Why a Corporate Focus on Diversity and Inclusion Isn’t Enough

November 22, 2021

By Judy Courtney

Media and marketing organizations are putting a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives than ever before, but there's still a long way to go toward rebalancing the industry for a more-equitable future.

We see change all around us in the form of new corporate policies, hiring practices, workforce development programs and broader industry initiatives, and that's commendable. But it's also insufficient.

The simple fact is that there are two levels that leaders need to consider when it comes to addressing the greatest barriers to inclusion and belonging. We need to approach things from a macro standpoint, yes, by addressing programs and policies at a corporate level.

However, we also need to take our efforts to the micro level that exists within departments, among teams and on a one-to-one basis. It's this micro level that tends to be overlooked at industry events when media and marketing executives come together to talk about needed change. However, it's at the micro level where change can be most meaningful—and immediate.

Given the sheer size of many of today's media and marketing organizations, driving change at scale can be difficult and frustratingly slow. It's hard, necessary work, and it takes commitment. On the micro level, however, impactful change can happen more immediately — and can even create a ripple effect across the broader organization.

Several research studies have found that employees' sense of belonging and inclusion at work is based on the interactions they have with their day-to-day teams, managers. and directors. That's not a huge surprise — but it is a huge opportunity.

If you're looking to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment at your company, you don't have to wait for some monolithic corporate D&I declaration. You can make a difference immediately within your own circle of professional influence, and you might be surprised by the broader impact the changes you make can have.

Here are three areas where you can take action today.

Go Beyond Personal Referrals


While every company has its own recruiting programs and practices, the simple fact is that a lot of hiring within the media industry still happens based on the friend-of-a-friend network. We naturally gravitate toward hiring people with whom we've worked before, or who come to us by recommendation of a close colleague. We do it because it's more comfortable to hire within the realm of the known.

But it's precisely this tendency that leads to the proliferation of teams that tend to look and think like the person making the hiring decisions.

It's hard to break these entrenched mindsets. To foster the kind of diverse and inclusive environments that will build better businesses in the long term, we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We must look beyond our own spheres of influence when hiring and stop having, "OK, who do I know?" be our first thought when we know it's time to start reviewing resumes.

Help Employees Manage Life, Not Just Work


When it comes to managing employees, you also need to strive to understand people in a way that reaches beyond their professional roles. This happens naturally with the people we're most comfortable with in the workplace — the ones with whom we grab coffee and the occasional lunch.

A deeper understanding of the individual enables leaders to better manage people as humans rather than line items, and that higher level of management shouldn't just be reserved for a select few individuals. This is especially true when it comes to managing people whose backgrounds and experiences don't match your own.

You don't have to be invasive to get to know people on a more personal level. Again, it's as simple as steering out of your usual comfort zone when it comes to who you have coffee or lunch with. Remember: Team leaders need to be mindful of not only how employees are managing at work, but also in life. A good manager is there to help people feel successful in both.

Don't Be a Part of the Eyerolling


Speaking of the micro level, don't forget to pay attention to microaggressions that might be felt disproportionately by certain members of your team. The growing push for D&I in the media industry brings with it an unfortunate side effect: plenty of snarky comments and jokes at the expense of said D&I initiatives.

We've all probably heard the comment, "Oh, I guess I can't make a joke anymore." It's one of the many ways that people protest the changes going on around them as it relates to being more inclusive and understanding in the workplace. Don't be one of the "I can't make a joke" people. And don't feed into those people's workplace laments.

You can make jokes in the workplaces. But if the only way you know how to joke is to put someone down or make them feel less welcome, then maybe your jokes were never funny in the first place.

Of course, not all microaggressions in the workplace are overt. Most are quite unintentional and are a simple result of us forgetting that not everyone's experiences are the same as our own. At the team level, simple mindfulness can go a long way in promoting diversity and inclusion — not to mention a sense of belonging. Ultimately, it's our daily interactions and decisions that have the potential to create workspaces that are more harmonious, more inclusive and more nurturing.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


Judy Courtney is the VP of Human Resources at New York Interconnect.


You must be logged in to submit a comment.