Diversity and Inclusion in Marketing in 2021: Why has nothing changed?

(NB: If you are looking for my slides from BrightonSEO 2021, they are at the bottom of this post.)

Before you read my third post about diversity and inclusion in marketing in the last year, please note – firstly, it’s not written to be an easy read. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, good. I think that it’s meant to. Secondly, it goes without saying that these are my opinions and views, and those of others that are clearly noted as having expressed them. It’s not meant to single out individuals/organisations. My aim is to encourage people to answer the question posed in the headline.

I started writing this post one evening, not long after another Twitter account had posted a list of top accounts to follow, which was entirely white. I’m not going to link to the tweet, or send any further unwanted attention their way. Less than a day later, I saw another international event, with an entirely white line up. For clarity, if you’re a white person reading this and still aren’t sure what the issue is – myself, and many people of colour look at situations like this and don’t see ourselves represented.

It’s 2021. I’m tired. How much longer are we going to go through the cycle of mistake, apology, “we’ll be better in future” and then nothing – or worse – silence?

I appreciate that changing the landscape of diversity and inclusion in marketing will take time, but we’re in a pandemic, and it seems as if the industry is taking a step backwards – and not forwards.

Why do I think that? Some major marketing events that have gone virtual are either inviting the same Black speaker to talk repeatedly, often delivering the same talk (with a different title) and expect people to pay money for them – when they can go and watch a replay of it for free on YouTube elsewhere. Other events remain largely white, and one event I found in particular in the UK, has had an entirely white line up every month since the UK first went into lockdown, in March, last year. I’ve spoken about what I think on that topic here.

I completely recognise that I’m in a great position where I can speak about this, and have done so at conferences in the past. One of the main drivers of doing so, is having privately spoken to marketers of colour, who don’t feel they are able to. Reasons range from a lack of confidence, which is understandable, to not feeling like there is a point, or nothing will change – specifically, that it shouldn’t be their responsibility to address diversity and inclusion in marketing.

There was a brilliant article written recently in Search Engine Land by Carolyn Lyden, and one point (of many) stood out to me so much: “The onus of representation and inclusion should not fall solely to Black and non-white marketers. Everyone on the team should make it a priority.”

From Quote Tweets to Quiet Tweets

For clarity, there’s a huge difference between a quote tweet, and a reply on Twitter – and the audience size that each method of communication is exposed to. If you’re unclear on the difference, Twitter has a great information centre on this.

At the time of writing, the particular tweet that drew a lot of attention from an account listing their recommended (entirely white) accounts to follow was quote tweeted (amplified to the authors own social media audience) over ten times – eight of which were from people on the original list, celebrating their inclusion, with their own social media audience. A bit of research suggests this was further amplified on other social media networks too.

It wasn’t until this shocking lack of diversity and inclusion in marketing was called out by a person of colour, that the apologies started flooding in, via the replies to that individual. In fact, (and I’m happy to be proved wrong on this) – only one of the people originally on the list ensured their social media apology included their own audience, via a quote tweet. Other than that, largely silence since.

I wasn’t alone in wondering why people were quick to amplify their inclusion on the list to their own audience, but buried their apologies for not calling out the lack of diversity to mutual followers only?

Equally, there was a lot of attention given to another marketing blog post of (again, entirely white) experts, in which the author had listed themselves first, and then felt as if they were the victim after being called out on the lack of diversity.

This isn’t exclusive to this year, either. In 2020, after giving a conference talk on the lack of diversity and inclusion in marketing, I was approached by an agency who are well known in the industry. They asked me for more information on how they could become more diverse moving forward and display more cultural awareness. I suggested we set up a call to discuss further, and heard nothing back.

On a positive note however, I did hear from two different organisations who reached out to let me know that they either changed their hiring processes to be more inclusive, changed language in their job descriptions, or both.

I do wonder however, what is it about the topic of addressing diversity and inclusion in marketing that puts some white people off?

