The first few days into a new course I was taking on Diversity Leadership, I was struck that a workplace culture that embraces diversity is more likely to succeed with customers, innovate in product development and have a happier workplace. And that planning, implementing and measuring diversity has purpose in brand planning and communications for any sector.
As we studied the Harvard business case for how PepsiCo tied diversity to innovation, product development and talent retention and performance to become a market leader, I saw parallels in the innovation space I’ve come to know. MaRS has cultivated a breeding ground for new solutions to flourish because of the mix of entrepreneurs, advisors and industry specialists that all look at a problem – or the solution – with their own lens; bringing diversity of thought, gender, ethnic culture and race though diversity isn’t acknowledged as part of the mix or measured in tracking success. Groups that are diverse use different backgrounds, worldviews, education and expertise as an asset to innovate and new ways of looking at things, which ultimately, is quite creative.
The benefits seem blindingly obvious, yet I get people who dismiss it. Some people ask or tell me what diversity means to them if I mention it. A woman I know in a leadership role said she ‘hates the word.’ A friend in Montreal told me he thought we did diversity in Toronto well. Another friend just sat there quietly worried; two more asked what kind of diversity (all kinds) and someone else thought I was telling her I was gay. It’s a bit of an inkblot test saying, “Oh and I just finished a course on diversity leadership,” and letting it hang there to see what happens.
Studying diversity has changed how I look at things. Not so much good/bad/right/wrong as maybe another layer of purpose. When a client says they’re looking for ‘culture fit’ in a hire, there’s a subtext I can point to. What does that mean for their brand, the work they’re doing and how well they’re able to represent their customers’ interests and needs?
At this moment, there are signs all over that diversity is worth talking about and not dismissing. Gender inclusion has had lots of attention in tech; it’s been an issue in most businesses and in culture too; anywhere there’s power to be had. This week, as the result of a CFDA panel on diversity in fashion in New York, The Cut published an article saying it’s about time it was addressed. Inside Amy Schumer’s Last F**kable Day is a send-up of sexist ageism Hollywood with Tina Fey, Julia Louis Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette. And Fast Company just delved into the subtle language of unconscious or hidden bias at work to give context for three new technologies being developed to spot it in job postings and performance reviews and even real time communications.
The Canadian Centre of Gender & Sexual Diversity and Saatchi Toronto made the sweater/film project, The Gay Sweater; the story of a sweater made of the hair of 100 gay people, spun into yarn that was knitted into a sweater to make the point that it’s stupid to say that a thing is gay. And close to where I live, the YMCA is scheduled to open Toronto’s first home for LGTBQ youth in June for a group that is heartbreakingly vulnerable.
I wrote this blog post to give purpose to taking a course in diversity when I’m in communications. Diversity matters because of the systemic power in privilege. The more diversity in the workplace is championed, talked about and not ignored; the more obvious it is that the perspectives that contribute to innovation are shaped by valuable identities of otherness that deserve to be celebrated.
Brenda van Ginkel
Every great brand that's making a difference to people or the planet deserves to stand out and be noticed. I write about creative direction and brand strategy for entrepreneurs and those supporting them, packaging concepts with messaging for growth and audience engagement in a crowded, noisy digital space.