Discussion on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education Marketing
What does diversity, equity, and inclusion look like for marketers and how do marketers genuinely reflect and represent these values of their higher education institutions? This is a research topic that was suggested to me by my friend and colleague, Christina Todd, and one that has really been at the forefront of my mind since the first day of working in marketing over a decade ago.
Day one in the marketing office you were expected to learn AP style so you could punctuate and correctly space every mention of time with ‘a.m.’ consistently; know the difference between an em dash and en dash and when to use it; the brand’s hex color values; and required to represent diversity in each photo. It was law and we did our very best to uphold this value. Although this is an efficient approach to systemizing and assuring standards are met especially with new members to the team, I couldn’t help but feel the authenticity and genuineness were lacking.
It was like casting for Captain Planet at each photoshoot or on every graphic design project.
I didn’t know why we couldn’t walk into any classroom or down any hall to immerse ourselves in true diversity. The students at the college came from all walks of life and there are endless stories of perseverance, grit, and encouragement. Why couldn’t we tell these stories in a truly authentic way to really celebrate our differences—for real?
Uncertain as to where to go from here I turned to my friend Julie Retizi who is one of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion managers for my institution. Julie mentioned, “she runs into a misnomer about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work, as being designed to dictate that we act a certain way, or that it encourages groupthink. She suggests quite the opposite is true. Conducting ourselves professionally at work and school is expected, but the goal for DEI is to create and support an environment where everyone can be themselves.” She emphasized, “those organizations doing well with DEI have people who feel like they can be themselves and those differences are seen as a benefit not just something to tolerate.” This is a mind shift from our systemized mandatory approach of dictating that we all follow a rule to maintain a sense of control. As a marketer, I knew we could do more to meet the objectives in relating to our diverse audience.
Authenticity is the Secret Sauce
A successful marketing campaign reaches the intended audience by relating to them, presenting them with a solution to their problem, and gaining trust. Brands can’t fake authenticity. 90% of Millennials say brand authenticity is important and prefer ‘real and organic’ over ‘perfect and packaged’. People can distinguish between customer-created content and brand-created content 70% of the time (Cassidy, 2017). Julie advises that, “having a range of different identities represented is a step towards being inclusive, but it isn’t going to automatically translate into that climate of inclusion and genuineness. It takes some vulnerability and trust to be authentic. It can feel like more of a risk for some more than others.” She emphasized, “culture work is so important as people need to know it’s safe and are valued to feel a sense of belonging.”
If someone is doing awesome things and is unapologetically themselves, that’s something that people can connect too.-Julie Reitzi
Julie encouraged marketers to, “remember there are many facets to identity. Race/ethnicity and gender may be very salient for lots of people, there are many ways we identify with ourselves such as parental status, socio-economic status, age, country of origin, military experience, [dis]ability, first generation in college, and more can be powerful group identities as well. Representing these other types of diversity, in a genuine way, could build connections to the brand you may not immediately expect.”
Share stories in a way that doesn’t objectify the person, but rather, amplifies their voice.-Julie Reitzi
Let Them Tell Their Story
“We also know as a community college that a number of our students may face challenges and barriers outside of the classroom that can interfere with their studies: family obligations, work schedules, resource insecurity, and more. Highlighting the stories of real graduates or employees in the organization who have overcome similar barriers and been successful can be really impactful. It humanizes the college, and doing so also could help prospective students see themselves here, and help current students persist even if things are tough.”
Hearing someone’s experience from them in their own words is so much more powerful and genuine than telling it for them.-Julie Reitzi
With Julie’s last encouragement, to hear from someone in their own words, my mind when directly to my friend Broderick Nixon who shared his story with the college about 4 years ago. He is a worldwide business owner and a recent graduate of Sam Houston State University. I have never met anyone who embodies enthusiasm and genuineness as much as Broderick. I remember being so excited when he shared this video with his friends and family on social media. His authenticity and optimism are always on point and the video reached a large following of people outside of our college social media networks. It felt great being genuine. We didn’t care about the likes and shares on our business pages—this wasn’t about our vanity metrics it was about Broderick. I wanted to share his story with you as the best example of someone who is unapologetically authentic as it gets.
Broderick Nixon’s Story
It is my hope that education can positively impact someone’s life and the life of their family in what I do every day. Education has been a powerful launching pad to me in my life. Telling these true passionate stories, reach people from all walks of life and help them uncover a path to a better life. All the best on your journey.
How has education helped you in your life? I’d love to know more about your journey or your thoughts on the topic of DEI in marketing. Drop a comment in the box below. Let’s chat.
Brandy Beucler, Julie Reitzi, and Broderick Nixon
Videographer | Editor
Cassidy, P. (2017, November 21). Survey finds consumers crave authenticity – and user-generated content delivers. Social Media Today. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/survey-finds-consumers-crave-authenticity-and-user-generated-content-deli/511360/
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