These days organisations have no choice but to be diverse and inclusive because it’s where the worlds politics are, finally. Organisations have to follow suit or risk appearing as tone deaf and regressive. I’ve been thinking about how effective diversity is since Beyonce graced the September issue of Vogue; the editorial was shot by Tyler Mitchell, who is the first photographer of colour to shoot a Vogue cover in 125 years. While everybody was praising Vogue for hiring the young photographer, I was not impressed because I couldn’t get past the fact that so many people of colour have graced Vogue’s pages and this is the first time a person of colour is shooting a cover – how? Instead of celebrating Vogue, we should be shaming the publication.
Diversity and inclusivity beyond optics:
Diversity and inclusivity has to go beyond the cosmetic, it’s not enough to have people from marginalized communities as spokespersons, brand ambassadors and models – organizations should actually include people from these communities in the ideation phase and implementation. They have to be part of the team that’s speaking to the communities that they belong to and bringing these ideas to life. Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians and Queen Sugar are examples of work that embodies meaningful and inclusive representation by having a cast and crew that is diverse. Organizations must realize that who is making the work matters as much as the person/s in front. How can you authentically engage with an audience you don’t know if you leave them out of the conversation? How can you present yourself as inclusive but not have a diverse team?
Expanding our understanding of diversity and inclusivity:
It’s not enough to include marginalized people in your communications – brands have to also diversify the roles that they play in said communications. Movies like, To all the boys I’ve loved before, Been so long and Love, Simon are a successful because of how they portray people from marginalized communities, they don’t trap them in the stereotypes like the sidekick, kung fu master, sassy black friend or gay best friend. They are the leads and they are represented as holistic beings. The roles that people from marginalized communities play have to be as fleshy and expansive as the people themselves.
In 2017 the sports apparel giant, Nike, launched its “Nike Pro Hijab” the move makes sense in terms of business but beyond business the introduction of the hijab into the Nike collection tackles islamophobia, patriarchy and legitimizes the hijab. Nike is supporting Muslim women wearing the hijab in sports, the participation of Muslim women in sports while keeping the Islamic dress code and challenging the negative connotations associated with wearing the hijab. In the campaign, Nike portrays these women as strong, in control and proud and not oppressed or ashamed.
Diverse representation works and the success of communications involving people from marginalized communities proves that it’s profitable as well. People want black superheroes, they are watching shows with a predominantly trans cast and they are flocking to buy products endorsed by people who don’t fit into the mainstream. Brands should have campaigns created predominantly by women, hire persons with disabilities and include members of LGBTQ community in meaningful ways. If your organisation is serious about diversity it won’t do the bare minimum – you can’t. Brands have to ensure that their efforts are meaningful and penetrate beyond the surface. It has to be real and come from a place of caring, understanding and driven by the desire to affect change at a systemic level.
Diversity works when brands engage in the politics of representation and inclusivity sincerely – only then they can be truly diverse.