Dear Marketer: DEI in the Workplace with Lisa Koenecke

At the beginning of 2022, we made our ongoing commitment to DEI public. Shortly after, we connected with Lisa Koenecke, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professional speaker and facilitator. Lisa brings a specialty in LGBTQ+ inclusion and counteracting unconscious bias in the business space through strengthening allyship.

The entire TDR team was fortunate to hear Lisa speak in person (an experience that can’t be overstated) at our annual retreat at the beginning of June. We knew then that we had to share Lisa with all of you. Copywriter Abby Parr and VP of Accounts & DEI Committee Member Kathryn Wundrow sat down with Lisa for a candid chat about DEI and its importance across marketing. 

In part one of this two-part conversation, we discussed LGBTQ+, inclusivity, and allyship. Join us for part two as we examine the role of DEI in marketing.

If this is a brand or company’s first foray into DEI, where should they look at starting?

I think it depends upon the values of your organization. That’s where I would go. Because dear marketing person, I don’t want you to be out on an island and then you lose your job. This is something that I want you to ease into. 

If I’m in marketing, and there’s a similar company — whether it’s demographics, whether it’s area of the country — see what they’re doing. I’m a big fan of professional development, so bring me in or somebody like me who knows what’s out there. Having representation in your marketing is important. You can go to Pride.Google, and it will tell you how to do this correctly. 

The big thing that we’re asking from our community is not to just rainbow-wash for the sake of selling a product just in June. June is Pride Month. That is the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — June 28, 1969 where our liberation started. You can absolutely do something in Pride, we love that! And then, throughout the rest of the year, make sure that your policies are inclusive. 

From the marketing lens, are you dipping into different communities that maybe have that intersectionality? You can support marketing efforts through all of your inclusive lenses. If I know you are a backer of Black Lives Matter, for the most part, I already know that you are friendly to the LGBT community. If you celebrate AAPI, Asian American Pacific Islander — and now they’re adding Native Hawaiian into that — I also know that you are inclusive. 

Another way to improve your DEI marketing efforts is to survey the communities you want to reach/support. Is there a Veterans organization you might be able to celebrate? Another frequently overlooked population in marketing is “People Living with a Disability” #PLWD.  Some disabilities are not physically seen — how can you capture this in your marketing efforts? Alt tags? Image descriptions?

To answer your question from a marketing lens, another big marketing opportunity is anything rainbow. If you have a rainbow ribbon, if you have a rainbow pin, if you have your pronouns in your communications — anything along those lines. We’re a member of a credit union because they’re a member of the Wisconsin LGBTQ Chamber, and there’s a sticker on the front door that says “All are welcome.” If you start with a sign, that’s all you need to do. You can enumerate all people, not just the gays.

Another wonderful resource is GLAAD; that will give you a social media guide for keeping up with our trends and different information as it arises.

Can you give us a baseline: why is inclusivity in marketing important in the first place?

Time is our most precious commodity. When I want to volunteer my time, I’m going to go back to the values. If you are a marketing agency that will give back or have internships, or you’re reaching out to the community in any form that you can — okay, you’ve now opened the door. 

Then the other thing that I can do, and I have, is tell other people, “The Digital Ring is so inclusive, so open-minded and affirming.” I see myself there. They want to learn, they ask questions. Asking questions, to me, is phenomenal. If I don’t know the answer — which I sometimes don’t — I can help get resources.

It’s important for me to be seen, to know that I am valued. I’m going to go back to where you’re located and where your employees live. There’s will be different politics, different religions — there’s lots of things that may not speak positively in the LGBT favor. But if we know that you’re fighting for us, we’re gonna fight for you too.

Have you seen a shift in the way that consumers or even potential employees of companies have started to vet these places based on their ethics?

Absolutely. I will tell you that Deloitte has a lot of good research out there for generational onboarding and such. Being a Gen Xer myself, younger people than me are looking at the companies through a social justice lens — and that includes all of the intersectionalities that I spoke of. Are you good for the environment? Do you believe in…whatever it might be. The younger generations will be looking at your values, your mission statement, your enumeration because the mindset is different. 

It comes down to taking a look at, what are your dress codes? What are your policies when it comes to — and I’m a big fan of changing maternity leave and paternal leave to guardian leave or family leave.

People are also taking a look at your application forms and your registration forms. Not everyone is a husband/wife. Not everyone is a mother/father. Some people are widowed/widowers. You get that idea. Here’s a new one for you — the honorific “Mx.” So, rather than saying Mr./Ms./Mrs., Mx. is going to be a new title. If I can type that in I’m like, Snaps! You’re a progressive company moving forward.

How do you think the size of our reach as marketers affects our responsibility in the message that we’re pushing out to the world?

Do your research. Find out what is the most applicable term right now. Education is important — but if you are not the LGBT marketing specialist, don’t feel that you have to be. I’m okay with you linking to other resources. But dear marketer, just know that because I am an expert, I’m going to take a look at those things — and I might vet to whom you are also linking. 

Can you talk about performative allyship? What is it, what are the repercussions of that, and how can we spot it?

This morning, when I was getting ready for this interview, I put on my Bombas socks. They have the 2020 progress flag on them. Has Bombas been at the top of my list when we’re talking about LGBT issues? No. But because I know that if I buy a gay pair of socks, that they’re going to give a pair of socks to a person without housing — I’m all about that. I love shopping at Target because Target gives money back to GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. 

