Diversity, equity, and inclusion have always been important — and these concepts are getting a much-needed closer look across corporate America in recent years. Here at The Digital Ring, we recognize that our understanding and pursuit of DEI has been imperfect. We needed to revise our approach to better reflect our values, our contribution as marketers, and the needs dictated by the current national landscape.
Over the past year, we’ve worked with our leadership team, employees, and human resources partner to develop a renewed commitment to an inclusive workplace that goes beyond surface-level statements — auditing our policies, processes, and procedures and identifying opportunities for continuous improvement.
Let’s dive in: What is DEI, why does it matter, and how do we approach it at TDR and in marketing?
What is DEI?
According to the eXtension Organizing Committee on DEI:
Diversity is the presence of differences that may include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, (dis)ability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective.
Equity is promoting justice, impartiality, and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems.
Inclusion is an outcome to ensure those individuals actually feel and are welcomed. It can be gauged by the degree to which diverse individuals are able to participate fully in the decision-making processes and development opportunities within an organization or group.
- Diversity means everyone is invited to the party.
- Equity means everyone gets to contribute to the playlist.
- Inclusion means everyone has the opportunity to dance.
Why does DEI matter?
Relationships come first
At The Digital Ring, our employees are the most valuable part of our company. It’s critical to acknowledge that every one of us is an individual with our own identity, experiences, knowledge, and self-expression.
In order to properly care for our clients and their businesses, we must first care for each other. We want our entire team to feel that they can bring their whole selves to work — not just because it creates the most productive environment to get things done, but because it’s a fundamental part of leading a healthy, fulfilling life.
Many of us spend more time with our coworkers than we do with our own families. We want that time to be a source of joy and encouragement!
We have a responsibility as marketers
We also have a responsibility as marketers to be thoughtful with the messages we put out into our community. Our decisions — from copywriting word choice to photography selection to website accessibility and everything in between — have a bigger impact than we often realize.
Without a thorough understanding of DEI and ways to continually improve our thoughts, words, and behaviors, we risk perpetuating implicit biases and marginalizing our fellow human beings.
DEI is a vital business differentiator
Companies that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion routinely achieve greater success. As more and more businesses look for DEI competency from their marketing agencies, we need to be prepared with the right skill set and approach. Being equipped as marketers to improve the way in which we understand, relate to, and communicate with audiences drives better business results. Not to mention the innovation and output gains stemming from a diversity of perspective and opinion!
“Now, more than ever, it’s crystal clear that embracing diversity and fostering environments of inclusion is key — for your business, for society and for the greater good.”
— Sheree Atcheson, Forbes.com
TDR’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion
One of the most important parts of our DEI journey has been understanding that we do not have all the answers — and oftentimes, we’re still working to form the right questions!
To make sure we’re addressing gaps at all levels of our organization, we started with a series of internal reflections through compensation and reviews, hiring and audits, and leadership team discussions. From there, we’ve uncovered where our largest weaknesses lie — and we’ve developed improvements to both our processes and employee education. And because striving for diversity, equity, and inclusion is not so much an end goal as it is a journey with a shifting destination, we’re committed to continuously identifying ways in which we can do better.
We believe these are skills that go beyond our professional lives. DEI is an ongoing process that requires more than a few hour-long seminars each year — it necessitates a commitment from every individual, especially at a management level, to move through the world in a way that opens up greater opportunities for connection, insight, and growth.
Beginning with thought: unconscious bias
The first piece of our DEI evaluations and trainings has been understanding unconscious bias.
What is unconscious bias?
“Unconscious bias (or implicit bias) is often defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favor of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair.”
— UCSF Office of Diversity & Outreach
Unconscious biases develop at an early age. Many biases emerge during middle childhood and appear to continue developing as children age.
Why does unconscious bias develop?
People develop unconscious bias for three key reasons:
We seek out patterns. Implicit bias occurs because of the brain’s natural tendency to look for patterns in our world. Social cognition (our aptitude to store, process, and apply information about people in social situations) is dependent on our ability to form associations.
We like to take shortcuts. Like other cognitive biases, implicit bias is a result of the brain’s tendency to simplify the world. Because we’re constantly inundated with more information than our brains can process, mental shortcuts make it easier to sort through data.
Our experience and social conditioning play a role. Implicit biases are influenced by experiences — although these attitudes may not be the result of direct personal experience. Cultural conditioning, media portrayals (remember how we said we have a responsibility as marketers?), and upbringing can all contribute to the implicit associations we form about members of other social groups.
What is the impact of unconscious bias?
