Case Study: Diversity, in Corporate-Speak
by Elaine Bennett, Corporate Messaging Strategist
A company dedicated a significant chunk of budget to create a video about how much it values diversity. What kind of message did they actually send?
The video opens with the main speaker, a white woman executive, outlining the many kinds of diversity the company values, including people from—a direct quote—“different walks of life, different experiences.” And while that seems like a message straight out of 2010, the video is brand new—released in April 2021.
April 2021: Eleven months after George Floyd’s murder at the hands of an active duty policy officer sparked marches and calls for justice and equity in every state and many countries around the world.
April 2021: When even the least “woke” companies have added Equity to their Diversity & Inclusion mission, and many corporate leaders have spoken out about racial injustice and even, in some cases, race-based voter suppression attempts.
But you won’t find the word “race”—or even “ethnicity”—in this video. About as close as the white lady gets to those essential terms is when she says her company’s employees collaborate across geographies. Really? They use technology that has been around for decades and has become even more ubiquitous during the work-from-home pandemic to create diverse teams. Wow.
If the only way you can find coworkers who don’t look like you is to import them on Zoom, you may have bigger problems than any video can solve.
The video then cuts to a dark-skinned man with a South Asian accent (proof of the cross-geographic collaboration?), who assures us that in this company, diversity means making sure everyone can speak in meetings and be heard.
The white woman returns to tell us that the organization also has a robust learning platform. No doubt she hopes we’ll assume some of that learning directly relates to DEI— though if it did, wouldn’t she say so? She adds that they mandate one meeting-free day a week, so people can think and explore on their own. (About diversity? Who knows?) Shots of empty meeting rooms reinforce the point. And while those empty rooms do have diverse design aesthetics, I got the feeling their usual occupants are a pretty homogenous bunch. You know, except for coming from those “different walks of life, different experiences.”
I have a few questions—maybe you do, too.
What’s wrong with this video?
My mother used to tell me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” If this company had asked for my opinion, I would have told them: If you don’t have anything of value to say, hiring a video production company isn’t going to help. When you need a message worth hearing, hire a messaging specialist.
Does this company really care about DEI, or are they just going through the motions?
If they’re citing Zoom calls as a source of diversity, I’m guessing it’s the latter. This video apparently checks the boxes sufficiently for the organization’s leaders. But the best I can say is at least it gives viewers an accurate representation of the real corporate culture.
How can this organization move the DEI conversation forward?
Not by regurgitating lukewarm talking points from a decade ago. And not by strategizing with the same in-house team—while they may be good at their everyday jobs, they clearly don’t understand the importance and purpose of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion today, or the responsibility they bear in communicating about it.
Bring in an expert with an outside perspective, someone who can explain how your ideas will resonate in the market—whether they’ll be a clarion call or a dull thud. They need some out-of-the-box thinking, someone who’s not worried about losing their job by speaking truth to the Comms team—and the CEO.
If any of these points resonate with you, shoot me an email and let’s talk: Clients [at] BennettInk.com