Diversity and Inclusion: Brand Content and Consumer Reaction Research

Diversity and Inclusion: Brand Content and Consumer Reaction Research

When companies make statements about their diversity and inclusion, they must be careful. With this being such a hot topic, words without action will be met with disapproval. Statements that do not match how the company actually behaves will open up the social media floodgates and results in comments that dissect every action the company has ever taken. The winners in this discussion are companies that think before they speak. They do not try to recreate the wheel, but instead find meaningful ways to be part of the conversation. The companies that take big stances and make big statements have had a history of being activists.
Finding positive responses to statements was the most challenging. Almost every statement by a company has negative reactions, as this is the way social media functions. There are very few companies that have made a statement and received a massive positive response. There are simply too many armchair, social justice warriors on social media. Ben & Jerry’s would be one of the few exceptions to this rule.

Diversity & Inclusion Background Information

  • There is much discussion surrounding “diversity fatigue”. Companies are eager to make statements and talk about D&I, but in reality there is little action. People get frustrated that the discussions are not turning into meaningful action. Part of the reason for this is that there are so many issues to address. “From sexism and racism to ableism and ageism, the fight for D&I is a battle on many fronts. Matters can be complicated further by internal disagreements over what to focus on. “Trying to address them all at once is obviously not a recipe for success, but people don’t know where to start. And the feeling that you can’t make an impact as just one person or one company can lead you to stop taking action altogether.”
  • Woke Washing is a costly mistake that many companies are feeling the backlash of. Woke Washing is when a company makes a statement because they feel they need to, but their internal policies do not match what they are saying. Whole Foods, Pinterest, and Adidas have all been on the receiving end of complaints in this area. Empty company statements can seem to say that Black lives, or any diversity initiative for that matter, only matters to big business when there’s profit to be made. The Harvard Business Review shares many good practices to make sure a company does not fall into this category.

Positive Responses to Diversity & Inclusion Statements

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream- A History of Speaking Up

  • The ice cream company has a long history of speaking out in regard to political and cultural issues. They issued a very strong statement in June surrounding the shooting of Goerge Floyd. Along with their social media posts, they stated the following on their website, “All of us at Ben & Jerry’s are outraged about the murder of another Black person by Minneapolis police officers last week and the continued violent response by police against protesters. We have to speak out. We have to stand together with the victims of murder, marginalization, and repression because of their skin color, and with those who seek justice through protests across our country. We have to say his name: George Floyd.”
  • This company has a strong history of speaking up. This allowed them to take such a strong stance and to be supported by their customers. 
  • The magazine, Delish, stated, “This recent post was different from the posts of other brands in many ways, largely because it was not even close to their first foray into political issues. The company had affirmed its support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2016 and has posted many other articles including one detailing its support of reparations for Black Americans, one explaining systemic racism, and another supporting front end criminal justice reform. They also released a Justice Remix’d flavor last year to bring awareness to criminal justice reform and structural racism. This history and the power of the most recent statement proved to many that Ben & Jerry’s words were genuine.
  • Social media responded in like.
Diversity and Inclusion: Brand Content and Consumer Reaction Research
Diversity and Inclusion: Brand Content and Consumer Reaction Research
  • They also have teamed up with the Who We Are Project to create a new podcast that will “examine the legal discrimination, segregation and state-sanctioned violence Black people in America faced since the end of chattel slavery.” Jabari Paul, their US Activism Manager stated, “We now sit at a critical inflection point in our nation’s history. If we are to seize the opening that this moment presents, we must be willing to acknowledge the sins of our past so that we move together toward a future of justice and equity.”

Sephora- Finding Worthwhile Initiatives Instead of Creating Them

  • Sephora was the first to sign the “15% Pledge“, which is an initiative where retailers promise to stock products from black owned business. They stated, “We were inspired to make the 15 Percent Pledge because we believe it’s the right thing to do, for our clients, our industry, and for our community,” said Artemis Patrick, Sephora’s chief merchandising officer, in a statement. “Ultimately, this commitment is about more than the prestige products on our shelves; it starts with a long-term plan diversifying our supply chain and building a system that creates a better platform for Black-owned brands to grow, while ensuring Black voices help shape our industry.”
  • Their pledge resulted in multiple retweets on Twitter by other organizations supporting their move and few negative comments from followers. The negative commenters felt that it should be more than 15%, or that they should have already done this, while others pointed out they support black brands already.

Mixed Responses to Diversity & Inclusion Statements

The Entertainment Industry in Response to BLM

  • The Academy of Motion Pictures, Disney, Viacom CBS, A24, Liongate, BET, FX, Fox, and AMC issues statements denouncing racism and supporting the black community. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, and Starz used their social media accounts to take a stand. Netflix tweeted, “To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.”
  • These actions drew praise on their platforms from professionals and followers alike, but when scrolling down to the comments in this story, you see a different picture. There are complaints that more diverse film crews are needed, that these companies are complicit, and that they needed to provide financial support to the cause.

IBM- Rethinking Products & How They Effect Others

  • IBM led the way by announcing they would stop offering facial recognition technology, which could be used to target minority populations. Then they went a step further and made a forceful statement asking lawmakers to introduce legislation to stop the abuse of this technology by law enforcement.
  • The Verge offered this statement by IBM: “IBM will no longer offer general purpose facial recognition or analysis software, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to Congress today. The company will also no longer develop or research the technology, IBM tells The Verge. Krishna addressed the letter to Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). “IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,” Krishna said in the letter. “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”
  • This worked because IBM took a step back, looked at their product and research, and realized it was hurting others. While there were some that felt it was too little too late, they received positive press from news outlets like the Washington Post, NPR, BBC, and The Guardian. Being the first to make this announcement was likely a big reason they received press that was not as critical.

