that foreground diversity as part of their visual story, even in the uncertain financial future.
Ideally, your diverse visual story should stem from ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) projects in your company. Authentically diverse visual content is much more likely to appeal to consumers. In one survey from Google, Ipsos, and The Female Quotient, 64% of respondents took action “after seeing an ad that they considered to be diverse or inclusive.”
That said, many savvy customers will spot insincere attempts to appear inclusive. Visually representing your business as inclusive without any substance can actually harm your brand image, derail your marketing strategy, and turn talented employees away.
As a business leader, it’s your job to advocate for greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Creating a diverse workplace can help you promote a more productive work environment and give you an edge over competitors. Diversity at work can also be woven into your visual story and help you produce more sincere social content.
Attracting prospective employees from different backgrounds can be tough if your current workplace or brand appears homogeneous. No one wants to work in an environment where they feel “othered” and it’s easy to find more diverse workplaces.
You can overcome homogeneity by branding yourself as a business that wants to become more diverse and inclusive. This approach does require an openness and honesty that you may find uncomfortable, but will ultimately help you land talented employees from a range of backgrounds. According to Arizent, over 80% of employees at companies with genuine commitments to DEI would recommend their company to women, and over 70% would do the same to non-white employees.
Avoid the temptation to highlight or overemphasise the contributions of traditionally underrepresented folks in your business. There’s nothing wrong with championing your people, but forcing folks into the spotlight without their permission can come off as manipulative and patronising.
Instead, use graphics to present objective data that shares your DEI goals with the world. It’s okay to admit that you’re not meeting your current standards, as long as you have a plan in place to rectify the issue.
You can also weave projects, events, and guest speakers that champion diversity into your visual story. This is particularly important if your operations are completed digitally. Digitisation is the great equaliser and levels the playing field for traditionally disadvantaged groups. If you work in a field like AI or EdTech, you need to make it clear that your business values diversity and draws from a pool of experiences when designing digital software and content.
Businesses around the world have noticed that promoting diversity is good for their brand image and bolsters their bottom line. However, far fewer businesses have made meaningful changes to their business operations. Instead, most big businesses use tokenism to form the backbone of their “diverse” visual story.
Go beyond tokenism by turning inwards. Create a company culture that is welcoming to everybody, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. Go beyond ADA recommendations in your workplace and try to give your employees greater flexibility during the workday.
DEI best practices to live by include:
- Set tangible, measurable goals to improve representation of marginalised groups from the top down; in other words, don’t leave out the C-suite.
- Don’t stop at representation — enforce policies for equitable pay and give diverse individuals clear paths to promotion.
- Scrutinise recruitment practices and weed out any biases, intentional or otherwise.
- Actively recruit a broad swath of individuals by meeting them where they are on social media, at career fairs, forums, and job boards.
- Create employee resource groups (ERGs) and foster a culture of inclusivity through transparency; encourage people to speak up if they see bias and provide forums for them to do so.
- Track and analyse progress toward DEI goals like you would any other high-priority business goal. If you’re not meeting goals within given timeframes, pinpoint what’s wrong and modify your goals to fix it.
It’s especially important to include leadership and make them accountable to DEI goals. CIO reports that “only 28% of companies hold C-suite executives accountable for progress against the DEI strategy, 23% for pay equity, 12% for gender diversity, and 5% for racial and ethnic diversity.”
Survey your staff to assess well-being and belonging. You may be surprised to find that some employees have been “othered” at work while others have been judged based on their identity. Work on improving your work environment before you pitch yourself as diverse and inclusive online.
Making diversity-oriented changes to your operations can give your marketing team some great material to work with, too. Marketers love to create a visual story based on real-life commitments that you’ve made and will be able to whip up an authentic post or blog page based on the changes you make.
Promoting diversity can help you attract top talent and improve your workplace efficiency. However, it’s easy to fall into the trap of tokenism and exploitation when weaving diversity into your visual story.
Maintain a strong brand image by making meaningful commitments to DEI in your company. This will give marketers something to work with and ensures that your visual story appears authentic.
Photo credit: Anni Roenkae