Men and women don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to DE&I

There's still an awareness gap in understanding discrimination, finds the CMA.

By Will Novosedlik

Back in 2020, the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) published research on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) following its commitment to take steps to help combat racism, discrimination and systemic barriers in the marketing profession. The research, conducted with RKI, provided insights about the challenges that individuals from BIPOC communities and other marginalized groups face in marketing workplaces in Canada.

Predictably, 99% of marketers agreed that a fully inclusive workplace benefits everyone, driving more innovation and creativity, stronger employee morale and loyalty, and a better understanding of clients and customers. Despite this, only 22% of respondents reported that their companies had a diverse senior team. In those companies, 51% of respondents reported preventable staff loss during the pandemic compared to 75% at organizations where leadership is not at all diverse.

What the latest report had to say

In the same 2020-21 report, 41% of overall respondents felt less engaged at work due to systemic discrimination. But in the CMA’s latest report for 2021-22, there was significant improvement, with only 28% feeling that way. In well-diversified companies that number drops to only 12%, compared to 52% in companies with no diversity in leadership.

Not surprisingly, the report showed a significant gap in awareness of discrimination between marginalized and non-marginalized individuals. For example, 67% of non-marginalized men believe that their organizations are making a genuine effort to ensure diversity and inclusion, while only 43% of marginalized women feel the same. More than 50% of non-marginalized women indicate that ageism exists in their workplace. Meanwhile, 35% of non-marginalized men agree. When raising concerns about discriminatory behaviour from leaders, 25% of men (but only 13% of women) say they would be praised for doing so. Almost all (94%) non-marginalized men believe that their organization will do the right thing in the event of a discriminatory incident, compared to 80% of marginalized women.

While there has been significant improvements in some areas, there is still a long way to go. However, one thing that came through loud and clear is that the more diverse and inclusive the company, the better its performance.

Beyond just making DEI a mere CSR exercise, it recommended shaping your entire brand and brand strategy around whatever your higher purpose is. It points out that the value to brand reputation of how a company treats its employees has increased threefold over the last decade, and that brands with strong purpose enjoy twice the growth rates of brands without.

What marketers had to say

CMA shared the results of the second of these annual surveys with two panels of senior marketers last week Wednesday. The first included Azadeh Attar, head of industry for CPG at Pinterest; Christine Sabourin, VP marketing services at Scotiabank; and Sarah Thompson, CSO at Mindshare. The second consisted of Grace Chan, VP media content and merchandising at RBC; Marème Touré, VP of diversity and equity at Dentsu Canada; and Abhishek Sarathy, AVP diversity, inclusion and belonging at Canadian Tire.

Much of the discussion by the first panel focused on how to deal with the gender gap. Thompson pointed out how study after study showed that two out of three women in marketing were thinking about leaving the industry because of the demands of the job. To stem the flow, Attar recommended greater flexibility around where people work, while Sabourin highlighted the importance of mentorship by senior women leaders and advocacy of women who are doing great things within the organization.

Sabourin also pointed out that women tend to hold themselves back because they don’t feel they are qualified enough to embrace new roles. It’s been proven that men will jump at an opportunity even if they feel they only have 60% of the qualifications required, whereas women tend to feel they need to be closer to 90% qualified.  Thompson encouraged women to focus on their strengths, avoid obsessing over their weaknesses and take more chances even if it makes them uncomfortable.

On the second panel, Touré raised the point that there is still very little diversity at the top, which affects retention. If people can’t see themselves represented at the top, they will be less likely to stick around. As Touré noted, “if she can see it, she can be it.”

The importance of embedding inclusion into a brand promise and then working on practical actions to deliver on it was noted. As an example, Chan points to “listening circles,” which can immediately identify inclusion as a concern in the marketing department, where cliques may tend to ignore their more marginalized colleagues.

Chan mentioned a similar initiative at RBC, a monthly meet up called “Circle of Five,” where all the members of the marketing team get together in diverse groups of five to discuss issues and how to solve them. People are feeling less excluded as a result.

While the conversation tended to focus on internal action, Sarathy brought up the issue of external messaging, pointing out that CTC is focusing on telling more diverse stories in its commercials, while making sure to avoid tokenization. It works with the talent to figure out how best to represent their story in a commercial, rather than going with a pre-written storyboard and dictating how the talent should be represented. They are also trying to work closely with their agency partners and the acting unions to figure out how to do more diverse and inclusive casting calls in a way that doesn’t cause harm.

To finish the discussion, panelists were asked about what needs to come next on the road to diversity, equity and inclusion. Chan pointed to the fact that leaders are often afraid of having conversations with marginalized individuals because they are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. She suggested they need to be educated before having those conversations.

Touré agreed, and added that organizations really need to be more focused on retention. She suggested more mentorship and sponsorship programs as a means to that end. Sarathy had the final word, saying that at the end of the day, it’s a trust-building exercise, and that what was once considered a taboo is now seen as a business imperative.


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