Promoting diversity and equality is becoming a priority for many organisations. Studies have found that the value of diversity is strengthening. It can improve a business’s image and even lift its revenue. It can also make employees feel safe and happy.
Stefan Grun, Executive Manager of Marketing and Communications at VicHealth; Leilani Abels, founder and Managing Director of Thrive PR; and Christine Finnegan, Chief Commercial Officer at St Kilda Football Club, recently discussed how to promote inclusion and diversity within organisations at the ICON Melbourne Forum.
They explored topical workplace issues such as how to create a safer and more inclusive environment for employees and members of the public, how to promote diversity and strategies for dealing with people whose views conflict with yours.
Business leaders need to set high standards for the rest of the community, especially if they’re in the public eye – something that Grun, Abels and Finnegan considered when working on campaigns related to sport and health. Promoting inclusivity in the community became a central theme of their campaigns. “We’re better when we wrap ourselves within our community,” said Finnegan..
Creating a safe and inclusive environment
Making sure all employees, clients and members of the public feel safe in and around a place of work is an important aspect of running a business. Often, it’s difficult for leaders to see whether their business is exclusionary until people raise it as an issue, so it can be beneficial for them to take preventive methods to combat this.
Grun was successful in promoting inclusivity in his work on the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, which promoted women’s sport in the Melbourne community while also advocating for women’s rights and gender equality. Similarly, after observing that football culture wasn’t creating an inclusive environment for the LGBTQI+ community, Finnegan started promoting belonging in an attempt to include the LGBTQI+ community and help them to feel safe watching football.
“It’s about a genuine belief that whatever their preference, gender, religion, ethnicity or background, they can belong in a football club,” Finnegan said. She also said it doesn’t have to be about making political statements; it can just be about creating an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable.
Grun added that it was important for organisations to approach communications with sincerity and integrity, or else audiences will see through them. They also need to connect with their communities. “People can tell in three seconds if it’s a genuine commitment and care for the cause,” he said.
Similarly, ThrivePR worked closely with Twitter on the ‘Position of Strength’ campaign, which combatted issues of sexism towards women on Twitter through educational advice. Together, they created a forum to showcase how some women were using social media in a positive way. In addition to creating an environment where women felt safer online, the campaign used women’s voices to discuss women’s issues. “It was also about women giving other women advice and empowering them,” said Abels.
A diverse workplace not only helps people feel included, but also brings new perspectives and allows businesses to cater to sectors they previously had not considered.
When creating important campaigns like these, it’s important to be conscious of the people you’re representing. Grun commented on the diverse group of women featured in the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign. He noted that he wanted to use real women in the campaign and casted it based on the women he wanted to reflect, so the campaign didn’t include any actors or models who were airbrushed or had ‘perfect’ bodies.
Grun noted the importance of featuring different body types to create a connection between the women shown and the real women the campaign was intended to appeal to. If women couldn’t relate to the campaign, they wouldn’t change their habits or understand how it affected them. “Society wants to see a vision of themselves looking back at them,” said Grun. “For too long, we’ve put out images of the same-looking person on our screens and people don’t relate to that.”
Grun was honest about the complexities involved in accurately representing different members of the community. “It’s difficult not to slip into just trying to ‘tick a box’ to meet the mark, including different groups just to meet a diversity quota. It’s a difficult line, but we certainly had to make sure we represented people that make up a large portion of our population,” he said.
You can’t expect to accurately represent Australia’s diverse population in every campaign, but as you continue to create campaigns, you can work towards including people who were not previously represented. Grun noted that members of the deaf community didn’t engage with the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign because no-one from their community was represented, which meant they didn’t have a real connection. “The next stage
for us is to find out where the gaps are and fill them in,” he said.
Abels also experienced these challenges when trying to create an inclusive campaign for ANZ Bank. ANZ is famous for its GAYTMs, but Abels needed to make sure that the rest of the community felt included, so she started another campaign called YAYNZ, which toured around Australia and allowed people to write encouraging messages on a large sign featuring the YAYNZ letters. “It was ANZ’s strategic message to the world, saying that they embrace diversity and inclusivity in the way they go about business,” said Abels.
Working through challenging opinions
Promoting diversity and inclusivity can be difficult when dealing with people whose views conflict with yours. However, we cannot be held back by different perspectives. The speakers noted that the theme of the Met Gala this year was ‘heavenly bodies’. This theme wouldn’t have been allowed in the past, but is evidence of how even some of the largest religious institutions are changing their traditional mindsets.
Discussions can sometimes become quite heated and we can fall into the trap of arguing about who is ‘right’. Grun noted that it’s not about proving you’re right, but rather about understanding others perspectives and “meeting them where they are not where you expect them to be”. Even if people aren’t on board with your campaign for the same reasons as you are, it doesn’t matter; it’s enough that they’re on board.
The speakers noted that what is appropriate is rapidly changing; some things that were okay five years ago are unacceptable today. Businesses risk offending people if they are unaware of these changes or do not take action to promote acceptable behaviour. “Times have changed and some of the language and imagery that we use is different now. When you have such a diverse audience, you need to be far more conscious of the imagery and the language that is used in internal and external communication,” Abels said. The speakers recommended using focus groups to prevent misrepresentation. By having multiple focus groups, you are starting a conversation and creating a safe space where people from those communities can express their discomfort if they feel something is being misrepresented and offer an alternative.The key takeaway from this event was that it’s important for businesses to consider what they say, how they say it and the message it sends to the public. Businesses have a role in creating change in the community, and we can all take small, simple steps to foster change that benefits everyone.
This Insight is related to the The Melbourne Forum 2018 held on 10 May 2018. For more details on this event, please click here. Make sure you follow our social media pages to get the latest updates from the ICON community.