Why DEI Should Not Be a Marketing Tool

December 1st, 2022 | Darren McAlmont, Manager, Communications & Content, Association of Canadian Advertisers

picture of paper people of different colours2020 was a year like no other. From the introduction of a deadly virus that flipped the world upside-down to mass #BlackLivesMatter protests that were sparked by George Floyd’s untimely murder.

For the first time, it seemed, corporations and the wealthy heard the cries of Black and other racialized people and pledged to do better. Many companies recognized their shortcomings and underwent diversity, equity, and inclusivity training, while others hired experts to lead their organizations through a DEI transformation.

Now, less than three years since all the positive social shifts, it is becoming too common for companies to use the progress they’ve made around diversity, equity, and inclusion as a marketing tool. This is wrong. Let’s dive in…

How to do diversity wrong

Having a more diverse staff mix or department doesn’t earn your company brownie points. Your organization’s human resources, including those in the C-suite, should always reflect the environment in which it operates. Bragging about how your company is diverse – especially if you mean only the junior level staff – is not doing diversity the right way. If anything, it shows how insincere you are to being truly diverse if your top-level executives don’t reflect the junior level mix.

Don’t forget the “E” between “D” and “I”

Equity often gets lost when organizations are trying to work on diversity, equity, and inclusion. In fact, some companies explicitly only focus on the diversity and inclusion aspects of work around social justice. But this, too, is wrong. A company can have the most diverse suite of staff, but if its policies and decision-makers do not offer the same level of support and opportunity for all employees to grow professionally, then its diversity and inclusion efforts are only a façade. And it will only be a matter of time before its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts crumble.

Embrace, respect, accept, and value differences

To have an inclusive workplace, you must appreciate the uniqueness of the individuals currently in your company and in the ones you hire, which includes their race, ethnicity, accent, skin colour, age, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and other visible differences. Inclusion means a change in a company’s mindset and culture that has visible effects, such as how offices are physically organized or access to facilities or information.

Doing diversity, equity and inclusion work right comes from a place of genuine passion for wanting to see good social change, and it requires an investment of time and resources. It begins with meaningful changes from the top down; otherwise, the entire initiative is void of true transformation before it ever begins.

Most importantly, though, if your company is already hitting the mark on what it means to do diversity, equity, and inclusion work right, it is important to note that this is not a marketing opportunity to make your brand appear better than its competitors. Instead, focus your messages on inspiring others to step up in doing right. But be sure to consult an expert in this area so that the lines between your marketing messages and your inspiring messages don’t get blurred.

Darren McAlmont headshotDarren McAlmont, Digital Marketing Specialist, Association of Canadian Advertisers

Darren is an award-winning writer who focuses his work primarily on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion. His writings have often trended on social media and have been picked up and reshared by respected figures doing DEI work. Darren holds a master’s degree in Rhetoric and Communication Design from the University of Waterloo and a bachelor’s degree in English and Professional Writing from York University.