Dear corporate America: please don’t just check the box on DE&I

Marina Filippelli, CEO, Orcí
Marina Filippelli, CEO, Orcí

A rush to create and fill DE&I roles can backfire if they’re not properly thought through.

2020 brought a renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in our industry. 

As someone who built a career in multicultural and diverse marketing, you might assume that for me, this feels like a huge win. 

But you would only be half right. 

Even baby steps toward a more diverse, inclusive and equitable industry are encouraging. But the harsh truth is that some actions can be fruitless — and even counterproductive. 

As agencies and brands rushed to fill diversity, equity and inclusion roles at their companies last summer, I wondered if these decisions had a purpose beyond showing the world that they “care” about the issue. 

When structured correctly, with clear goals and the required support and strategy to reach those goals, DE&I roles can be very effective. But a rush to create and fill such roles can backfire if they’re not properly thought through. 

While it may seem tempting to just do something, hiring people to run programs that aren’t fully thought through, or don’t have proper investment or support, does a disservice to them. You’re taking their talent off the market and potentially stunting their career without a proper strategy to support them on an undoubtedly difficult path.

Your employees also need to understand and support diversity, equity and inclusion as a company priority. If it isn’t paid proper attention, they can become confused, frustrated and even adversarial. You certainly don’t want that. 

The work doesn’t stop internally. As marketers, we create consumer-facing initiatives. The people you hire to lead D&I should be able to have an impact on your marketing, whether that’s strategy, media or creative. 

Every company has a different set of goals and challenges. But here are some places a well-meaning company can start to do more than just check a box:

1. Don’t rush to hire someone without thinking through the implications both within and outside of your organization. If you don’t have the right people internally who can craft a good strategy, hire a consultant to help. You will save money in the long run by making sure any hires and practices you put into place now will set you up for long-term success. 

2. Put your money where your mouth is. While it's nice to see shows of support for diversity, everyone can see through empty promises. You don’t need to be all things to all people, so choose something you know your company can stand behind. 

For example Drake Cooper, an agency we recently partnered with on a shared client, recently launched their Dream Big 2021 initiative, putting the actual time and budget to help non-profits doing important work we all need to strengthen our society. 

3. Hold your partners accountable. Your marketing team and agencies should reflect the diversity you claim to support. Diverse people will make the agency’s work stronger, more inclusive, more authentic — and yes, more effective.

Let’s not just check the box this year. Let’s take meaningful, forward-thinking action.

Marina FIlippelli is the CEO of Orcí

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