Intentions versus intentionality

The marketing industry talks a good diversity and inclusion game, but good intentions aren't enough.

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference where white men were the minority. As if that wasn’t novel enough, every panel discussion was dominated by diverse experts.

The three keynote speeches? Not a caucasian amongst them. Thank you, by the way, to General Colin Powell, actress America Ferrara and former President Barack Obama for inspiring us all.

Was I in nirvana? Had I made it to a #haveherback heaven where the goals of diversity and inclusion were finally fully realized?

No, I was living in the real world...well, the real world as curated by the National Diversity and Inclusion Conference in Dallas; a gathering where diversity and inclusion is intentional.

Intentionality is defined by Webster as the fact of being deliberate. Being intentional takes work. It takes vision. It takes commitment.

An intention is defined as an aim or a plan. Intentions are less structured, less concrete  and therefore hold people less accountable.

What’s really needed to drive change is to have good intentions that are carried out with intentionality. I saw that brought to life at this conference.

I was lucky to be among the more than 50 attendees sent by Golin and our sister agency Octagon, both sponsors of this year’s conference.

And after three days of incredible speeches, panels and discussions ranging from the "future of leadership" to "laws" to "language that furthers diversity and inclusion," I am emboldened.

I was thrilled to see companies of all kinds, from the largest in the world like Amazon, to local law firms and hospitals, hashing this out together.

It’s not easy. Even President Obama said he struggled with diversity and inclusion in his administration until he made it clear to all that he was intentionally looking for perspectives from diverse and female experts, voices too often unheard in our government.

The people sadly absent from most of the conference were marketers. While companies of all sectors and sizes were there, in most cases it wasn’t the marketing or communications talent; a giant miss by our industry.

All companies in all sectors do some form of marketing and advertising. And because creative and marketing leadership is still largely white and male, we continue to see marketing missteps that are either tone-deaf or offensive to a segment of the general market, which is now decidedly and profoundly diverse.

A case in point was the news, which broke the weekend before the convention, that Beyoncé had walked away from a deal with Reebok telling their staff: "Nobody in this room reflects my background, my skin color and where I’m from and what I wanna do."

Instead, she signed a deal with Adidas.

Later that week, Ancestry.com released a commercial that angered many for its depiction of a white man rescuing his black girlfriend during what looked to be the antebellum south. The ad essentially romanticized slavery. After much backlash, Ancestry.com apologized and pulled the ad.

I am a betting person. And I would bet big money that Adidas is intentional about having a workforce that is diverse and inclusive but Ancestry.com? Not so much.

But let’s not kid ourselves – these two examples are not unique. What is sadly unique is that as an industry, we continue to anoint leaders and creatives exactly the same way we always have – from cultures rooted in two things almost exclusively: white and male.

So yes, while the marketing industry talks a good game about diversity and inclusion, the fact is it needs to stop simply having good intentions and start acting with intentionality.

I’ve seen what intentionality looks like with the impact we’ve made so far with #haveherback. And while we will never stop pressuring our industry to have cultures that allow women to thrive, we must expand our remit and have the backs of all.

Intentionally.

Caroline Dettman is Golin's chief creative and community officer and is based in Chicago.

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