This article was submitted courtesy of IABC Ottawa.
2 June 2020. You start your morning opening your organization’s Instagram app to see the timeline flooded with black square images. A few minutes later your boss sends you a message on Slack: “Hey, when are we posting a black square on our account?” You feel the pressure to contribute to the conversation from your organization’s account, but a little voice inside you wonders if this is the best next move. Click, post.
Now known as “Blackout Tuesday,” 2 June 2020 sparked a renewed conversation about the role brands play to support actual system changes and answering the question: Do you mean it? People, or consumers, are looking to spend their money where they are represented, and brands that are doing this right are profiting — immensely. Take a report conducted by PwC Global that stated 85% of CEOs found diversity and inclusion improved their bottom line.
Below, Alexandra Sebben, president of IABC Ottawa, and Jefferson Darrell, founder and CEO of Breakfast Culture, and the keynote speaker for the chapter’s recent event, recap a professional development session about woke marketing and communications.
Know the Vocabulary
To walk the walk, you have to know the talk. The dialogue around equity, diversity and inclusion is ever-evolving, and the need for common vocabulary helps avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Here are some of the basic words and their meanings you should be familiar with.
Diversity: Essentially, diversity is the mix of people in a group. This can cover a range of identities, including but not limited to: race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, physical appearance, etc. An individual themselves cannot be diverse, but a group of individuals can be.
Equity: Fair and impartial access to opportunity and services for all. Equity considerations extend beyond issues of legal human rights compliance, take up issues of demographic representation and underrepresentation and examine questions of power and resource allocation. For example, think of public binary washrooms where they may have equal (i.e., the same) amount of stalls in the men’s as they do in the women’s. On the surface this equality appears fine, in theory. However, think about how there is almost always a line for the ladies’ versus the gents’. Women’s washroom trips are typically more involved than men’s. Today, binary washrooms are being designed with additional stalls for women versus men, which speaks to equity. To be truly equitable, organizations might consider non-binary washrooms with stalls for all, but we’ll save this for another discussion.
Accessibility: Giving equitable access to everyone along the continuum of human ability and experience — or simply the ability to access.
Privilege: Unearned access to social power based on membership in a dominant social group.
Walk the Talk
Breakfast Culture has coined the ideology “3 BEEs” of woke marketing and communications. Essentially, the 3 BEEs are your roadmap to ensuring your organization is walking the talk.
1. Be authentic.
Don’t pretend to be someone you are not. As communication professionals, we are often the frontline workers, implementing and executing our organization’s brand. We have to know what our brand stands for and how best to connect with the community. Ensure you are clear in what your organization is and is not. This should always direct back to your mission statement and strategic plan.
2. Be present.
Show up where it really matters, which is all the time. Are you struggling to produce content for national days of recognition? Do you find yourself trying to find content on issues your organization has not weighed in on before? Take a step back and identify this to the C-suite. Inclusive marketing and communication should be reflected by your organization year round, not just on one day or month a year.
3. Be prepared.
Not everyone will support the commitments or campaigns your organization runs. As communicators, we know to be prepared for a potential crisis or — in this case — a backlash. This should open a conversation where you ask your organization’s brand: Was it authentic to who we are and what we represent? If so, push through the pain. Your stakeholders will know the brand is living true to its authentic self and, hey, you might even tap into a new market in the process.
Why It Matters
Every other week brands are being called out, or in, for how they are weighing in to conversations. Brands who are putting in the work are seeing real change for their organization and financial returns that outperform their competitors. Brands that are not putting in the same work but hoping for the same result are being called out for “woke washing” (prying on customers’ social awareness) and are hopefully learning from it.
As communication professionals, our role should be to ensure our organization’s brands are living up to their true potential and helping to identify opportunities for our brands to continue to have positive change. That way, next time we “click, post,” we know we are using our organization’s brand for social change.
Alexandra Sebben and Jefferson Darrell
Alexandra Sebben, MPC, is an award-winning communications professional with a specialization in digital communications. She has created and executed successful digital strategies, with a wide range of budgets, for high-profile organizations by creating innovative content campaigns. Sebben is the current president of the International Association of Business Communicators’ (IABC) Ottawa chapter for the 2021–22 season. She holds a master’s in professional communication and a BA in media production from Ryerson University’s internationally acclaimed RTA School of Media. She is also a certified digital marketing professional through the Digital Marketing Institute.
Jefferson Darrell is the founder and CEO of Breakfast Culture. Darrell is among Canada’s earliest outliers in the IDEA arena (inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility), successfully driving positive change management for organizations for the past five years resulting in more diverse and inclusive teams and increased revenue or new business opportunities. He is an accomplished marketing communications and public relations professional with more than 15 years of brand strategy expertise generating earned and owned media using traditional and digital channels.
In the DEI space, Darrell was instrumental in the creation of the Diversity Inclusion Anti-Racism Action Team at the Ontario Science Centre, and he represented the Centre on the DEI Committee with the Canadian Association of Science Centres (CASC). He was also instrumental in organizing the Science Centre’s involvement in the world’s first Pride in STEM Day on 5 July 2018. His change management project with the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) resulted in increased revenue opportunities for the nonprofit by diversifying the organization’s development committee.
Darrell has delivered numerous presentations and keynote addresses about the importance of DEI and has participated in myriad panel discussions about diversity and inclusion. He has also been a guest lecturer at Ryerson University, is featured as a “Voice from the Field” where he discusses inclusion and diversity in the PR industry in the 2020 Public Relations Canadian Edition textbook and sits on strategy Magazine’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board.
Darrell earned a bachelor of applied science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Waterloo, a public relations honors certificate from Humber College, and is a change management, leadership and inclusion graduate from Centennial College and the Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion (CCDI). He is working toward the Canadian Certified Inclusion Professional (CCIP™) designation.