What does sustainability really mean and what is the importance of inclusive innovation?
Wanda Holopainen, Creative Mind
Values of Tokenism
Throughout my career in business and marketing as a young black woman, I have witnessed
companies talking about creating content to support the brand image. But is the content we
are creating truly in touch with the underlying values of the company and the operations?
As I have brought up difficult topics related to diversity representation and inclusion, it has
often resulted in conversation setup in which one is extremely defensive. Instead of reflecting
on things they might have missed and not considered due to the lack of diverse perceptions
around the table. Rather of listening and reflecting, brands often start to give justifications,
examples of the campaigns and pictures that they have done in the past that include minority
representatives. Is it a diverse company if diversity is only seen in the marketing materials or
if it occasionally takes part in a trendy movement? For me, this means, that it is only aiming
to gain likes and followers. Now, it is time to move from storytelling into companies
proactively driving for social inclusiveness in sustainability.
Social Inclusiveness in the Age of Sustainable Development
Can we say or communicate to the outside world that we are a sustainable company or a
brand if the three pillars of sustainability are not at the center of the operation? Marketing
tends to follow trends. Sustainability has been the mega trend on the lips of every marketer for a while now. However, often the conversations and communication about sustainability
highlight practices regarding economic and environmental pillars. Thus, neglecting on the
significant goal of sustainability to drive for social inclusiveness. In marketing, this stands for
the processes and level of participation of diverse groups in the creative process, from
strategy to execution.
As an entrepreneur focusing on social inclusiveness in marketing, I face hardening
conversations every single day. Rejections and dismissiveness of the topic more than I can
even count. Until this last week, most traditional companies in Finland still thought that there
was no need for such an issue of inclusiveness in the marketing of our socialist country. It is
unfortunate that it has required us to get to this global pandemic and war on equality to get
people and, most importantly, brands and companies to finally wake up to the importance of
social sustainability in business. But at the same time, this conflict is required for us to finally
have these conversations on the tables where change can be made. So, when we are reflecting on our actions as marketers, lets ask ourselves; what characters are highlighted in our communication efforts? Who are empowered to produce the stories we tell? Who are in
charge of innovating and creating the overall brand strategies to ensure that people are at the center of our communication team?
Data, Analytics, and Technology Enhancing or in the Way of Empathy
Participating in a broad range of seminars, trainings, workshops around the globe, and
reading industry articles and news daily, I have been astounded to see the extreme emphasis on data and technology. Especially when technology is one of the major forces driving inequality. We should have more measures and goals for social sustainability in an industry that has become so technology-centered. Thus, it is even more crucial to highlight social inclusiveness when it comes to data and technology. Moreover, by focusing on understanding our target audience and customers through data, we often isolate and distance ourselves from people and the emotions behind the data. But can we truly understand our target audience and what they want and need?
Marketers often rely on empathy, looking at a situation through someone elses eyes.
However, people experience different levels of empathy that affect our ability to look at a
situation from different perspective. Marketing and communication can create social change
through an understanding of social structures and humans. But how can we create change
through empathy and stories, when they are built on data and analytical insight? Are we wasting opportunities to create social change by using our time to understand
someones perspective instead of having a person in the house who lives through the
emotions every day? Should we invest more in impact-driven communication than look for
sales-driven strategies? My answer is yes. The short term goals will not ensure that you will
have a business to do marketing for in the long term if the social pillar of sustainability is not
considered. Mainly when the globalizing world of business operates around technology,
innovation, and profit. Variables that drive inequality.
Where does the Transformation Begin
Data and technology will not show the pain and emotions that a diversity representative or people of color experience in their daily lives. I am asking you, my fellow marketers, first to educate yourself and reflect on your actions before you stand with me and the black lives
matter movement for equality. So, before you put out any black boxes or other marketing efforts, you should know what you are standing for and why. Figure out the inner conflicts before creating marketing and communication about inclusiveness. George Floyd and the
rebirth of the black lives matter – movement is a platform for the internal dialogue. Just remember that you should not be afraid of conflict. Thus, conflict is required for transformation to occur. It is a dialogue and a process in which ones existing truths and
knowledge are challenged.
The Opportunity for Inclusive Innovation
It is time to reflect and proactively look for ways to learn about diversity as an individual and
as a team. Think about the steps that should be taken towards social inclusion. There is a
saying in sports that "champions are made when no one else is watching". This is not the time to jump on a trend to get more likes or more followers. It is time for internal work. How do we support diversity and innovation in the workplace and within the industry? How do our
actions affect the communities within the area of our operations? We should focus on how we can all move towards inclusive innovation to enable sustainable development. Lets have the conversations, listen to one another, learn proactively, reflect, support, and take
I challenge Finnish brands to reflect internally and to take part in the global #pullupchallenge
to show your numbers of black people as well as other minority representatives in your
leadership roles. Inclusiveness call for representation across the organization. This movement and these weeks are about making plans and setting strategies to enable the diversity you have in the house, to evaluate the culture you have in your organization and in your industry from a diversity perspective, and to think about what your brand is doing and how it affects the community and culture we operate in.