“D.E.I.” Did you just get anxious and overwhelmed? You should have. If your organization hasn’t been able to tackle these three letters in a way that feels like progress, anxiety may very well be your gut response. So how do you go from feeling ineffective and hesitant, to being enthusiastic and empowered? It’s a question faced by individuals at every level of any organization, and it’s one we hear time and time again in our daily conversations with our clients and partners. As banks and credit unions ramp up efforts to rebrand, revisit their mission statements, launch strategic planning initiatives, and build a stronger marketing strategy, D.E.I. should be at the core of every decision made. No longer can “D.E.I.” be a project, or committee. Without these three letters at the base of your mission, any efforts to accomplish progress will likely feel (and look) like… well… marketing. Let’s first take a look at what “DEI” even means. Some call it EDI, some Diversity & Inclusion without addressing the “E” at all. We’ll break it out into its three core components:

DIVERSITY: “The practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.” (Oxford Dictionary – online. Okay, fine, it was Googled). The core tenets of diversity are pretty easy to understand, but implementing them is often the biggest hurdle for organizations with a historically homogenous makeup. There are those organizations that embrace radical change as an extension of their diversity-focused mission statement. David Dower, the Artistic Director for Emerson College’s theatrical presenting organization, ArtsEmerson, for example, stepped down in 2020 after ten years building a “culture of inclusion,” stating “The institution of theater in America is not going to advance until the power changes. And so you can do whatever you want with the programming. You can do whatever you want with the audience. But until power changes, that’s not going to happen. That’s only going to happen because people make certain decisions about stepping out of power, stepping away.” And while this is a great example of why immediate and empowering change is what will ultimately steer us in the right direction, with changes originating from the top down, many organizations, especially in the financial industry, are struggling to identify the first wobbly steps they can take to get there.

EQUITY: It takes a long time to find a definition of “equity” that accurately encapsulates all that it represents, and though this isn’t exhaustive, Merriam-Webster defines “equity” as “Fairness or justice in the way people are treated.” Let’s dig into that a bit – we’ll use an example you may have already heard, about a school teacher assisting her students in understanding the basic concept. She requests that each student pretend they’ve been hurt and require a bandage. She then asks the first child to identify the location of his injury, and if he says his finger, she places a bandage on his finger. She then asks the next student where she got hurt, and no matter where the child indicates, she places the bandage on her finger. She continues this through the whole class, with each child receiving a bandage on their finger, regardless of where their hypothetical injury is located. After much discussion, she ends the lesson by stating “There might be moments this year where some of you get different things because you need them differently, just like you needed a [bandage] in a different spot” While this is an excellent way to explain neurodivergence and inequity to children (and despite the fact that it’s a viral story from an unconfirmed source), the analogy can be applied to the concept of equity at all levels of a financial institution or any type of community. The “helpful” solutions that work for one group of individuals may not be very helpful for another group facing different struggles on their road to financial security.

INCLUSION: There’s no dictionary definition that can truly explain the hundreds of facets of inclusion. So let’s look at it from a familiar and more readily understood direction – the workplace. The primary focus of creating a more inclusive workplace is “empowerment.” Empowering people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to share their insights, feedback, and ideas creates stronger connections between employees and team members. Every member of the organization must feel involved, important, and most of all heard. The same logic applies to your outbound marketing campaigns, ensuring that your messaging speaks to every single member of your target audience and community (sometimes with different messages for different people), based on having truly listened before implementing a marketing plan. And this is where we start to get into implementation. “But how can we possibly listen to every single person?” It’s true, you’re not the Census Bureau, and it’s very likely that your budgets aren’t large enough for full-scale research initiatives; that’s where you need to get clever. Consider that marketing agencies, large and small, often partner with research firms to conduct market research that might help you align your marketing strategy with your newly developed (or recently understood) DEI initiatives. And those who don’t partner with research firms regularly conduct their own studies – it’s very likely that your current marketing partner has some experience in this arena and can recommend a smaller, more palatable (read: affordable) option for understanding your community and its needs – to really listen before launching what may turn out to be a completely ineffective attempt at reaching a portion of your prospect base that could really use your help, if only you’d asked them what they needed. But how can a small, palatable study encapsulate your entire constituency? Good question. Phases. To get a real handle on the needs within your community and how you can best be of service as a financial institution, you need to first define your audiences and be sure to LISTEN to each of them in phases: your staff, senior management, customers, prospects, and even those you wouldn’t consider prospects, but who fall within your defined “community.” Without the simple act of listening, any marketing messaging is ignoring the most basic requirements of inclusion – and without creating an inclusive environment, diversity and equity become unattainable. In our next blog article, we’ll help you discover the ways in which you can ensure your organization is truly listening –  from the perspective of a community leader, not just a marketer – with research techniques, survey prompts, and best practices for doing the work and getting it right. Think outside the marketing box, and your efforts will be genuine and impactful. Stay tuned! Interested in our DEI blog series? Let us know!