Creating Inclusive Work: why it matters and how we can all do better

Andrew Last

09 May 2022

As agencies, there’s arguably no greater impact we can make in DEI than ensuring the content we create is inclusive and reflects the audiences we’re trying to engage. We should be challenging stereotypes and generalisations, not only breaking away from common misconceptions but creating new narratives that present these groups in a more genuine light.

However, a whole host of factors from unconscious bias through to pressure to deliver at speed, mean that in reality, this can be challenging.

So, for our seventh IN Series session, we heard from four different perspectives on how we can all improve our comms and lead the charge for more inclusive work for ourselves and our clients.

On the panel were Efe Otokiti, Editorial manager at Harvard, a passionate advocate for all things DEI and the creator of Harvard’s ‘Inclusive Work Guide’; Rich Miles, CEO & founder of the Diversity Standards Collective, a consultancy focused on guiding brands on diverse creative; Emma Franklin-Wright, Senior associate director at H+K Strategies and Co-chair of the PRCA’s LGBTQ+ network; and Doug Melville, Global Head of D&I @ Richemont, a DEI expert to give us a client-side lens on the topic.

It was a revealing and insightful session…hearing from such a brilliant range of views. Here’s a recap of what we covered…

It’s crucial that we have positive, visible role models – something lacking for many of the panel’s formative years. We should never underestimate the power of diverse content whether that’s on a personal, professional or macro level. For example, Emma highlighted the impact TV show ‘Will & Grace’ had on swaying votes for legalizing same sex marriage in the USA.

The written word is as powerful as visuals and can have a huge impact on audiences. Efe explained how we must be considerate and inclusive with our approach to editorial. It’s not just about avoiding offending people, but it will also make your communications more effective and, frankly speaking, it’s just the right thing to do.

Rich flagged how inclusive work is a constantly evolving space. In the past, diversity in the creative space was quite tokenistic, with brands tapping into certain communities because they were ‘on-trend’. Now brands are thinking earlier and more progressively, rather than being reactive.

Brands need to think beyond just who appears in their communications – but why? To really become authentic we must look beyond face value and think detail and lived experiences.

Doug did warn us of the dangers of ‘Diversity Fatigue’ for some internal stakeholders. His advice was to be specific about the communities and people you are communicating with. Land things in data to help bring people on the journey. And don’t be afraid to bring experts in at the right time.

When it comes to getting input and ‘rubber stamping’ work and ideas, we need multiple views, rather than this being on one person’s shoulders and responsibility. DEI is just too nuanced to have a single view to represent the voice of a community. And frankly it’s a big strain, both emotionally and in terms of workload. And in agencies it’s not just the DEI expert’s role – everyone has a responsibility to help make work more inclusive.

We discussed how it’s all too easy to point the finger at brands and campaigns that get inclusivity wrong, so the panel gave examples of who gets it right:

  • Netflix – bake diversity into their offering and content, ceratinly helped by the fact that they started life as a global platform.
  • Tesco’s recent campaign for Ramadan, featuring a billboard that came to life at sunset
  • Channel 4’s ongoing ‘Diversity in Advertising Award’ – an annual competition offering brands and agencies the opportunity to win over £1million of free advertising for the best creative response to a diversity brief.
  • Starbucksemotive advert demonstrating the importance of names for transgender people
  • Clarks Originals who are in touch with black culture, such as teaming up with FANGIRL on a content series that celebrates black women

And finally, the panel shared their thoughts on what one thing we can all do to make work more inclusive for our clients?

  1. Educate yourself – this can be as simple as following more diverse influencers on social channels by ‘playing the algorithm’
  2. Experiment with counter stereotyping – write down audience stereotypes, and then flip them.
  3. Abandon guilt – strive to create a culture where people are open and can talk about things and collaborate freely

And to end on a brilliant quote from Maya Angelou, paraphrased by one of our panellists:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know, do better.”

 IN is a series of agency events and conversations on inclusion.

Supported by five like-minded agencies: The Croc, The Marketing Practice, Transmission, Octopus Group and Harvard