Inclusion starts at home

Inclusion starts at home

6 minute read

WFA has compiled some practical tips for fostering a culture of inclusion across all levels of an organisation

Article details

  • Author:WFA


21 April 2020

For diversity and inclusion to work, it must be part of a long-term strategy that fits in with a brand’s message. People need to believe that what a brand believes in and how it behaves are one and the same. A report by visual content engine developer Stackla that surveyed 2,000 adults in the UK, US and Australia found that 86% of consumers say that authenticity is important when deciding which brands to support.

In the same survey, Stackla discovered that 57% of consumers believe that less than half of brands create content that resonates as authentic. “When brands made work that gave dimension to people beyond gender or skin colour stereotypes, we saw a clear pattern: a 15% increase in consumer perception, and a 7% boost in stock price. In other words, diversity and inclusion in advertising is most effective when it’s done well. And diversity and inclusion done well is less about checking a box, and more about recognizing that diverse people are complex, relatable human beings”.[1]

The scale of these statistics suggests that diversity isn’t just a tokenistic box-ticking exercise to appeal to minorities, but an imperative for addressing the changing attitudes of society as a whole.

But it is no longer enough to state a purpose anymore. With internet penetration constantly on the rise and an ever-more vocal consumer base, companies need to think about moving  towards true equity. This must come as part of a dual approach: in external marketing and communications but also in internal organisational structure and work culture. The most effective way to promote diversity and inclusion is to be it.

To that end, we have compiled some practical tips for fostering a culture of inclusion across all levels of an organisation

Strategy & vision

Make sure you have clear overarching strategies, policies and commitments to eliminate harmful stereotypes and normalise intersectional identities:

  • Involve people with diverse perspectives at all levels of your organisation and give them the opportunity to make significant decisions that affect your business.
  • Diversity and Inclusion advocates should report to the CEO, rather than to the Chief Human Resources Officer.
  • Find an authentic way to link your purpose to your brand’s legacy. Don’t make it a short-term strategy.
  • Speak out against laws that threaten your consumers’ and employees’ rights in the regions where you operate.

Internal diversity

Make sure you walk the talk internally and not just in your creative:

  • Recruit diverse new talent and champion their personal development to retain and promote them. When employing young talent, have strong mentors who will champion their development at the company[2].
  • Be progressive from the beginning of your recruitment process. Make sure that your job descriptions are unbiased and do not imply an ideal candidate as being of a particular gender, ethnicity, etc. After using the AI writing tool Textio to scan its job descriptions for biased language, J&J saw 90,000 more female applicants in 20172. Also consider downloading the Unbiasify Chrome Extension, which hides names and photos when sourcing candidates through LinkedIn.
  • Think twice about holding ‘diversity trainings’. Research by the Harvard Business Review[3] discovered that compulsory diversity training actually reinforces prejudice in the workplace. By highlighting the differences between employees, minimising some co-workers’ emotions and demonising others’, diversity training forces people into categories and deprives them of individuality. If training is necessary, reframe it as general ‘communications training’ which acknowledges the individuality of everyone involved and encourages them to work together effectively.
  • Create a corporate culture that is committed to hearing all voices and taking on feedback. Ensure you seek out feedback from underrepresented groups – don’t wait for them to feel comfortable speaking up.
  • Be considerate of workplace language: not ‘disabled people’, but ‘people with disabilities’; ‘parental leave’ rather than ‘maternity leave’; ask for people’s pronouns in the office and consider including them in email signatures. Unconscious bias that perpetuates stereotypes, such as calling people of colour ‘too loud’, ‘too aggressive’, or calling women ‘bossy’ (this extends to dress, hairstyles) should be avoided and educated on.
  • Review your Equal Opportunities policies regularly to ensure that they reflect best practice.

Creative outputs

Reflect on your creative. It is important to use a rigorous framework as a litmus test at every step of developing an ad: from briefing to the selection of the creative team, to casting, pre- and post-production. Diageo and

Unilever have collaborated with the Unstereotype Alliance to develop these three principles for creating believable human characters:

  • Presence: who is physically depicted in the advertisement?
  • Perspective: through whose lens are we seeing this character?
  • Personality: are your characters defined by one characteristic or something deeper? Can you imagine your character as a real person?[4]

External collaboration

Partner with industry peers to strengthen awareness and practice, as well as with NGOs to amplify actions:

  • Consider joining forces with companies, NGOs, and lobbyist groups that recruit diverse talent, offer diversity and inclusion support, and give advice such as the Unstereotype Alliance, ANA’s #SeeHer and #SeeAll, the 4A’s Foundation, and Outvertising.
  • Ask yourself who you are partnered with and what they represent. Speak with your wallet by moving your budgets and business to inclusive partners and partners who are similarly committed to diversity.
  • Work with agencies and directors who have a personal stake in the community to whom you are marketing. Advocacy group Free the Work is a great example of a partner you can work with in this regard. Fresh from their success as Free the Bid helping the ad industry expand the representation of female directors, Free the Work sources directors, composers, editors and more from underrepresented communities in an attempt to diversify the talent pools of multiple creative industries.
  • If you cannot hire someone from a specific community to work for you, at least consult a ‘sensitivity reader’ to check if your creative is problematic.
  • Share diversity data with schemes such as the United Nations Global Compact Women’s Empowerment Principles Gender Gap Analysis Tool (WEPs Tool), ANA’s Cultural Insights Impact Measure (CIIM) or the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient. Monitoring creates data and data creates accountability. There is also a degree of credibility that fostering such partnerships lends to your investment in this issue. For instance, Mars partnered with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2019 to commission research into the representation of gender in advertising, which was released at Cannes Lions. Such collaborations extend the reach and relevance of the dialogue surrounding equitable representation.

[1] 1 Stackla, 2017 - The Consumer Content Report: Influence in the Digital Age

[2]  Thomas Hobbs, The Drum, 25/11/2019 - Stonewall’s Jan Gooding on why marketing needs more mentors

[3]  Tim Halloran, Textio, 2018 - How Johnson & Johnson is adding 90,000 more women to their hiring pipeline;

[4]  Harvard Business Review, 2019 – Does Diversity Training Work the Way It’s Supposed To?; 4 Watch the WFA webinar Breaking Down Stereotypes Through Marketing -

Article details

  • Author:WFA


21 April 2020