Last year I laughed at a tweet that said, “I am tired of being a part of a major historical event”. That was March 21, 2020. It rang true at the time, but, as we all know, was barely the tip of the iceberg for the year that was.
Between the inundation of ‘unprecedented’ and ‘challenging’, we were confronted with a world that felt largely out of our control, as raging bushfires were soon joined by a global pandemic. But as June rolled around, another confronting reality was at the forefront of every news outlet, social media platform and brand across the globe, the Black Lives Matter Movement.
As a person of colour, who is not black or indigenous, the perspective I found most resonance with comes from Reni Eddo-Lodge’s now famous blog and book, entitled Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, where she describes the emotional exhaustion and ignorance that non-white people are often met with when attempting to speak to white people about racism. I felt this deeply last year when I had hit an emotional saturation point as BLM was trending. Suddenly each well-meaning expression of solidarity and post about allyship that popped up on my feed by a previously silent-on-racism friend or brand began feeling like an insincere virtue-signal that was, at times, maddening. It was both draining and disheartening to feel as though racism was merely a trend that would expire with the news cycle, and that many white people were only just becoming aware of some of the countless strands of structural racism – and their own inherent privilege and complicity within that.
At the same time, as a marketer and publicist, I too had to – and still have to – grapple with how I’ve been complicit in racism in my career and how I have benefited from my own privileges as a non-black or indigenous POC. I’ve had to think about the times in my career when I’ve stayed silent about racism because it was uncomfortable or because it was someone more senior to me saying something offensive. When I didn’t say a word about being asked to be in photoshoots because the brand severely lacked diversity but needed it for the grid. The times I overlooked auditing media lists for diversity and inclusivity. Or opportunities where I could have or at least should have advocated harder for diversity amongst the people I work with everyday – from influencers to suppliers and models to co-workers.
It’s very much an ongoing process, and hopefully a work in progress; but only if we’re willing to not just question, but take real and tangible action.
Here are the four things you can consider with your diversity and inclusion efforts as a marketer:
Listening and learning
True allyship starts by simply listening to people whose lived experience does not match your own. Many times, we fail at this first step with the good intentions to demonstrate to others that we understand and care, but we overstep by talking over someone else or simply not asking for their perspective on an issue that impacts them more than ourselves. Being a better listener involves accepting when we don’t know something and asking questions. This will only help us to better amplify the voices of marginalised communities without making it about ourselves.
Yes, we have all heard about call-out and cancel culture, but is this the most effective way to combat racism and discrimination? This approach often feels daunting and/or inflammatory. I’ve found that ‘calling-in’ is the kinder and more beneficial approach in the long-term. It involves having a conversation with someone in private, giving them the benefit of the doubt that they were coming from a good – albeit uninformed – place and educating them that what they said was offensive or discriminatory. Calling-in takes more patience and emotional labour, but it’s also more likely to prevent further harm to others when we don’t publicly shame, plus gives everyone a far greater chance to change.
Marketers and PR professionals play a crucial role in shaping a vision of the world we live in and the public discourse we engage in – after all, we are often the decision makers behind much of the imagery, language and ideas that people consume everyday. Meaningful change can begin with setting diversity goals and targets for ourselves, and staying accountable to these. Just like consumers who we say make votes with their wallets when they choose a sustainable or purpose-led brand, so do we when we choose a spokesperson, model or voice. Hold yourself to these goals and targets, the numbers won’t lie.
The direct action movement #pullupforchange showed that racial and economic equity must involve change from the top, with big brands like Estée Lauder and Starbucks disclosing the representation in their leadership and executive teams following public pressure. If your brand is outwardly promoting diversity and inclusion in your imagery and content, then you should also be putting this into action behind closed doors, by encouraging equal opportunity employment and working to recruit and promote POC in leadership roles. Recruiting and championing diverse leaders is not only good for business, but it also creates a vision for future generations to aspire towards. We need diverse representation in leadership so that we as an industry continue to develop our ideas, concepts, perspective and voices – and we all have a part to play in this conversation.
For me, what I’ve learnt about diversity and inclusion in these past 12 months is that the work always starts with us. We have to be proactive about self-awareness and acknowledging our own unconscious bias to become a genuine ally. I hope that we accept that we can no longer be silent on racism or discrimination, and that we will make mistakes, which is okay so long as we learn from them and educate ourselves and those around us.
An is Compass Studio’s Senior Public Relations Account Manager.
An loves getting the good word out about brands that do good, from pitching stories, collaborating with influencers to creating immersive events for media.
She’s passionate about branding, strategy and always striving towards the bigger picture for clients. On the weekends you’ll find her deep diving into a 10-step skincare routine, listening to podcasts or on her third coffee for the day.