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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) have moved beyond trendy terms to become vital pillars of modern-day business models and marketing strategies that can truly move the needle. Many companies have recognized its importance, with 80% of United States employers having DEI strategies underway.

Yet, there’s room to strengthen the impact of these initiatives. One way to do this is by understanding that while individual diversity is invaluable, it doesn’t automatically confer specialized expertise in DEI. Recognizing this difference creates an opportunity for companies to refine their DEI marketing strategies to be more inclusive and informed, laying the groundwork for impactful campaigns in the future.

Related: 10 Ideas to Drive Your DEI Initiatives in 2023

Why DEI matters in today’s business environment

Companies have started recognizing that diverse perspectives can drive innovation, open new markets and positively affect the bottom line. According to a McKinsey report, the most diverse companies are more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability. In fact, top-quartile companies in ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36% in profitability.

The complex web of DEI marketing

DEI marketing is more complex than adding diverse faces in promotional materials or releasing statements during heritage months. This specialized field has multiple dimensions that range from understanding legalities to deep-diving into societal norms, biases and stereotypes. A PwC report revealed that 85% of companies consider DEI a strategic priority, highlighting the increasing need for true expertise.

Lived experience is not equal to professional expertise

Diverse employees often bring invaluable lived experiences and perspectives that can enrich any conversation around DEI. However, this lived experience should be separate from professional expertise. The skills required for effective DEI marketing span market research, analytics, branding strategy and a nuanced understanding of legalities around diversity and representation. Professional certifications such as Certified Diversity Professional (CDP) or Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) exist to cultivate this specialized skill set.

Tokenism: The shortcut that falls short

The assumption that every diverse employee is a walking DEI manual leads to tokenism, a cosmetic approach to diversity that does more harm than good. Not only is this ethically problematic, but it also can hinder business performance. According to an analysis of over 80 studies spanning 25 years published in the Academy of Management Perspectives, tokenism can have a negative impact on individual and business performance.

Related: How to Make Your Content Marketing Inclusive

The indispensability of professional training

There are multiple avenues for acquiring DEI expertise. Various professional organizations offer specialized certifications, such as the Certified Diversity Professional (CDP) and Certified Diversity Executive (CDE). These credentials signify a comprehensive understanding of DEI principles, from legal considerations to market analytics. The Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB) is another widely recognized standard that offers a framework for organizations to measure and improve their DEI initiatives.

Alongside these options, accredited universities have joined the fold by providing specialized diversity, equity and inclusion certification programs. These certifications and academic courses provide a strong foundation for marketers specializing in this important area. Professional qualifications in DEI are not ornamental; they are instrumental. Individuals with these credentials are trained to handle sensitive topics carefully from rigorous study, not just personal experience.

Shared responsibilities and inclusive allyship

In an increasingly socially conscious marketplace, the spotlight is on brands to articulate and enact values of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in their marketing endeavors. According to Sprout Social, most consumers (70%) believe it’s important for brands to take a public stand on social and political issues. True DEI marketing is a shared responsibility, calling for an inclusive form of allyship that involves everyone, irrespective of their background.

While those with lived experiences can bring critical cultural insights into marketing strategies, such perspectives should be complemented with formalized DEI marketing expertise. Doing so safeguards the brand against legal complications and optimizes financial performance by ensuring that campaigns are both socially responsible and legally compliant.

Cultural pitfalls: Stereotyping and appropriation

With inadequate expertise, even well-intentioned DEI marketing can go wrong by perpetuating harmful stereotypes or engaging in cultural appropriation. In fact, a YPulse survey shows that 64% of young people agree that cultural appropriation is a problem in the U.S., and recognizing the cultural roots of trends is vital for brands. In a landscape with high stakes and expectations, brands must approach DEI marketing with more than good intentions. Truly effective campaigns require a blend of informed expertise and genuine inclusivity, ensuring the brand’s survival and long-term success.

Related: Why Companies Are Failing in Their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts

Economic implications of getting DEI wrong

With a buying power of $3.9 trillion among minorities in the United States, the cost of getting DEI marketing wrong isn’t just a loss of ethical brownie points but a missed financial opportunity of massive proportions.

While lived experiences offer invaluable insights for DEI marketing strategies, relying solely on them as the qualification for being a “DEI marketing expert” is problematic. Though these experiences can provide a unique understanding of the cultural nuances and sensitivities involved, DEI marketing is a multi-layered discipline that encompasses a range of skills, including consumer psychology, legal compliance and data analysis. Professional training and certification in these areas, often available through accredited universities and specialized programs, equip individuals to navigate the complexities of DEI in the marketing landscape.

While lived experiences are a critical component to consider, they should form just one part of a more comprehensive, evidence-based approach to DEI marketing. Operating otherwise potentially exposes the organization to legal pitfalls and reputational damage. Companies that want to succeed in today’s diverse marketplace need to fill the expertise gap by employing qualified professionals who can develop DEI strategies that are both ethical and effective.

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