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Edition Nº7 Diversity
A collection of stories, reflections and transformations of people and brands
Dear [subscriber:firstname | default:Reader]

Crayons and Eternal Life


Much conversation is happening about Diversity, Equality and Inclusion as though it is the newest fad or trend - a train on which to jump on or wait-out. Much ink has already been spent on espousing the benefits of diversity (gender, race, class, etc), its impact on creativity and profit – yet leaders remain unshaken, as resolute as the doubting Thomas’s of the biblical epoch. I have surmised that the reason this noble pursuit has not been centralised in corporate strategy and behaviour is because leaders, like all humans, are not rational. Behavioural scientists like Daniel Kahneman, Dan Ariely et al – have proven more than enough times, that as humans we are driven more by emotions that we would like to admit. So perhaps, rather than continue to beat the drum about the rational merits of DEI - it is time we tug at the heart-strings of leaders. After all, no one feels good killing anything from the annoying mosquito to a brand, right?

When your business (which is fuelled by the power of your brand) adopts and deploys DEI, it avoids premature death. I am yet to meet anyone who will sign up for an early, voluntary and permanent departure from this earth. The explosion of the dietary supplements (estimated to reach USD 306bn by 2026), beauty and personal care market, cosmetics (SA market valued at ZAR 25bn) and anti-ageing sectors are but proof of our failed and vain attempt to delay the inevitable (loss of collagen) and defer the fated (death). So, let’s get real then as brand practitioners/owners and talk about how if we don’t integrate DEI, the brands in our care will die.

I recall interviewing for an executive marketing position in my past life and asked the interviewer why they were interested in me, without batting an eyelid she said, “because our business needs creativity”. I then asked, “how many creative people are in the business?”, to which she mumbled “not many’”. That should have been my sign to bolt for the hills – but alas, fire-fighter that I am, I had already fallen in love with the challenge the assignment presented, so I dove in instead. I soon discovered that what was presented as my attractive trait ‘my creativity’ soon became ‘my curse’ and the reason that system, and that leader, in particular spat me out. But I digress. The point here is that if leaders and other decision-makers are not convinced in their hearts and at the level of their belief systems that DEI is the anti-dote to the death of their enterprises, they will continue to adopt epidermal DEI pursuits for PR points, hire crazies like me as an experiment and to proximate ‘wokeness’ on social media. If they are lucky, they can go off into the sunset and hand-over the flaming pot to another leader. However, if the true measure of legacy is building enterprises that thrive after a leader departs, then many leaders should be hanging their heads into their champagne-filled flutes as they look in the rear-view mirror at the ashes of the business they stifled to death due to their resistance to DEI and overall transformation.

There’s much evidence to prove that DEI done right affects the complete ecosystem of a business, it goes beyond just the optics of race, physical ability, gender, class – it also attends to the unseen such as recruitment and reward practices, divergent points of view, the validation of multi-dimensional lived experiences, etc. Such an environment is championed by a CEO for whom the pursuit of being different and successful together is the anchor of the business. Until leaders can dispense of their fear and focus instead on growthful outcomes and sustainable resonance, we shall continue to circle the wagon. Consumer activism will not abate and more fake-transformation efforts are called out and those brands are shamed and/or called to course-correct, such as Coon Cheese, Unilever-India for fair & lovely skin cream and Amazon where employees compelled the CEO to match actions to his proclamation on diversity and equality in the workplace,

Yes, embracing the unfamiliar, the politically charged, the unknown, will require some unlearning. Smart and courageous leaders build cultures of perpetual learning and re-learning in their businesses so these can prosper long after they’ve collected their pay-out or gold watch at the end of their tenure. Early-mover brands such as Cheerios who in 2003 featured a multi-racial family, and AVIS featuring a same-sex couple (albeit white and male), show that respect for the community of humankind (even at the risk of offending the divisive among us) is the only true and lasting foundation upon which to builds brands that more than survive but thrive and soar.

Locally, Nando’s continues to embrace, reflect and respect the nuances that make up our rainbow nation even in moments of sadness, such as the passing of legendary Sibongile Khumalo.
sibongile, ma
So, is there a difference between diversity and inclusion?

Yes, there is and the faster we embrace this difference, the more we can build more authentic brands.
crayons
I use a box of different-coloured crayons as a metaphor. Diversity speaks to the different colours and inclusivity means that each crayon has an equal and fair opportunity to be utilised. Easy to remember, right? Now let us build the courage to call out the superficial efforts of businesses and encourage and elevate those brands that chart the path honestly. When DEI is the golden thread that holds the different aspects of an organisation or brand together, like the thread that ties the multi-hued pieces of a quilt together, a magical tapestry emerges.

In today’s intensely competitive marketplace, brands must do more than just communicate, they must focus on migrating from contact to connection.

It is only thorough authentic and inclusive behaviours that brands will create strong bonds with consumers and build mutually beneficial relationships.

Next time a brand in your care and/or your circle of care rejects the merits of embracing DEI you can start the clock countdown. Simply put, embrace DEI or die.

Kind regards,
Dr. Sizakele Marutlulle
Sources:
Facts & Factors; “Dietary Supplements Market: Global Industry Outlook, Market Size, Business Intelligence, Consumer Preferences, Statistical Surveys, Comprehensive Analysis, Historical Developments, Current Trends, and Forecasts, 2020–2026”
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