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Eliminating bias and activating change in the B2B sector

The year 2020 marked a pivotal moment in time with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement shining a spotlight on the stunning lack of diversity across the advertising industry and the urgent need for change and action. Yet, while the B2B sector has as much of a role to play as its consumer counterparts in adland, many companies are grappling with what actions should be taken.

From eliminating conscious and unconscious bias, to raising awareness of career opportunities among people of colour, to creating pathways from school to the workforce, marketers still have much to do to translate intent to action to impact. As part of the recent B2B WorldFest, The Drum and Stein IAS sought to explore key strategies and approaches to achieve that in the B2B sector.

“Often people think about this topic in terms of B2C and the rising pressure brands face from consumers to practise what they preach but I think it’s equally true for B2B brands,” said Collette Philip, managing director and founder, Brand By Me. “In the B2B space, potentially we have more space to influence and really drive change through our activities. We have a lot of scope to do real good, create impact and show the world how it’s done.”

The diversity of thought

This change can only happen with enhanced representation; different people from different backgrounds with different experiences driving these conversations.

“It’s important to have people of diverse backgrounds within your organisation, have conversations with them and be candid; allow them to feel comfortable answering the questions that you have, and let people’s faces be seen,” said Dionne Mcintosh, account manager at Stein IAS.

“If we are surrounded with people who look, think or grew up like us, we’re making advertising for people like us and that is extremely limiting,” added Sylvia Seybel, vice-president of B2B client solutions marketing, Dell Technologies. “The diversity of thought is keeping an open mind; keep learning, trying to do things differently, and you will definitely get better results.”

The panelists suggested that businesses need to have specific and measurable goals for diversity and look at their whole ecosystem in terms of recruitment, retention and culture, and be “intersectional” in the way they drive change. Too often businesses see these steps as sequential – e.g., they might be doing a good job on gender but are behind on race and disability. If you look for people at the intersection, it means you don’t just check off one box and be done with it.

False promises

While many businesses have acknowledged their level of duty to be more diverse, many made statements early on at the time of BLM which were “vague, performative and rushed” - a reaction rather than honest, tangible commitments.

“Wherever you are on the journey, I encourage organisations to be very clear, have hard measures in place, then show where you are against it,” said Philip. “In doing so, it pulls other people up who aren’t doing it but also accelerates your progress.”

And it’s not just leadership who bears this responsibility; employees have their part to play too. “Leadership will not solve all problems; employees need to step up and everybody needs to get involved,” said Seybel. The panelists agreed that leadership needs to create a brave space: intersectional support groups where employees can support and drive change within an organisation by being allies.

A ticking time bomb

“The business benefits are there and people are realising there is a ticking time bomb for businesses that are slow to do this,” said Philip. “For the B2B space, we have a huge impact because we are the engine that keeps consumer brands and businesses going. We need to stop procrastinating and start getting on with it. We have to be in action mode.”

The session was summed up with a four step plan to help companies working in the B2B sector make their workplace more inclusive and diverse:

  1. Be honest and assess where you are in this journey
  2. Set targets for where you want to be
  3. Make an action plan and build a culture of inclusion
  4. Review your action plan on a regular basis

You can watch the full panel above.