How to Win the Diversity Game? Treat It as a Business Imperative


For companies, becoming more inclusive is not only a matter of corporate responsibility but also a business imperative. “In the next ten years, $12 trillion will transfer from baby boomers to millennials,” said Manager of the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index, Kiersten Barnet, at the Communications Week NY panel “Shaping a Diverse and Inclusive Culture: The Rise of Diversity & Inclusion,” moderated by PRSA National Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair, James Shackelford at Viacom.


Furthermore, as of 2015, it’s the first time in the US that women are in control of more capital; $14 trillion to be exact.

As Barnet said, these demographics are much more interested in transparency when it comes to being clients or employees of a particular company, especially when it comes to said company’s policies across all aspects of diversity. Long story short; companies cannot afford not to get it right on this issue.

“It’s a business imperative,” said Nielsen SVP Global Communications & Multicultural Marketing, Andrew McCaskill. “The populations' shifts that are happening are real; 92% of the population growth that’s happened in America for the last 15 years has come from communities of color, that means your constituents and your customers are going to be largely African American, Hispanic, and Asian.”

He added these groups represent about $3.7 trillion in spending power. “These are people who are buying your products, so you have to have people inside the organization who understand those cultures.”

But how can companies become more inclusive?

“Stop using ‘cultural fit’ as an excuse for bias,” chimed in McCaskill who also suggested an antidote to what he says is the industry’s “I don’t get the right resumes” excuse. “Every leader of a PR firm needs to go out and become friends with four senior professionals of color. Each of them can provide at least ten qualified contacts or point you in the right direction.”

MSNBC & NBC News Senior Vice President of Communications, Errol Cockfield said, “In the last half decade, there has been more focus on diversity and inclusion.” On the other hand, he said issues like the “Me Too” movement remain as vestiges of an era which is not representative of what we want.

He added that three things need to happen; reporting, bias training, and mentoring in and out of the organization, including middle, high schools, and colleges. “Tell people, ‘these careers are an option for you.’”

Ferrero USA Head of Corporate Communications & PR, Cheryll Forsatz,  said that, as the child of immigrants, your parents might not see a career path in marketing or any other field other than medicine, law or finance. “Broadening the perspective of people entering our field starts with how do we get schools on board, especially in communities of color.”

“You can have all of the diversity you want on your website,” she added. “But at the end of the day, if candidates walk into your office and don’t meet with people they aspire to be like, statistics don’t matter.”

But attracting multicultural talent is only one part of the equation. As McCaskill pointed out, companies want to make sure talented people of color don’t walk out the door disappointed or disillusioned about their experience at that particular agency. “Because some of them go to corporate and become your clients.”

Aside from reaching out to schools to “opening some kids’ minds” about the industry, as Forsatz suggested, the panel offered more practical advice to make the industry more inclusive.

“Consumers have choices, and your employee base has choices, too,” said McCaskill, adding that agencies and media companies need to make sure multicultural team members are part of prospective employee’s interview process.

He added that companies need to bring these multicultural communities along by inviting them to host their events at the company’s headquarters. “Let them know that this is a place for them, maybe not right now but in a couple of years from now; this is a good place for you because we enjoy your perspective, we enjoy having you around.’”

Lastly, McCaskill advice to “check the modicum of privilege we all have.” He offered the metaphor of an elephant and a mouse that lived together. While the mouse has to know everything about the elephant (when, what, where he eats, sleeps, etc.) to survive, the elephant may or may not even be aware of the mouse. “Sometimes we are the mouse, and sometimes we are the elephant,” he said. 

The bottom line? To win the diversity game, agencies and media companies need to start treating it as a business. “It wasn’t until we started putting data around it that we started to identify those challenges,” Barnet shared. “I'm a believer in data for good, to pinpoint where your problems are, identify those challenges, measure the progress, pivot what’s working and what isn’t. Treat it like as best practices.”