The Debate: Diversity’s Role in Keeping Brands Innovative
Senior vice president and chief design officer at PepsiCo, 2015 Brand Leader Award Recipient
How do you define diversity?
Diversity is before anything else, a status of mind. It’s all about the recognition and celebration of the uniqueness of each individual, and the consequent inclusion of that uniqueness into your community. It can be driven by gender, race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, age, sexual orientation, physical abilities, behavior and character, and religious and political beliefs. Often the focus of the diversity conversation, though, is on few of these criteria and often the most visible ones, such as gender and ethnicity, but to have a truly diverse team means to embrace all of these dimensions and beyond.
How can brands achieve greater diversity in their marketing, branding and design teams?
Brands can achieve this by first embracing and celebrating a diverse way of thinking as part of the culture of the brand and the company, from the top down. We need leaders that constantly challenge their teams to think differently, from a variety of viewpoints, and encourage diversity of opinions within the organization as part of a healthy, dynamic and balanced dialogue. This way of thinking has to be embedded within the mind and soul of each of your leaders, otherwise your teams can have a diverse appearance, but their thinking and results won’t reflect that.Advertisement
How can brands use collaboration to achieve more diversity in thought in their design, development and marketing projects?
If diversity is all about the inclusion of different individuals with varying backgrounds, then one of the key factors of success for such culture is the ability to connect these individuals through collaboration and teamwork. This is an area where design thinking—defined as the crossroad of empathy, strategy and prototyping—can become an incredible asset for inclusion. By prototyping and designing solutions that are relevant to people (empathy) and to the company (strategy), you empower different constituents in the development process by giving them a voice and the opportunity to co-create with you. Design becomes the glue, the facilitator and the accelerator of a diverse way of thinking—and not just within the team—but also in connections with consumers, customers, experts and influencers that you can invite to collaborate, dream, develop and execute with you. Your team can be as diverse as you want, but it will never be as fully diverse as the outside world. Truly diverse thinking requires inviting and including the rest of the world in your process as much as possible.
Can you share an example of how a brand embraced diversity to bring forth innovation?
Within PepsiCo Design, we have embraced diversity as a way of thinking and working from the beginning. Diversity is our mantra. In our U.S. Design Center, we have 35 different nationalities, a mix of 46% women and 54% men, as well as a variety of political affiliations, religious beliefs, sexual orientations and behavioral styles all well represented. A few years ago, we created a team of women designing for women, hiring experts in the field such as Erica Eden and Susan Gornell, who have been promoting such approach in many of the projects we are driving. Within the culture of the organization, in design and beyond, they are recruiting women to the team and building the right environment for men to better understand the world of women.
One brand at PepsiCo that has directly embraced diversity is LIFEWTR. With every series, LIFEWTR provides a premium bottled water experience by fusing creativity and purpose to serve as a source of inspiration and hydration. Focusing on ‘Diversity in Design’ for Series 6, the brand highlighted how diverse perspectives can enhance our collective cultural experience through the work of the three emerging fashion designers who use design as a medium to express diverse backgrounds, share original perspectives, and inspire positive change. Through an ongoing partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), these young designers were able to show their collections during New York Fashion Week.
What are some of the dangers of actively seeking diversity and inclusivity in marketing programs and projects if you get it wrong?Advertisement
If you get it wrong, you end up damaging your brand. An inauthentic diversity effort is obvious to consumers and we see it backfire all the time.
How can brand leaders prepare to prevent missteps when seeking to include more diversity in thought?
Brand leaders can build the right culture within their teams, with diversity as a way of thinking and not a marketing or design strategy. If you have the right way of thinking and you include a diverse set of people to co-create with you, then there is a high probability that you will get it right.
How can brands correct after making a misstep?
Brands simply need to manage the misstep with transparency in front of consumers, admitting the mistake and then learning from it. If that misstep was done starting from an authentic place–believing in the right purpose but simply executing it in the wrong way–they should stay the course and keep investing in that purpose, learning what went wrong and modifying execution appropriately in the next iteration. Instead, too many times, a misstep dissuades a brand from investing in the direction that is the right one in the long term. Don’t let a misstep stop you from doing what is right for you and for your brands.
Can diversity be a driver for innovation or is diversity primarily a social agenda?Advertisement
Diversity is more than a social agenda. Diversity of thinking is an absolutely critical driver for innovation. There are minorities that have been discriminated against or neglected in the past many years and as leaders, brands and companies we need to do our best to give them an amplified voice and a seat at the table. That’s a social duty that we all have or should have. Still, diversity of background—race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.—is just one of the drivers of diversity of thinking. And diversity of thinking is the most important starting point to drive successful innovation. I encourage everyone, when talking about diversity, to go above and beyond the more traditionally considered criteria and think of it in the broadest terms in order to champion a truly diverse culture. This is the only way to drive real value for your innovation and brand building processes, and finally for your company. And it’s also the only way to authentically and sustainably embrace the more traditional and visible forms of diversity.
Anything else, you would like to share with the Brand Experience audience about diversity’s role in keeping brands innovative?
In the globally connected and social media driven society we live in, diversity of thinking, enabled by culture and amplified by collaboration, is the key to meaningful innovation.
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