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Ep 1: Inclusion Isn’t Just Adding Seats to the Table

Welcome to Inclusion & Marketing, the show that’s all about giving you the skills and insights you need to win the attention, adoration, and loyalty of more consumers – especially those with differences that are often ignored by brands.

I’m your host, Sonia Thompson – a marketer and a person with a lot of differences. Let’s get to it.

Growing up, one of my favorite movies was The Five Heartbeats. I had the entire movie committed to memory, and more than 30 years later, some of the lines are still ingrained in my mind.

There was, “How does it feel to be me?” – an Eddie Cain Jr. classic. And of course, there was this gem, “Can’t nobody sang like Eddie Cain Jr.!” And then of course this classic line from Big Red, “My office hours are from 9 to 5.”

These are lines that any fan of The Five Heartbeats will say if you bring the movie up. But there was this one phrase – that was said a couple of times in the movie – that kept popping up for me when I was thinking about what many brands and business leaders do – when trying to include “diverse” consumers and team members: “Fall in line girl scout.”

In essence – JT, who was played by the actor Leon – which by the way, I love me some Leon. But basically, it meant “hey, shut up, come over here and get in formation with the rest of the group.”

And if you translate that line to how it’s often applied in business, it sounds like:

  • You can join us – as long as you stick with our current program
  • “This is the way we do things here”
  • “This is the way we’ve always done it”

The common theme here is don’t rock the boat. This is how we do things here. And it doesn’t work so well from an inclusivity perspective.

So I can hear people saying, “But Sonia – why is this an issue? We’re inviting more people to have a seat at the table.”

Inclusion isn’t about just adding seats to the table

Inclusion isn’t just about adding more seats at the table – and continuing to eat the same meal and following the same traditions. True inclusion is about making sure you do what you need to do to ensure everyone at the table feels like they belong.

It’s about acknowledging the ways we are different. And not expecting that one way – the existing way – will work for everyone.

So here’s a big mindset shift to sit with in your quest to build a more inclusive brand: One size fits all is a lie. It doesn’t matter what the label says.

When I was pregnant with Luna, I went shopping for some maternity clothes. I came across a pair of pants that said “one size fits all.” I was skeptical, but was in a hurry and in no mood to try things on, but I bought them anyway. When it came time to leave the hospital after Luna was born, I brought those pants – thinking they’d be comfortable for the ride home.

I could not fit them. They were way too small. I mean, granted, days after having a baby, I still had a belly. But ‘cmon, these one-size-fits-all maternity pants didn’t even fit a non-pregnant woman. It was a lie.

One size doesn’t work for everyone.

One color doesn’t work for everyone.

One way of doing things doesn’t work for everyone.

I follow a gluten-free diet for health reasons. And if you invite me to your dinner table, and every single dish has gluten in it – that’s not going to work for me. And I’m definitely not going to feel seen, cared for, or like I belong.

“But Sonia – come on, we invited you to our table. Fall in line girl scout.”

Nope sorry. I think I’d prefer to go to a different table. Actually, better yet – maybe I’ll stay at home. The customers you serve with differences – will feel the same way, if you try to “welcome them in” – and I’m throwing up air quotes here – with products, services, and experiences that don’t take into account their differences at all.

To be clear – the goal of inclusive marketing isn’t to serve everyone. That’s a tall order, and definitely not the expectation.

Rather, being inclusive, is about being thoughtful about making sure the people you’ve decided you want to serve, feel seen, cared for, and like they belong with you.

Here are some ways brands take a “one size fits all approach” that doesn’t work so well for consumers with differences:

  • Not featuring any women or people of color in your conference speaker line up or on your podcast
  • Designing online forms that don’t work for people who need to enter addresses in different formats than what exists in the U.S.
  • Not providing captions on video content, or not making transcripts available for audio content
  • Only making it so products and experiences are available in one language, even though there’s a decent population of people who speak another language in your area
  • Not planning for people who have food allergies or dietary restrictions in situations where food is involved

It’s worth noting – that taking a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t make you a bad person, or a brand that is intentionally trying to exclude people. However, the impact it has is less than ideal.

Take this approach to making your marketing inclusive

So how do you get to a point where you’re including more people – while making them feel like they belong?

Reimagine.

Reimagine what an experience could be like that works for all the different types of people you’re intending to serve.