Many of us are familiar with statistics showing that unconscious bias can prevent minority populations from getting loans, jobs, and fair compensation — and also increase the likelihood of incarceration.
Implicit associations also play a huge role in marketing, impacting the work we do here at The Digital Ring day in and day out as we connect with our clients’ audiences.
“Media plays an imperative role in the visualization of norms, in the visual representation of ideas. Yielded to it, is an immense power and responsibility to either affirm or erase negative attitudes and stereotypes in society.”
— Wayward Kind Marketing Agency
What can we do about unconscious bias at our agency?
If this is happening subconsciously, what can we do about it? Emotional awareness is the key. We started with a series of short online inventories that helped our team members identify some of our own biases — and held an open discussion to devise strategies to be more aware of our assumptions moving forward.
“The reality that appears to us is not so much what’s out there as it is those aspects of the world that we are focused on.”
— Alan Wallace PHD
Moving into behavior: subtle acts of exclusion
Once we’re comfortable identifying our unconscious biases, we’re able to address the ways they affect our behavior. Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran provides a framework.
What are subtle acts of exclusion?
Subtle acts of exclusion (often referred to as “microaggressions”) are things we do and say that exclude people with marginalized identities. They happen everywhere from home to work to school to public places in between.
Oftentimes, subtle acts of exclusion can be awkward — and instead of intervening or having a conversation about what may have just happened, we default to silence.
Why do subtle acts of exclusion happen?
Subtle acts of exclusion (SAEs) happen when people are not intending to do anything bad. Everyone commits them, often because of a lack of understanding of other people’s life experiences, implicit bias, or a combination of both.
SAEs are different from overtly racist, sexist, or homopohobic acts. They typically don’t have any negative intent behind them — but that doesn’t mean they don’t cause harm.
What is the impact of subtle acts of exclusion?
Experiencing subtle acts of exclusion takes a toll on both an individual’s emotional well-being and physical health. In the workplace, they can decrease employee confidence to contribute to the group — ultimately hurting everyone’s productivity and preventing new perspectives from being shared.
What can we do about subtle acts of exclusion at TDR?
While there are many acts of exclusion (including wider systemic issues in our nation and world) we are starting with a focus on the subtle ones, because they’re most prevalent in the workplace.
The goal of our employee training has been to equip our team to recognize the prevalence and impact of SAEs instead of just thinking that “if it isn’t overtly discriminatory it’s not a big deal.”
We want our crew to be comfortable discussing these moments in a productive way when they happen. We know we have a lot to learn — and we don’t expect perfection. But we do seek a culture that makes space to identify, address, and ultimately eliminate subtle acts of exclusion in our organization.
Preparing for intervention: allyship and bystander intervention
Understanding our own biases — and improving our behavior — prepares us to effect greater change.
What is allyship?
As defined by Sheree Atcheson in a Forbes article on allyship, an ally is any person that actively promotes a culture of inclusion through conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole. Allyship is a continual investment of time in supporting others, holding ourselves accountable, and being prepared to rework our approach as needs change.
Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces by Karen Catlin outlines how to improve allyship at work through actionable items including attracting and hiring a more diverse workforce, cultivating an environment of inclusivity, and amplifying and advocating for others.
What is bystander intervention?
Bystander intervention is recognizing a potentially harmful situation and responding in a way that could positively influence the outcome.
Bystander intervention requires us to:
Notice what’s happening. People are busy, distracted, and often not aware of their surroundings. We need to pay attention to what is going on around us.
Interpret it as a problem. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is in need of help. We should err on the side of caution and investigate.
Take personal responsibility. We can’t assume that someone else will do something. We need to have the courage and confidence to be the first! As one of the greatest marketing slogans of all time says: “Only you can prevent forest fires” (or step in to help a coworker in need).
Know how to help. This can be direct or indirect.
Act! Which brings us to five key methods of bystander intervention.
The Five D’s of Bystander Intervention
As outlined by Hollaback!:
Distract: Take an indirect approach to de-escalate the situation.
Delegate: Seek help from a third party.
Document: Speak with your supervisor or leadership to help document the incident.
Discuss: Reach out and check in with the person(s). Ask questions, talk and listen.
Direct: Confront the situation.
Depending on the situation and level of safety, some of these tactics might work better than others. It’s important to understand our options when we witness an act of exclusion.
DEI is more than a checklist
DEI efforts in our workplace never stop. As time goes on, we learn more — and as we learn more, we can change more.
We are committed to revisiting our values and growing over time. Our ultimate goal is to align our employee recruitment, compensation and benefits, professional development and training, and other practices with a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. There’s still work to do — we have a long road ahead of us, but we’re committed to listening, learning, and adapting along the way.