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The CMO’s Unique Responsibility for Diversity and Inclusion

By Jay Wilson | January 08, 2021 | 55 Comments

marketingMarketing Organization and Talent

Our sixth annual  Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo wrapped up just over a month ago, but it already feels like a lifetime has passed since over 3,300 CMOs and senior marketing leaders gathered for our first entirely virtual conference.  Heck, yesterday feels like a month ago.

Before the conference fades too far in our memories, I wanted to call attention back to what I consider one of the most important of over 60 sessions we delivered in December. Anna Krasniewska, Practice Vice President and Global Advisory Services Leader for our Human Resource Practice, delivered a compelling case for the unique role CMOs play in helping advance their organizations’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

Anna aptly made the case that CMOs must double down on DEI efforts in order to compete in today’s market and improve business performance.  This is first and foremost an imperative because it’s the right thing to do.  But if attendees were looking for more reasons to do the right thing, they got them from Anna’s presentation.

Gartner predicted a year ago that 75% of organizations with frontline decision making teams reflecting diversity and an inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets.  And CMOs are certainly on the frontlines, serving not only as the voice of their brands out to the world, but also shoulder the responsibility of bringing the voice of their consumers into the organization to affect positive change.  A recent Gartner study showed 40% of Americans report that they have researched a brand’s DEI efforts prior to making a purchase, and of those, a quarter decided against making that purchase based on what they found.

Especially in light of Black Lives Matter, which gained mainstream momentum over the summer of 2020, with 72% of consumers supporting the cause behind the movement, many brands were quick to make public statements of support. Those statements are important, but they lack resonance if an organization isn’t taking the right actions internally.  60% of consumers say that a brand should only talk about DEI if they have strong practices internally.    Thus, a CMO may find herself in the unique position of needing to tell a CEO or Board that until the organization does the right thing internally, it’s better to stand down and focus inward first.

With this insight comes responsibility – to ensure our marketing teams are actively hiring and developing a diverse talent mix, fostering an inclusive work environment, and to take a critical look at our suppliers – from agencies and production houses to marketing technology vendors.

Anna noted that this matters even more for marketers because of the increasingly diverse nature of our audiences.  By 2055, the U.S. will have a majority-minority  population.  Consumers increasingly prioritize the value of inclusion.  Multicultural diversity is geographically dispersed – for example,  the Asian-American population has grown by 136% in Georgia since 2000.  In-group diversity is critical to understand, for example the US Latino population is made up of many different groups with diverse values.

Homogenous marketing teams cannot be expected to empathetically and effectively communicate to these increasingly diverse audiences.   It is incumbent on CMOs to leverage their power and their platforms to affect change, given their ability to influence hiring, media spend, internal stakeholders, and external partnerships.


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