Instead of just doing what you always do, expecting it to work for everyone — or doing what you always do, and then trying to adjust something at the end to “make it work” for people who have some form of difference — try a different approach. 

Anything other than reimagining your products, services, and experiences, will deliver less than optimal results, in making the people you serve feel like they belong.

So if you were having a dinner party – and you invited me, a gluten-free person. Instead of telling me when I arrive “hey Sonia, you can have the salad, and the green beans. But you should stay away from everything else”

— You would reimagine what a successful dinner menu would look like – that worked for all your guests, including me, the gluten-free person.

My family has reimagined more than a few meals at our holiday table. Macaroni and cheese is a staple. But these days – the macaroni that everyone eats – is made with gluten-free pasta. And its still delicious.

My parents don’t eat pork, so the collard greens are seasoned with smoked turkey.

Years ago I had a boyfriend who was a vegetarian. So when he was present at our holiday table, there was a version of stuffing that was made without meat.

What Reimagining Looks Like in Action

It was no issue for us to reimagine what the meals would look like – that enabled everyone at the table to enjoy their favorites, while taking into account our individual needs and preferences. No one feels like an outcast. We all feel like we belong.

Last year, retailer Old Navy unveiled their plans to be more size inclusive with a series of changes in the experience they deliver. 

First, they are making all of their womens’ styles available in every size, from 0-30, and XS – 4x.

Many retailers charge a higher price for larger sizes, citing more fabric as the reason. Old Navy has decided to offer price parity for all sizes, so a shirt in size 4 will be the same price as the same shirt in size 24.

They’ve also ditched their “plus size” section, opting instead to merchandise all sizes together.

Old Navy’s parent company, Gap Inc. said the change is about “reimagining the shopping environment in all stores and online to be more size inclusive, giving women everywhere the fashion and experience that they deserve.”

A few other changes in Old Navy’s “BODEQUALITY” effort – that’s what they call it, include:

  • Having mannequins in stores at various sizes. So if you’re in the store, you’ll see mannequins in sizes four, 12, and 18.
  • On the website, they are collapsing the “Women’s” and “Women’s Plus” section into one for all sizes to be showcased in one location
  • And they will also put their staff through extensive customer focused training to equip them to deliver and nurture an environment where every shopper feels like they belong.

When talking about all these changes, Nancy Green, President and CEO of Old Navy explained more about how the brand thinks about this new approach: “BODEQUALITY is not a one-time campaign, but a full transformation of our business in service to our customers based upon years of working closely with them to research their needs.”

The feedback on these changes from consumers seems to be positive thus far.

Ditch the one size fits all mentality. Instead reimagine what your full customer experience could be – one that works for everyone you serve.

Before we wrap things up, I want to leave you with another anecdote about what is possible when you reimagine. And we’re gonna go back to the movies to do it.

Growing up, another favorite movie of mine was Sister Act 2, with Whoopi Goldberg and Lauryn Hill.

In this movie, Whoopi takes a group of inner city kids from her school to a big regional choir competition. The kids think they don’t have a chance – because they are so different from everyone else there. 

But at the last minute, Whoopi’s character tells them to lean into what makes them different, and gets them to use it as a form of strength in their performance. And ultimately – SPOILER ALERT – they won the competition.

They reimagined what a choir performance could look like – and designed one based upon the people they had at the table. They leaned into what made them different, and as a result they delivered a performance and experience that was unique and so much better than anything out there.

That’s the power of differences. Of diversity. 

When approached with the right mindset – it has the capacity to have a multiplier effect that makes a big impact on the people you’re serving, the products, services, and experiences you deliver – and of course your business results.

REIMAGINE what is possible for your brand to deliver along every part of your customer journey. It will change everything for the better. 

That’s it for this episode. 

If you’d like more information on how to get started building your inclusive brand that wins the attention, adoration, and loyalty of more consumers — grab my Inclusive Marketing Starter Kit. Head on over to inclusivemarketing.co/starterkit to get it.

And if you liked this episode, I would so appreciate it if you would share it with a friend, and even rate and review it in your podcast app of choice. It’ll help get the word out so others can get going delivering inclusive experiences.

Until next time, remember: everyone deserves to have a place where they belong. Let’s use our individual and collective power to make sure more people feel like they do.

Somebody’s waiting on you.

Thanks for listening.

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