How To Push Past Fear To Make DEI Progress

The sound of DEI(diversity, equity and inclusion) advancements stalling is often polite and goes something like this:

“We’re taking baby steps.”

“We don’t have history in the space.”

“We can’t afford to make the wrong move.”

The underlying factor slowing progress -- fear -- doesn’t get mentioned by name.

Yes, after years trying to convince marketing decision-makers that DEI is vital to all aspects of business, movement is underway. But inaction is the biggest hurdle to meaningful DEI progress in advertising -- and polite agreement is the henchman of inaction.

Investments in developing multicultural media must still increase. Creative needs to be more reflective of its audiences. Experiences must be better designed by understanding consumers’ needs and desires, with an awareness of intersectionality.

Audiences are clear in what they want. So why aren’t we seeing the action that we’d expect with this widespread alignment?



Fear of getting things wrong is holding us back.

To effect real change, we must be vulnerable and admit our inexperience -- personally and organizationally. You can only be vulnerable with the right foundation, and that means taking steps to address those tensions head-on, in three ways:

Identify your people. Start with prioritizing the audiences you want to win to achieve business and brand success. Then understand where your brand sits today with them and set a benchmark to track progress over time. You must empathize with those audiences as people, with intersectional nuances, to develop meaningful relationships.

To start? Assess whether you have the right diversity, complexity, and differences on your teams to identify your audiences properly. If you aren’t tapping into talent who are like the people you’re trying to connect with, you need to welcome additional expertise.

Innovate with principle. Take your foundation and unleash how it manifests in media. How your brand behaves in the world -- coming to life through new, breakthrough ideas and approaches -- will connect with your audiences.

To make it real, look at the insights your brand has gathered, then evaluate them against your current brand positioning, creative and activations. You’ll know if you have work to do. (Note: You most likely will.)

Invest with equity: Are you investing in multicultural talent, production, creators, partners, media? Are you bringing equitable solutions to the table regarding where you’re spending your money? How can you invest in relationships, developing long-term partners and solutions that make sense for your brand?

Demand progress and track against specific goals. You have so much more power than you think.

The deeply personal nature of modern business is what makes vulnerability the most important part of the process -- and is the key to real progress. The fact that we can acknowledge, express and share these fears is a great place to start before the work begins.

We are entering a new year, crafting our visions and goals for 2022 and beyond. Have these conversations now, make the necessary changes, then get shit done.

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