Diversity & Inclusion is More than a Statement of Solidarity

in , by FroBunni, Monday, September 07, 2020
Diversity & Inclusion is More Than a Statement of Solidarity header image

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old black man was murdered by police during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota for using a counterfeit bill.

I didn’t watch the video. I still haven’t, but many did. And unlike countless other times before, this time seemed different. There was outrage, on a global scale, and it spread faster than the coronavirus.

Almost immediately, brands made statements denouncing racism and supporting Black Lives Matter. And during a time when I usually seek refuge away from social media to avoid seeing yet another black person breathe their last breath, I went to social media to vent my outrage.

So many brands are making statements condemning the killing of George Floyd and racism, while simultaneously upholding the structures in their companies that prevent black and brown people from promotions and excluding them from executive leadership positions

So many brands have policies and initiatives on diversity and inclusion in their workplace but regularly steal black content, culture, and aesthetic instead of rightfully paying, employing, and publicly acknowledging black creatives

How can a company be committed to anti-racist work and policies when their board of directors are hues of beige (and often mostly male)?

How can a company be committed to driving change when they’ve donated millions of dollars to organizations and PACs that are part of the connective fabric of white supremacy?

I’m just tired. These statements feel hollow, meaningless, promotional. It is NOT better than nothing. It is NOT “at least something.” It’s misleading, intentionally so, and does nothing to better the lives of black people.

FroBunni, June 2, 2020

On Tuesday, June 2, I watched brand after brand post a black square on Instagram. I’m still confused of the purpose, something about solidarity for black people because it’s easier to do nothing than something? Because that’s what so many were doing. Making statements, posting black squares. It’s easier than actually analyzing how a brand supports and reinforces racism.

That day, I messaged four brands: Alo Yoga, Gymshark, Oh Polly!, and Reformation. Four brands I followed, but until then had posted one black model once a month or so, and in some cases, even less.

Diversity and inclusion message to Alo Yoga

These messages got no response. So, I tagged them in a story, and even posted some solutions to the problem. Again, no response. I messaged their CEOs or Marketing VPs on LinkedIn. No response. And finally, I sent emails. I only got one response. It was from Reformation.

Diversity and inclusion response from Reformation

Being a black influencer isn’t easy. We’re less likely to be chosen to promote brands. We’re more likely to receive low to no pay. Social media algorithms are less likely to show our content. And our content is constantly stolen, and in some cases, even profited from without us ever receiving a dime. The industry is stacked against us.

There’s a lot of reasons for this. Unconscious and implicit biases may make marketers, social media managers, and executives scrutinize black influencers more than their white counterparts. Sometimes “diversity quotas” are reduced to any person of color, and often times, the person closest to whiteness is chosen. And other times, in an attempt at equality, some have quotas, such as follower count minimums or amount of content created, needed to work with influencers. Of course, the problem with equality is it still fosters inequality in an unequal world, especially when even the technology is against us.

I unfollowed a lot of brands since June. Part of this is due to my minimalism challenge, the other is because I didn’t care to see how brands did the bare minimum to address the lack of diversity in their marketing. Using black influencers isn’t enough. Not when I’m noticing that these black influencers all have a large number of followers, while their white counterparts are more varied. Not when I’m noticing that only one black influencer is used when there’s significantly more white influencers. Not when I’ve noticed that black influencers are buying products and posting them in hopes of getting reposted, while white influencers are brand ambassadors and getting products for free or discounted.

Are you really committed to diversity and inclusion when you haven’t broken down the barriers that were in place at the start?

What I noticed from Reformation was different. While other brands rushed to "blacken" their feeds, Reformation stayed still. On May 31st, they published a post saying they were donating to various black and legal organizations. On June 7th, then CEO Yael Aflalo, published a post acknowledging her failures in promoting diversity and inclusion at her company. And on June 15th, another post detailed how they were planning on, not just changing how their social media feeds looked, but how they were changing as a culture, including removing people, like their CEO, who let the problem go on unfettered.

This was refreshing.

Because the lack of diversity and inclusion in influencer marketing, and marketing and advertising as a whole, isn’t because of one person or department. It’s because it’s part of company culture. And if it’s not addressed at the top, it’s not going to applied on a permanent and widespread scale.

I’ve already seen some brands’ feeds return to normal. A sea of white bodies and faces, with an occasional person of color. There was no commitment.

I’m frustrated because as an influencer, I often wonder how many brands come across my blog or social channels and pass me up because I don’t “fit” their aesthetic. I’m frustrated because as a marketer myself, I know it’s not hard. I know it’s just an oversight, an assumption that it’s not important or that you’re doing enough by adding one person of color.

I hope more brands can upend their organizations to see how racism affects their company. Beyond influencer marketing, how it can create a hostile environment, how it scares people into silence, and how it hurts the company’s bottom line. I hope that they can analyze and restructure to create true diversity and inclusion.

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