There is a very fine line all companies must walk in the quest to act on and communicate their purpose driven goals. The past year underscored that importance of supporting principles that ranged from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to Sustainability and Ethical Governance.
Let’s just first acknowledge that really living up to these objectives is hard. It takes commitment to understand and act on sober recognition of what these principles mean to the universe of our customers and clients, employees, and the communities in which we and the brands we serve do business. Missteps (even well-meaning ones) are easy, particularly when we fail to recognize confirmational biases or the nuances of the diverse groups of people who make up that universe. Re-engineering business practices never lasts if motivations are grounded in superficial intent.
Behavioral science gives us some really good tools with which to check ourselves, identifying pitfalls to avoid. But beyond simply understanding the “whys”, the most successful companies put into practice antidotes to behaviors that might otherwise undermine our loftier objectives.
June felt like a good month in which to outline some of our own thinking around doing the right things for the right reasons.
Many brands looked at June as a great month in which to wrap themselves in messaging around causes that that appeared popular: Pride Month, many “days” dedicated to Environmental Awareness, and the ongoing initiatives around Diversity and inclusion.
Taking just Pride, many brands fall into the trap of “rainbow-washing”, which is defined as the promotion of the gay-friendliness of a corporate or political entity in an attempt to downplay or soften aspects of it considered negative.
Rather than call out brands who flopped this year, we turn to brands who navigated this well for some pointers. Companies like beauty brand Kiehl’s score high marks for coupling philanthropy with commercial messaging, earning points because they have been authentically supporting LGBTQIA initiatives for decades. They announced a substantial, ongoing commitment to The Trevor Project on their Instagram feed.
The Bottomline: Consumers can detect a disingenuous message be it internally to your employees or in the way you shape advertising and product marketing to consumers. They will reject inauthentic messages (and your products) if they suspect your motives. “Be true to yourself” never had such high stakes, especially with younger consumers who are skeptical of all brand promises. We are extending a hand of partnership to help clients by developing processes that ensure research conducted on their behalf is grounded in practices that are anti-racist/non-biased towards gender identity, and inclusive.
Behavioral science tells us that affirming a goal out loud is the most effective way to establish and strengthen a desired behavior. Some of our largest clients have made very public statements about Sustainability goals that relate to use of plastic in packaging and products themselves, use of renewable energy in manufacturing, as well as using ethically sourced ingredients in their product formulations.
Why is it when the stakes as so high, and efforts so costly, would they be so vocal? In part, it is so consumers know they are making strides to make a positive impact on the environment and by extension, to affect climate change in positive ways. But also, stating it publicly means they can be held accountable.
The Bottomline: That is one of the reasons why we signed the Market Research Society’s Net Zero Pledge to achieve reductions in carbon emissions by 2026. As a market research agency, our impact in the broad target of carbon emissions may be miniscule. But it reminds us, and the world publicly, that we have committed to evaluate every decision we make through this lens whether it is our “work-from-home” policy or how we source product for the creation of shopper shelf simulations.
We all bring our lived experiences to any and every encounter with the world. So, with the best of intentions, we are often unaware of our confirmational biases. For any purpose driven initiative to be successful, especially in hiring and HR practices, we need to make sure diverse voices are contributing to planning and outliers are “heard”. This can be tough if an existing heterogeneous group lacks representation when they are earnestly trying to develop policies and practices that are fairer and more balanced. Experts in DEI often tell you three things – admit and acknowledge you don’t have all the answers, encourage an environment in which you engage voices who bring alternative perspectives, and “do the work”.
Over a year ago, Behaviorally set up a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force with the expressed intention of examining the things we were doing well, and more importantly, the things where we knew we could improve. It was insightful and humbling to recognize surprising gaps in things that were as fundamental to how we viewed diversity. These even included the way we asked questions in our survey research and the imagery we used in our final results decks to clients. We had to confront our knee jerk reaction that it was hard to recruit qualified diverse candidates for job openings in research when the truth was that we were not expanding the recruitment net wide enough to schools and other resources of diverse talent.
The Bottomline: We had to do the work. In truth we have only started, because we have recognized that when confronting confirmational biases, you are never finished. We are forging relationships with HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to enhance our abilities to provide internships and opportunities for employment for qualified candidates. We are reviewing and revising how we recruit and engage survey respondents to be more respectful of identity. We are asking ourselves if anything we do inadvertently disenfranchises a less privileged group. We aren’t “there” yet, because “there” will always be aspirational.
June is certainly a month of celebration and declaration, whether it be around how we support the LGBTQIA+ community, how we pledge to support sustainability, or how we do our part, however small to make the world a better place. But like most convictions of purpose, one month is not enough, to be authentic and to make it stick.
Adam Overell is the Vice President of Logistics at Behaviorally (Formerly PRS) and heads up strategic projects across the business. With ten years of experience in operational improvements in the industry, Adam brings simplicity to insights logistics. Hailing from Australia, he’s passionate about all things outdoors including the impact we have on it. You’ll find him enjoying an ice cold beer and a round of golf whenever he gets the chance. Connect with him on LinkedIn.