inclusion

Diversity matters to Australia’s media and marketing industry

Australia’s advertising, media and marketing industry is starting to take diversity and inclusion very seriously. 

That’s largely because brands are grappling with how to represent themselves in an increasingly fragmented and diverse market. 

At the same time, more and more companies recognise how important it is to attract and retain a diverse workforce and create inclusive work environments where people feel they can speak up, be creative, and do great work.

Diversity of thinking and diversity of background contributes to creativity, the DNA of media and marketing firms.

Dr Katie Spearritt at the Media + Marketing Summit, July 2018

Dr Katie Spearritt at the Media + Marketing Summit, July 2018

When it comes to diversity, we often hear about the media campaigns that go awry. There’s a long history of ads that objectify women or miss the mark on representing Australia’s cultural diversity. 

Yet there are some smart campaigns that challenge gender stereotypes and embrace inclusion.

SBS currently features a digital campaign, ‘The real you matters’, which explores how some Australians hide an essential part of who they are out of fear of being excluded or judged. Retailer Woolworths has a television campaign with Dad carrying the domestic load, making lunches and grocery shopping.

These are signs of progress in reflecting, and representing, diversity and inclusion.

Diversity of thinking and diversity of background contributes to creativity, the DNA of media and marketing firms.
— Dr Katie Spearritt

 

But advertisers and media specialists are human and prone to making decisions influenced by unconscious biases, as we all are. 

Psychologists and behavioural economists have shown one of the key barriers to diversity progress in organisations is unconscious bias. 

Even though we like to think we always apply logic and reason in our decision-making, implicit or unconscious attitudes or stereotypes (based on our life experiences and backgrounds) affect our understanding, actions, and decisions.

The reality is we all have these biases so ingrained we hardly notice them - that’s why they’re called unconscious or implicit.

Ironically, the marketing industry uses unconscious bias to great effect. 

For example, anchoring is a cognitive bias when we rely too heavily on an initial piece of information (the anchor). You might know this as the technique behind sales tags showing the higher recommended price next to the sale price. 

Marketers deploy affinity bias when showing all the other people in our network who like a certain product/experience. Indeed, the whole of social media is built around confirmation bias – how we search for, or recall, information that confirms our beliefs.

But here’s the rub. While the industry deploys these biases to help influence purchasing decisions, these same types of unconscious biases hold organisations back when trying to reach diverse consumers and progress diversity in our own firms.

Take affinity bias and confirmation bias, for example. Working with people from different backgrounds can be hard because we naturally gravitate to people who are like us, and we like to have our views confirmed. This can lead us to overlook candidates from diverse backgrounds, or discredit alternative views, or miss opportunities to reach diverse customers.

Unconscious gender biases, for example, are particularly entrenched and easily influence decisions if we’re not alert to them. We expect women to show warmth, and men to show assertiveness and competence. Our notions of leadership are associated with assertiveness and competence – in other words, masculine stereotypes. In workplaces, someone who behaves in a way that’s inconsistent with these stereotypes is less likely to be hired, according to experts Professor Binna Kandola and Jo Kandola.

What’s important – for internal organisation cultures and external marketing campaigns – is to get the tone and language right, avoid stereotypes, and represent the diversity of Australia’s community.

If you work in the media and marketing industry, here's two ideas to try now:

1.    Apply a diversity and inclusion lens to the way you pitch to consumers. Think about the language used and any stereotypes you might be inadvertently promoting.

2.    Apply a diversity and inclusion lens to your organisation’s processes (such as recruitment, succession planning) and challenge unconscious biases that inhibit diversity

Just as marketers and agencies have effectively deployed unconscious bias to influence buyer decisions, now’s the time to recognise and challenge unconscious biases and stereotypes that get in the way of diversity and inclusion progress.

The likely upshot is more creativity and greater customer reach and, in this industry, who wouldn’t want that?

 

(This is an edited version of the keynote speech by Dr Katie Spearritt to the AdNews Media and Marketing Summit in Melbourne, July 2018. Dr Katie Spearritt is CEO of Diversity Partners. Diversity Partners is collaborating with Future Women, a new digital media platform, to advance gender equality with individuals and organisations.)

