A few months ago I came across an article about a Dove ad causing a stir on social media. The ad was originally a GIF showing a series of women seemingly shedding their skin by pulling over their heads various shades of flesh colored tees. The thing is, the sequence clearly shows a black woman transforming into a white woman who in turn transforms to another white woman. From ‘dark and dirty’ to ‘pure and white’? Even a white supremacist group got the message and posted on Facebook: "We enthusiastically support this new direction your company is taking. I'm glad we can all agree that #WhiteIsPurity."
This is what’s wrong with corporate diversity. Too often companies (in Dove’s words) ‘miss the mark’ and they fail over and over again to understand the real reason diversity matters. Diversity is essential to preventing such disastrous situations. As with all marketing, the Dove ad had to have been reviewed and vetted by multiple departments and individuals before it went live and yet none were able to see its blatant racist tone. This isn’t the first time Dove makes this blunder and the company certainly isn’t the only one who produces offensive ads.
Why does this keep happening?
The answer is complex. But one major factor likely is little to no representation on company executive teams of the customers that buy their products or services. Companies tout they value diversity, but they obviously struggle to put it into practice at all levels of their organizations. A basic explanation is that human beings are generally hesitant to interact and form relationships with those that are different from themselves. I’m not a scientist, but perhaps we’re historically wired to do so as a form of protection, both emotional and physical.
Several centuries ago if you trusted a weird and hungry looking dude that wandered into your village there was justification to worry that he might take your hard-earned food from you and your people. More times than not then we are unconsciously avoiding those that are different, it’s automatic and insidious. This is what makes implementing diversity initiatives so difficult.
How can you fix a problem if you aren’t even aware that you have one?
Diversity isn’t just a race issue either. Other minorities, particularly those with disabilities, are scarcely even employed by companies and therefore not authorized to make marketing decisions that affect consumers like them. Yet millions of people in wheelchairs buy body wash, too.
Diversity in practice is complex because those in power have to be convinced that all voices matter. Companies are working against hundreds—scratch that--thousands of years of history where the voices of certain people were never heard and even actively repressed. This is quite a challenge even for the most open-minded executives and corporate HR departments to manage. But it’s imperative that we do the work, have the uncomfortable conversations and open corporate roles to more people that will speak up the next time an offensive advertising proof needs approval.
Diversity doesn’t just ‘make good business sense’ it is a way for us to evolve as a society, one that recognizes and learns from the mistakes of history and actively works to hear and respect the voices of all human beings.
Viola. Vi. Vivi.