For better and for worse, diversity has become a new commodity. But rather than simply another box to tick, this should be seen as a powerful opportunity for companies to act responsibly, and not just sell a diversity product.
This year brands will be expected to move from diversity to inclusion. Diversity means all the ways we differ. Inclusion puts the concept and practice of diversity into action by creating an environment of involvement and respect. Inclusivity requires a genuine shift in behaviour.
Last year Channel 4 declared 2016 ‘their year of disability’, with the Paralympics at the centre. It was seen as a global opportunity to fundamentally change attitudes, and show disability as a more visible and intrinsic part of everyday life, not just the amazing Paralympic athletes. This was more than a marketing idea. Within months of launching, Channel 4’s coverage had been added to the GCSE and A-Level curriculum, and will be studied in schools across the country. Generations to come will have a greater understanding thanks to this ground-breaking approach to marketing.
To be truly inclusive though requires investment; this could be financially, culturally or structurally. As part of their 2016 shift, Channel 4 launched a talent agency for performers with disabilities to cement their ongoing commitment. In July last year, Starbucks dedicated a store in Kuala Lumpur to hiring deaf baristas and more recently pledged to hire 10,000 refugees. Last week Italian fashion house Gucci became the first luxury brand to become a member of Parks — Liberi e Uguali (free and equal), an Italian NGO that helps companies to design strategies for supporting diversity, with a particular focus on sexual orientation and gender.
In 2017 the public will reward those brands that put diversity into action, transforming the richness of ideas and backgrounds into real business value.