 

 

Tackling unconscious bias: changing processes and mindsets

While unconscious bias training gets a lot of focus as a way to advance diversity and inclusion, it’s important to remember the most effective approach is a tailored and comprehensive one that doesn’t just focus on changing mindsets.

Working from the premise that ‘it’s easier to change your processes than your people', Iris Bohnet from Harvard Kennedy School encourages companies to redesign their processes to prevent biased choices and encourage greater diversity in the first place.

As Bohnet says: ‘Start by accepting that our minds are stubborn beasts. It’s very hard to eliminate our biases, but we can design organisations to make it easier for our biased minds to get things right.’[1]

That’s why, in our consulting work, we focus on both hard-wiring diversity and inclusion principles through re-designing organisational processes, and soft-wiring through leadership programs and education.

In our consulting work we focus on both hard-wiring diversity and inclusion principles through re-designing organisational processes, and soft-wiring through leadership programs and education.
— Dr Katie Spearritt

We often review recruitment, succession planning, and promotion policies and outcomes to determine whether unconscious biases are impacting decisions. We revise job descriptions and advertisements to ensure they have a mix of words typically associated with male and female characteristics, to attract a diverse talent pool.

We also work with clients to develop diversity goals and dashboards to track the objectives they set out to achieve.

How one company is embedding change

Adapting site facilities and re-designing processes to anticipate greater diversity. Photo: Getty Images.

Adapting site facilities and re-designing processes to anticipate greater diversity. Photo: Getty Images.

A good example of the combined approach to process and mindset change comes from one of our clients – the project division of a global resources firm with whom we’ve partnered over the past year.

This is an organisation seriously committed to increasing diversity and improving inclusion across all sites.

A working group of business representatives drive the initiative, with the team meeting weekly (virtually, across a number of continents) to share challenges and progress.

Each meeting starts with a safety share, and an inclusion and diversity share.

Some of the tangible steps the team has taken over the past six months include:

  • Refreshing induction and recruitment processes to reduce bias
  • Creating new employment brand visuals, including new posters and graphics in offices to reflect greater diversity
  • Setting meaningful targets for a more inclusive work environment and greater demographic diversity across their operations, and
  • Developing new infrastructure guidelines to design more inclusive mine/project site facilities.
You can’t be what you can’t see.

The guidelines for upgrading or designing new facilities build on the simple notion that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ – in other words, adapt our facilities now to anticipate greater diversity.

The guidelines include facilities to improve gender inclusion, accessibility, and spaces to support employees to meet diverse religious, cultural and spiritual needs. Provisions for flexible working arrangements are there too.

These inclusive design principles will be familiar to those working in financial and professional services firms, but they’re far less common in traditional resources or manufacturing organisations in Australia. In fact, they remain challenging concepts for many, given the historically male-dominated Anglo workforces. 

Along with these tangible changes, leaders have taken part in education programs to build inclusive leadership capability and reduce bias - the soft-wiring that's part of building awareness and driving behavioural change.

The progress that's already occurring across this operation is evidence of the value of a mix of initiatives, tailored to the organisation’s specific challenges.  

We're reminded of the advice from global consulting firm McKinsey on diversity and inclusion: ‘There is no single way to make change happen; companies need a whole ecosystem of measures’[2].

 

Katie Spearritt is CEO of Diversity Partners. For more information on our services, please contact us at info@diversitypartners.com.au.


Did you know?

  • The gender of the people currently doing the role will influence who is seen as most suitable for it

  • Where someone behaves in a stereotype-inconsistent way, they will be less likely to be hired or promoted.

Source: Binna and Jo Kandola, The Invention of Difference: the story of gender bias at work, 2013


References

[1] Iris Bohnet points to the well-known example of behavioural re-design when orchestras started having musicians audition behind a curtain, making gender invisible. This simple change helped to increase the fraction of women in US orchestras from less than 10 per cent in the 1970s to almost 40 per cent today. Interview with Iris Bohnet by Gardiner Morse, 'Designing a Bias-Free Organisation', Harvard Business Review, July/August 2016.

[2] McKinsey Insights, ‘Moving mind-sets on gender diversity: McKinsey Global Survey Results’, January 2014. (http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/moving-mind-sets-on-gender-diversity-mckinsey-global-survey-results)