While diversity, equity and inclusion saw renewed focus in the US after the murder of George Floyd, another element moving DEI forward is new US Census data underscoring the country's dramatic demographic shifts, writes US Commissioning Editor Cathy Taylor.

This article is part of the December 2021 Spotlight US series, "DEI in marketing: How it's progressing – and how it isn't.” Read more

There is so much work to be done towards DEI in the marketing industry that the subject needs continued commitment and revisiting. In that spirit, this Spotlight US: “DEI in marketing: How it's progressing – and how it isn't,” measures industry progress, and what it takes to maintain momentum even at times when the headlines move on. To that extent, this is a sequel to October 2020’s “WARC Guide to brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era,” which looked at issues surrounding diversity through the prism of BLM in the immediate aftermath of the racial unrest following the murder of George Floyd.

What’s changed since then?

Whether the issue is hiring and retaining talent, or how consumers respond to ads that feature diverse portrayals, the underpinnings of the argument for diversity – both in terms of staffing and marketing output – increasingly center on data. The pragmatism involved in presenting raw numbers certainly hasn’t replaced passion, but it’s the long march of statistics that are increasingly giving the passion its grounding.

Emphasis on the US Census

And it starts with the US Census, which is conducted every ten years. There is certainly no lack of statistics about the US’ slow, but inexorable, shift toward being a majority-minority culture, but nothing makes this point more resoundingly than US Census data, the most recent of which was gathered during 2020, and which is often cited by this Spotlight’s authors.

Some facts:

  • The “white, non-Hispanic” population is now under 60%, and 90% of population growth in the next 30 years is expected to come from non-white groups.
  • In 2020, the Hispanic or Latino population totaled 62.1 million, growing by 23% since 2010.
  • The US Asian population, while smaller, has grown the fastest, at 36%.
  • The Black population grew by 6%, while making up over 12% of total population.
  • 33.8 million people now identify as multiracial, up from 9 million people in 2010, a 276% leap.

Data such as this underscores virtually every trend in this Spotlight. It also makes clear that – despite some positive momentum – media, marketing and advertising are lagging. With that in mind, here are the Spotlight’s main themes:

Why brands and media owners should invest in content that reflects diversity

US TV content is becoming more diverse, but as Robert Vélez, Senior Director/Multicultural at Vevo notes in this article, this content is more likely to be found on streaming platforms than on broadcast or cable.

But brands can be slow to adapt to unfamiliar media. Vélez cites a 2021 report from Nielsen and Spanish language media brand Univision that showed a decline in Spanish-language television buys, even though CPG brands with high investments had a 70% higher return on ad spend than brands with low investment.

US consumers want to see diverse portrayals in online ads, but brands don’t necessarily deliver

A study conducted earlier this year by Meta found that almost two-thirds of US consumers expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in their online advertising, but 53% “feel they do not feel fully represented in online advertising today.”

But despite some brands being slow to act, the authors write: “We found that campaigns on Facebook with more diverse representation tend to have higher ad recall compared with campaigns featuring a single traditional representation.” These ads also had greater brand lift.

Latinos, in particular, are becoming the US market

However, as the US becomes a more diverse culture, diverse groups are becoming part of mainstream culture and marketing.

In his article on marketing to Hispanic communities, Roberto Fonfría, founder of the agency El Autobus, notes, “As mainstream and Latin cultures mesh, it’s getting harder to differentiate one from the other.” Indeed, Fonfria cites a recent study that found that fewer Hispanic consumers care about brands recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month than do care about it – a sure sign of the mainstreaming of Hispanic marketing.

The marketing world doesn’t match demographic reality

Looking at how the marketing community is doing in hiring diverse talent is a sober juxtaposition to signs of cultural breakthroughs.

The good: Data released last month from the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and AIMM (Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing) showed almost 31% of those now employed in the marketing sector identify as being from a non-Latinx white group.

The bad: That number is still well out of line with population shifts, and representation gets much worse when looking at levels of responsibility. The report found that only 5% of senior marketers are Black, and only 8.9% are Latinx; Asian Americans held a disproportionately high number of high-ranking positions, 11.7%.

Agencies mirror brands. Data from Agency DEI, which focuses on using data to change diversity, found that whites disproportionately progress through agencies. Writes Co-founder Pam Yang, “Between each level of influence, white talent gains 4-9% in representation. Starting with 63% in the Professional level … white representation jumps to 84% at the C-Suite/Officer level.”

There are problems with hiring, and retaining diverse talent

As the marketing community looks to become more representative, much of the focus has been on hiring, but data also reveals stubborn problems for people from diverse communities in the agency world.

VMLY&R has found Black people are currently being approached by headhunters at 8.6x the amount of their white colleagues. “It’s encouraging that companies are looking to increase racial diversity,” the authors write, “But it’s one thing to increase diversity in a company and quite another to set up systems to empower and enable success.“

The agency world comes replete with cultural turnoffs, its research showed. Specifically, VMLY&R found that “Black people in advertising (and other adjacent industries) have worse relationships with their managers than white people do” which can lead to unconscious bias and inequities in appraisals, particularly in an industry where job goals and objectives can be unclear.

Building out a talent pipeline may start at the community level

There are many approaches on how to tackle these issues. One is the model of Huenited Collective, a group founded in Cincinnati by local marketing executives who are building out the infrastructure to bring diverse talent into its marketing community. Co-Founder Sean Ruggles explains it’s primarily a business imperative: “What we're talking about is an industry issue, in which we see the face of [the] consumer starting to shift demographically, at a much faster rate than our industry is prepared.”

Huenited’s is looking to bring scale to DEI efforts across companies, and has hopes that its concept can spread to other markets facing similar issues.

To be truly equitable, there’s a need for Diversity Operating Systems

All of the issues raised in this Spotlight ladder up to a more encompassing truth – that diversity needs to be infused into the marketing industry rather than cobbled on. Davianne Harris of sparks & honey writes: “Instead of solely building diverse teams, we need to build Diversity Operating Systems that embed equity into the daily rhythm of the work product and experience.”

That’s a long project, but as the data shouts, it’s an imperative one.