Negative Responses to Diversity & Inclusion Statements

Uber- Message Gets Lost in Stream of Complaints

  • Uber made same big statements on social media. Unfortunately, it was lost in a barrage of complaints. Some felt they should hire more minorities or that their drivers should be employees, but the bulk of the complaints were about topics that were not related, like difficulty with Uber rides, and how they were charged. Uberuber

Pinterest- Statements Not Reflecting Work Atmosphere

  • In June, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann wrote a post about the changes the planned to make to elevate racial justice content and increase diversity at their company. “With everything we do, we will make it clear that our Black employees matter, Black Pinners and creators matter, and Black Lives Matter,” Silbermann wrote on June 2.
  • “We need more than performative, symbolic or superficial statements. We need action,” says Aerica Shimizu Banks, one of two former Black employees who went public this week with charges of racial discrimination against social media service Pinterest. Pinterest denies the charges.
  • Another employee, Ifeoma Ozoma said, “in this moment when Pinterest is claiming to care about Black employees and Black lives, that just a few weeks ago, when I was still there, that was not the case for me at all.”

Apple- Big Talk- Unhappy Employees

  • Apple CEO, Tim Cook posted a video on Twitter announcing “a $100-million initiative to fight racism and break down barriers to opportunity, including inside his own company.”
  • An employee stated to interviewers, ““It’s very nice that he’s decided to take this moment to start focusing on Black folks, when he is in a company with Black employees who are not being taken care of.”
  • “Black employees are not being treated with dignity. They’re not being treated fairly. They’re not being promoted fairly. There’s not a lot of Black leadership within the company,” an employee stated. “And there were not a lot of places for us to go to express that we were not being treated the way that we should be.”

Adidas- Change After Complaints

  • Adidas, after criticism to their current diversity issues, announced several policy changes and initiatives. They will now fill a minimum of 30% of new positions with black or LatinX people. They will also donate over $20 million over the next four years to three different initiatives in black communities. Finally, they will finance 50 scholarships per year for black employees. Kasper Rorsted, CEO, stated “”We have had to look inward to ourselves as individuals and our organization and reflect on systems that disadvantage and silence Black individuals and communities,” he said. “While we have talked about the importance of inclusion, we must do more to create an environment in which all of our employees feel safe, heard and have equal opportunity to advance their careers.”
  • These actions only came after 13 black employees formed a coalition that represented more than 100 employees and submitted a 32-page document that demanded change
  • While, their actions addressed change, it seems to be too little too late in the eyes of their Twitter followers. Below are some of the comments to their initiatives.
  • “Should have been on this. Now that past and present employees have called you out. What if we never said anything? What if we just continued to leave your company? This is a step in the right direction, but most of us have already left.”
  • “You created a ceiling for your employees of color”.
  • “You’re barely doing this NOW? It took the loss of how many Black lives for y’all to own up and realize this?”
  • Instagram was filled with posts that stated, “ALL lives matter“. One responded, “YOUR MONEY MATTER”.

McDonald’s- Words That Do Not Match Actions

  • McDonald’s shared a video called “They Were One of Us” with the names of all black men that had been murdered to date. This video opened them up to many comments over multiple issues.
  • Followers were upset that they contributed to the “wrong” presidential candidate, that they advertised on “Faux News”, and that they were not one of “us”. One follower commented that food poverty is racist and that places like McDonals’d must be held accountable for their presence in the communities.
  • Another commenter stated, “You don’t support police either. Who is to believe anything you say?”

you are not one of us

Amazon

  • Amazon also made a statement concerning the inequities the black community faces. Amazon Tweet
  • They were immediately met with many angry posts regarding their treatment of their employees. Interestingly, there were very few posts that talked about their statement, instead the post opened up a platform for those to complain about how they treat their workers.
  • “Pay all your employees a living wage.”
  • “Your employees are dying from poverty”.
  • “Put your money where your mouth is.”
  • “Then stop exploiting your workers and decompose already.
  • “No one is asking you to stand. Sit down and open your purse. Give some of that Bezos money.”
  • In March, Amazon fired a Black warehouse employee who was advocating for safer conditions during the pandemic. Amazon said the worker violated its social distancing policy.

Whole Foods- Action Over Little Things, Silence Over Big Things

  • Whole Foods sent employees home after they refused to take off their BLM face masks because it violated a dress code. They were boycotted and picketed by employees.
  • One boycotter stated, “There should be no place safe for racism, and the only way that happens is if they say it out loud and stop hiding behind neutrality.”
  • An employee stated, “These are careful people who want to be loud but not too loud,” he said, speaking about the company. “They don’t want to alienate anyone. They don’t really want to choose a side; they just want to seem like they are. Only that’s too bad, because we’re choosing a side for them.”

Consumer Sentiment Surrounding Diversity & Inclusion

  • 80% of people state they care about diversity and inclusion.
  • Research shows that 86% of females, and 74% of male millennials consider employers’ policies on diversity, equality and inclusion when deciding which company to work for.
  • 60% of Americans would boycott a brand, based on their response to the George Floyd killing. 70% of 18-34 year olds, 80% of black consumers and 63% of women would change their buying patterns as a result.
  • 64% of consumers took an action after seeing ads they viewed as diverse or inclusive. The percentage was higher amongst millennials (77%), blacks (79%), Latinos (85%), and the LGBTQ community (85%).
  • Morning Consult conducted extensive research surrounding consumer sentiment and D&I. An overview of the results are shared below. The completed research, which is 577 pages, may be viewed here.
  • responses to d&id&I opinions

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