Should brands be doing more to counter the rollback of DEI?

A ‘go woke and go broke’ media narrative risks rolling back the gains on progressive marketing

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


2024 has seen the headwinds against Diversity, Equity and Inclusion turn into a storm of redundancies, reductive headlines and redacted promises. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, corporations expressed their desire to become part of the solution to racism. In 2024 the question is, what happened to that commitment?

In this increasingly toxic environment, the risk is that hard-won gains are lost. Diversity is seen as expendable. A shift which risks rolling back the focus on diversity as a driver of creativity. As well as a continued reliance on outdated stereotypes that stop both businesses and individuals from achieving their full potential.

With increasingly mainstream industry narratives and research projects unholding the belief that progressive marketing is in itself controversial, we asked marketing leaders should brands be doing more to counter the rollback of DEI?

Nishma Patel Robb (She/Her)

Nishma Patel Robb headshot high res .jpg



In a word, yes. The rollback that’s happening across the industry around DEI is astonishing, but sadly, not surprising. People see DEI as a nice-to-have, dissolving vital roles and dismantling investment, forgetting the essential nature of this work. The reality? Brands have to want the change enough to make it a reality. If our industry doesn’t reflect our population, we won’t make effective work, nor build effective brands.

We need to work like the world is watching, as our WACL 50% Playbook outlines. To ensure that every single person can look at an ad and think, that represents me. We will never achieve gender parity or a future where CEOs reflect society’s reality if we don’t take action now. Let’s remember only 8% of CEOs of the FTSE 100 are women. Because we all know representation matters, whether it’s in the first wave of juniors coming through or, often more vitally, around our currently homogenous boardroom tables. Both on the screen and behind the camera, we need diversity; to accurately reflect our audience, to tell true stories and to build effective brands. This isn’t a cry for a takeover but for a conversation about equity. Because changing the system benefits everyone.

Sophie Devonshire (She/Her)

Sophie Devonshire.png

Chief Executive

Marketing Society

Well, of course, marketing leaders shouldn’t do anything about the backlash on DE&I, right? Because they are really busy people who have businesses to build! And yes, absolutely the idea of a more equal, more positive world where more people feel like they are represented in what they see in advertising and in what products they are offered - well that was just a fad, right? So, let’s just ignore the idea of inclusivity and equity now.

Unless… oh, unless perhaps, you’re a marketing leader who wants to expand who your product appeals to… then YES… maybe then it’s worth persisting with the promises of the last five years.

Or unless you are perhaps someone who believes that business is (and can be) a force for good, bringing purpose, dignity and positive experiences to the lives of those it supports and serves… as well as profit for shareholders. That is, it doesn’t have to be one or the other – you can do well AND do good, delivering positive benefits today and tomorrow for your brand, your organisation and your customers (The Marketing Society supported the Institute of Real Growth’s c-suite study with Oxford Said Business School, which shows data of positive performance from companies who considered the needs of society and employees as well as their shareholders).

Let’s be clear – short-term thinking is easy but not effective. True leadership is about building brands, businesses, and a better world for the long term, and a more inclusive approach is imperative for those who realise this continues to be a changing and evolving world.

Becky Verano (She/Her)

Becky Verano.png

VP Marketing


Brands should double down on DEI as an essential part of their business strategy, in a way that is consistent and authentic. It can’t be superficial.

Most consumers want to engage with brands that share their values and where they see themselves represented. This increasingly feeds into their choices. So, brands need a deep understanding of the communities they benefit the most, so they can lean in and know where they can authentically create positive social impact whilst driving business value.

At Reckitt, we understand the huge potential of brands to affect societal change, so we build our brands with DEI in mind.

Recent campaigns such as Vanish, ‘Me, My Autism and I’, and Nurofen, ‘See My Pain’, generated much-needed conversations and awareness around the gender gaps related to autism and pain, respectively, whilst building long-term brand equity, authenticity and trust. Meanwhile, we are aiming to shoot the vast majority of our campaigns with virtual production, which can enable more diverse casting and improve gender diversity behind the camera.

Of course, there is much more that can be done by the industry to address inequality, out front and behind the scenes, and we continue on this journey.