Dove: Why ‘doing’ D&I isn’t doing enough

Just a few months ago our founder, JP, wrote about the implications of Pepsi’s controversial ad, hoping that we’d see a real shift in the workplace diversity debate and encourage a much more inclusive business mindset. Unfortunately, Dove’s latest ad disaster is proof that the world’s biggest brands aren’t engaging with what D&I really is just yet. As well as causing great offence, Dove’s short-lived video has left many wondering how a brand that’s worked so hard on building a positive and diverse image could get things so wrong.

Getting to the heart of the problem

Back in 2011 Dove were forced to issue an apology for their VisibleCare body wash which inadvertently seemed to imply that white is the most ‘beautiful’ of all skin colours. This mistake shows they aren’t learning from the past and, coupled with their more recent error, demonstrates an issue which runs far deeper than their advertising department. It’s one we see fairly often amongst the world’s big brands when they try to ‘do’ D&I. It’s clear that the teams who fall into this trap aren’t diverse or inclusive themselves – otherwise how could they produce work that’s so far off the mark?

Instead, every critical decision throughout the creative process is likely made by individuals who treat D&I as though it were a box-ticking exercise – they see representation as a way of meeting their D&I quota. And yet, as soon as you take that approach, you’re positioning yourself as an organisation that doesn’t understand the concept and you’re setting yourself up for a disaster like the ad in question. Pepsi did the exactly the same thing when they tried to position themselves as a brand with its finger on the pulse of political and ethical activism – the outside-in perspective they used to try and achieve this only managed the opposite.

So what do you do?

It all starts with not ‘doing’ D&I, but living and breathing it. At JPC – when we’re tasked with running Diversity programmes for our clients – we refrain from letting the process get too complex and always keep things simple. Innovation is born out of different perspectives meeting, challenging and constructing originality together, so encourage your team to bring the full variety of knowledge and different experiences they have to the table. Empower your employees to be themselves and guide the development of their own, individual brand values. And, most importantly, make them comfortable knowing that the way their background informs their viewpoints will inevitably make those viewpoints different to those of their colleagues. That fact should be recognised – and celebrated.

Just as vital as carefully defining how you approach D&I is to think about why. Rather than a corporate must-do, true D&I is and can be a critical pillar of your business. As leaders and managers of people we have a responsibility to maximise the potential of everyone we employ by nurturing and championing their individuality. Once you do this, you’ll have a truly engaged, diverse workforce and an authentic, purpose-led brand that’s built from the inside out.

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