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How to Put Equity in Action: Lessons in Diversity from Marketing Leaders
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How to Put Equity in Action: Lessons in Diversity from Marketing Leaders

Authentic storytelling happens when the right people are at the table to discuss how to accurately and fairly represent diverse audiences.

Our country is undergoing significant societal changes that are accelerated by an ongoing pandemic, greater attention on instances of social injustice and police brutality, and an upcoming presidential election. 

These changes are prompting industry-wide commitments to anti-racist leadership and in some cases, corrections of past mistakes to increase institutional efforts that enhance equity, diversity, and inclusion across the board.

As our world and societal norms evolve, the importance of inclusive marketing becomes more apparent, inspiring questions such as “What does authentic marketing look like?” and “Where can communicators begin in their pursuit of more equitable storytelling?”

These questions served as the foundation of our panel discussion at ComNetwork Virtual, a national convening of marketing professionals working for good in the nonprofit, education and foundation sectors. Nearly 200 professionals joined us for an interactive session on how marketers can effectively reach their audiences at the intersection of race, age, identity, and accessibility.

Our discussion, entitled “Equity in Action: Ways to Authentically Reach Diverse Audiences,” featured marketing leaders from AARP, Disability:IN, Howard University, and Proof Strategies to explore this and more.

In this blog, we’ll share some of the discussion’s key themes and what it truly means to put equity in action.

Defining Authenticity: What it Means and How to Incorporate It Into Your Strategy

Moderator and Proof Senior Account Director Adrian Gianforti kicked off the conversation by asking for a definition of authentic marketing.

“Authenticity is hard to explain, but you know when you see it,” said Karina Hertz, director of strategic communications at AARP. “It’s doing the right thing when no one is looking. It’s doing things because it’s the right thing to do, not because you want to take advantage of a particular event or moment that’s happening.”

Teresa Danso-Danquah, NextGen initiatives manager at Disability:IN, added, “It’s really about leading with empathy and genuinely connecting with others in order to understand, value, and celebrate their experiences that may differ from your own.”

“It’s also about being honest – honest about where you are in your journey toward inclusion, honest on when you make mistakes, and honest about where there’s room to grow,” she said.

“When you talk about authenticity, it’s no different from a personal relationship you may have,” added our last panelist, Frank Tramble, vice president of communications and chief communications officer at Howard University. “Can you engage in a meaningful, truthful, honest, and genuine dialogue with whoever your audience is, and whatever your organization stands for?”

Pictured is Adrian Gianforti (top left) Karina Hertz (top right) Teresa Danso-Danquah (bottom left) and Frank Tramble (bottom right)

The Myth of Risk: Navigating Current Events and Impacting Industry-wide Change

The discussion took place amid the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the court ruling on the high-profile Breonna Taylor case, and comments from the Wells Fargo CEO, who explained that the lack of the company’s diverse leadership was because of a “limited” talent pool of viable candidates. 

These events and more have impacted how we work and how we live, treat, and see one another.

“If you’re not seeing more diversity out in the market, you’re not going to be able to shift your thinking about how these court rulings play out or how we should rethink our approach to anti-racism,” Adrian said.

The panelists discussed the impacts of current events on their work and outlined ways marketing leaders can increase diversity moving forward.

“We have to get past the idea that it’s about a pipeline or pool, because that’s just not true,” Frank said. Howard University, for example, produces the most Ph.D. recipients among African Americans. 

“Across the board, we’re producing those people. There are more diverse individuals graduating every single year. There are so many opportunities. There are more entrepreneurs, and the pool is there.” 

He added, “I think that the conversation has to then address the idea of what risk is, and overcoming that understanding with human resources [leaders] and executives.”

Frank Tramble
VP of Communications and COO, Howard University



The workforce has also been affected by the pandemic and changes it has forced on the economy. 

“The pandemic, in a way, is causing us to rethink what it means to be a workforce and how we make that inclusive for everyone, no matter location, which is a really big issue for the disability community,” Teresa said. “[Remote work] can be a long-term solution to make sure that everyone has access to the workforce.”

“I think we recognize more than ever that it’s important to have representation at the leadership level [and that] it’s not happening at the rate that it should be,” said Karina. “But on the positive side, the timing is right to continue to have these conversations that allow us to re-examine how we see the importance of diversity.”

Moving Forward: Using Your Voice to Genuinely Reach Your Audience

Our world is changing, and the communities we classify as minorities can also be seen as the rising majority. Black and Brown communities, professionals with disabilities and the aging population will continue to increase their economic and political power, underscoring the importance of investing in their equity.

Some key messages to keep in mind are:

There is value in inclusion

“There’s no downside to it, really,” Karina said. “I think we need to continue to implement [recruiting strategies] so that [leaders] really understand how critical it is to have a multicultural mindset and different points of view from the get-go when you’re creating marketing, communications, and any sort of consumer efforts.”

Intention is imperative

“The intentionality you have to have to fix this problem goes beyond marketing,” Frank said. “As a marketer, we can’t make a statement that our company can’t back up. “We can’t make a statement that we’re about caring for individuals who have been underserved if we have no programs that are helping those communities. If that’s a part of your target market, a part of your audience, then you’re going to miss that authentic line that draws the two together.“

Connect with Your Community

“It’s really about seeing the person first and recognizing that oftentimes living with a disability has allowed them to be more adaptable to things in the workforce,” Teresa said. “[It’s about] being able to use a skills-based approach and really reaching out and engaging 1:1 in a community setting. Many companies have had little exposure to people of difference. Lack of exposure and knowledge is where some of that ‘risk’ in the hiring process comes in.”

The virtual panel concluded with an engaging question-and-answer period with the attendees. The panelists discussed resources that can be used to increase diversity immediately, and how each of their organizations is working within our new reality.

For more information on the featured speakers and the program, please visit here.