Those are the things that we take a look at. Is this a one-and-done or do they impact their community? That’s the biggest thing that we want to have happen. For example, with my book, proceeds go back to the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools here in Wisconsin. Think about the values in your organization. Having this broad reach — you might reach someone in a rural community who has no role model, who has no hope. But they see something and rather than dying by suicide or taking drugs to numb out what’s going on or running away and becoming homeless, they can now have hope. 

Another thing that I wanted to put out there is the Trevor Project — that is the nation’s leading suicide prevention hotline. You can see what some of their marketing is and give a nod to them out there. is another wonderful resource for families out there who have someone who is transitioning to be able to say, “I want to support my kid, but I don’t know how.”

What can we do as marketers to better understand our audience so that we can better reach them and better reflect them?

Survey your demographics that you want to know more about. Maybe you start with the LGBT people in your community. Your message might be different in a marketing community in Madison, Wisconsin than it is in a very conservative area. Think about the risk and receptivity because I don’t want you to waste money and throw jello at a wall and it doesn’t stick. Get out into the community. Find out who’s out there!

Once we’ve surveyed, we’ve researched, and we feel ready to go and create our campaigns — what considerations should marketers have when it comes to language, images, and experiences?

What I will go to is not reinventing the wheel, but if you go to the national sources, you can say, “Here’s what they’re using, here’s what they’re saying.” An example that isn’t in the LGBT world, but I will tell you that autism awareness is going away from the puzzle pieces. Today, there’s orange hearts that are out there for autism awareness.

I think that it’s going to be important for marketing people to be on top of the trend. What are the best practices that are out there from a marketing lens? As we look at a broader scope of things, it’s taking a look at your community. Who is not well served? If you can’t start with LGBT, that’s fine. Dear marketers, start with where you can gain traction.

You touched on Pride Month earlier. We’re dying to hear your hot take. What did you see that was really successful and awesome? Did you see anything that fell flat?

So excited to see that Laverne Cox has her very own trans Barbie doll. Not because I like Barbie dolls — however, to have the representation for young children of color who are growing up, to have that icon change. Having that, for me, was monumental. 

The big downer that’s happening is — because of the Supreme Court right now, my wife and I called a lawyer. We have to change our power of attorney, etc. The legalities that we fought for — I have friends who were on the ACLU right to marriage lawsuit. There are 1,100 protections that heterosexual marriages have that now we have — and because of who I love, they might be taken away. So, let’s bring this show down a little bit on that one.

It’s a huge downer. We love the pride and heritage months, we love having things front and center in the public attention — but that speaks to the importance of having the work extend outside of June, just as earnestly as it happens in this one, isolated month. 

Lisa, you’ve given us so many wonderful resources. I think the one we haven’t touched on yet is the one that you wrote! Can you give us a book plug?

Thank you for asking. I was a middle school counselor in my second year, sitting in my office — and there’s a knock on the door. Seventh grade student walks in and says, “Miss Koenecke, it’s easier pretending to be a boy than it is to be gay in this town.” 

At that time, I was a 40-year old, white, cisgender woman of privilege, and I wasn’t out to the students. Went home that night and said “Honey, I need to do something. I’m afraid this kid might die by suicide.” She said, “You need to come out.” I said, “I might get fired.” 

I went to school the next day, saw the student — thanked the student — leaned in and said, “I have to tell you something.” The student leaned in. I said, “I’m gay.” The student looked at me. “No duh, Miss Koenecke. We all knew that!” 

With that, I started a blog. What I wanted to do was make it easy to be an ally, so I did “A, B, C”. In my book, Be an Inclusion Ally: ABCs of LGBTQ+, I literally take you through a chapter of letters. A through Z — I’m giving you my stories and resources. This month on my YouTube channel, I’m reading a chapter a day. 

I have been asked by two different schools of the blind to turn the book into an audiobook. So I’m excited to have an audiobook. If anyone out there speaks a different language and would like to translate it for me, I am not part of that 3.7 trillion in purchasing power — I can make you cookies or something! 

What I love is the reach. We’ve sold over 3,000 books already. It’s in libraries. A friend of mine just saw it in Barnes & Noble yesterday. It’s available (hopefully) wherever books are sold. If you want to do a book club, it’s a fun entry into our world. 

Are there any specific resources that you can recommend to marketers that we haven’t already touched on?

I think it’s going to be finding where you are comfortable. I don’t want to push this onto a marketing person because you think you have to do it. Please do it correctly. Please do it with fidelity. Do your research. If you follow someone or you belong to a certain niche and they’re doing it correctly, great! Do what they’re doing. Marketing is just like education — let’s borrow, let’s not reinvent the wheel. Whether it's going to AMA, whether it’s going to GLAAD, whether it’s going to HRC — I’m just throwing in a whole bunch of letters. See how it’s done right. 

We’ve covered a wide range of topics. Is there anything pressing that you’d like to share with us?

Getting the word out to everyone — just be kind. If you can start your marketing efforts by being inclusive and being nice to people, giving dignity to those who have been historically disadvantaged — that’s where you should start. Think about your community and lifting them up. Just be nice.

That’s such a good message to end on. As always, it’s been such a joy to talk to you and hear your insights. Personally and professionally, all of us at The Digital Ring have been positively impacted by getting to know you and hearing your words. Thank you so much for spending your time with us.

Thank you, thank you.

At The Digital Ring, we acknowledge the responsibility we hold across many spheres — in the messages we craft and distribute as marketers, in the personal and professional development we foster as a place of employment, in the relationships we cultivate in our communities, and in the results we deliver to our clients. Our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion allows us to make conscious and continual improvements across our spheres of influence and, not least of all, become better allies.

Looking for part one of this two-part conversation? Find it here.

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