How do we fix this?

Saffron Shergill has been an individual who has been vocal on the topic recently, and was kind enough to share her thoughts with me on this important matter:

Tacking the lack of inclusion towards people of colour within the digital marketing world has been an ongoing battle since the industry began.

Something which many probably don’t realise is the amount of strength and courage it takes for people of colour to actually speak about these issues. It isn’t easy.  When we do, we are met with a rally of support from many BUT we also face disapproval and discomfort from others which makes it an incredibly hard fight, especially when you are doing this alongside a full-time job.

In fact, my parents tell me every single time I voice my opinion on this that I shouldn’t. They worry a lot. They grew up in Britain during the 70s and faced a whole host of racism which means they tried their hardest blend in and not draw attention to the fact that they were brown. For this reason, they find it so hard to understand why on earth I would want to “rock the boat” and make noise about a lack of diversity in any situation. In their mind, it is risking my career and progression because it means “people won’t like you”.

When we discuss the lack of inclusion in the digital marketing industry, one of the most common things we hear is for individuals to say that they didn’t think or didn’t realise that a panel, lineup or list had a lack of diversity. My reply is that I notice, every single time. We ALWAYS notice the lack of inclusion and, let me tell you, it feels like a slap in the face every single time. I realise that sounds very harsh but the truth is that it leaves many of us feeling as if we aren’t valued and that our opinions really aren’t important at all in the industry.

I wouldn’t want to speak for an entire group of people but from my experience, it can feel as though the work of coloured people is irrelevant to the industry. The onus shouldn’t be on people of colour to fight this battle alone. We need those who are drawing these panel lineups, speaking events, blog roundups and Twitter threads to take the time to really research beyond their existing circle. The onus should be on the creator to find a diverse lineup because when you have amazing resources like Women in Tech SEO right at your fingertips, there really is no excuse. 

I couldn’t agree more with her thoughts. I began this post by saying that it’s 2021, and I’m tired. Evidently, I’m not the only person of colour in the marketing industry that feels this way.

“What have YOU done?”

I suspect there will be some readers asking this question of me. I’ve thought long and hard about writing this next paragraph, as I really don’t want to come across as virtue signalling.

I’ve not publicly spoken about the next paragraph that you’re about to read, as I didn’t feel the need to. However, to answer some of the negativity that I expect to receive in talking about this issue, I want to share with you a story.

Last year, I had the opportunity to speak at a (virtual) event, one that I hadn’t spoken at before. It wasn’t too long after the murder of George Floyd, and the global protests, and heightened awareness of the injustices faced by Black people.

I thought back to a previous post that I’d written, highlighting the lack of (different) Black speakers at events, and especially Black women. I used the fantastic resource of Women In Tech SEO speakers list to filter by discipline, and reach out to a Black female speaker to see if she wanted to take my place at this event.

Naturally, I had doubts as to whether approaching someone privately in this way was the right way to approach the matter. I felt that putting someone on the spot publicly, was the wrong approach in my opinion.

Fast forward, and I’m pleased to say that not only was she grateful for the opportunity, but she delivered a fantastic presentation and has gone on to secure other speaking events since.

Should I have had to do that, as a person of colour myself? Ask yourself, the next time you see an event line-up, with the same set of faces over and over again, virtual or non-virtual – how diverse is this? How will people of colour feel seeing this?

I’ll end this post by quoting a phrase a recent guest on my podcast shared with me on the matter:

“Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.”

If you have thoughts/ideas on how we can bring about change to diversity and inclusion in marketing, I’d love to hear them. I spoke about this in 2020 via my survey, and I’m conducting a follow up survey entitled “one year on” which you can find more information about in the tweet below. Please fill this in, even if it is anonymously.

This is the third post on the subject of diversity and inclusion in marketing that I’ve written. If you are interested in reading the others – you can find the first here, and the second here.

Here are my slides from BrightonSEO 2021, where I gave a conference talk on this topic.