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Work & Wellbeing Diversity & Inclusion

Can brands push beyond performative DE&I initiatives?

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By Danielle Long, Acting APAC Editor

March 12, 2023 | 6 min read

In the wake of International Women’s Day and WorldPride month, and the subsequent flood of rainbow flags, empowering talks and hashtags, do DE&I policies risk becoming performative marketing exercises? The Drum spoke to leading DE&I specialist, Sheryl Daija, the CEO and founder of Bridge, about the need for a narrative change as the organisation eyes global expansion.

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In the wake of IWD and World Pride can brands move beyond performative DE&I to create systemic change?

Diversity, equity and inclusion policies risk becoming performative marketing exercises, if brands and companies do not ensure full integration across the business, according to the founder of a major DE&I organisation.

Sheryl Daija, the CEO and founder of Bridge, a US-based DE&I organisation for the marketing industry, says DE&I needs to be integrated from the top-down and treated as an operationalised business practice within the organisation.

Bridge, which is backed Unilever, WPP, Conde Nast, Discover, Indeed, IBM, McKinsey & Company, Group M, Mediabrands, and other major international brands, is pushing hard to change the narrative around DE&I from a soft marketing focus to a legitimate business line item that is actionable across a business.

“We are trying to change the narrative of DE&I from a philosophy, or even a moral imperative - which obviously it is but that hasn't gotten us to where we need to go - to figure out how we operationalize inclusion as a business practice,” Daija tells The Drum.

“I think a lot of what's happening is this performative nature to diversity and inclusion. America has become a country of months – there’s Black History Month, International Women's month, Hispanic Heritage Month – we’ve literally become a country of months. And what's happened is the marketers and the advertisers are using those months as ways to show their commitment to DE&I, but it's performative, it doesn't change anything.”

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“If you if you're going to do a rainbow flag, then you best have some advocacy around LGBTQ rights, otherwise it’s just performative,” she says.

Bridge, which stands for belonging, representation, inclusion, diversity and equity, “the g is the gap in all those things”, was born out of the idea that we could leverage the same model that brands use to build marketing platforms that drive change and apply that to DE&I initiatives.

Bridge is in the process of building organisational frameworks which can help companies to create actionable strategies and accountable practices to ensure DE&I policies become a business foundation. The aim is to help businesses avoid the pitfalls and help them create robust business practices to ensure change across all elements of the organisation.

“This is a very different approach,” admits Daija. “We are really committed to creating a framework that it is actionable and digestible for companies, so that they know where to start. We're trying to take away that performative nature of DE&I and help organisations create structural and systemic change that is consistent and continuous. Every company is going to have a different challenge, but this is about taking away the objections and excuses.”

“Change is not just going to happen just by appointing chief diversity officers, it needs to become part of the company's culture and DNA. The idea is help companies understand what the foundation of inclusion as a business practice looks like, so they can start to implement practices and change against that," says Daija.

With a board comprising major global brands, Daija says, there is a growing interest in expanding beyond the US.

“All the brands that are involved with us are global brands,” says Daija. “We are in process of exploring this with a number of our members to understand what our role would be on a global stage and what would Bridge look like. It’s early days but there is certainly a lot of interest.”

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