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The events of 2020 have sparked an awakening, and people's eyes are open wider than ever to the disparities that persist from structural racism, institutional bias, identity discrimination and socio-economic inequity. But leaders are realising that investing in diversity and inclusion (D&I) within their organisations can have a positive outward impact with audiences. 

As part of ‘The Experience Advantage’ half-day festival, Yusuf Chuku, global chief strategy officer at VMLY&R, spoke with leading marketers from Conagra Brands and BP about the importance of diverse teams for great customer experience--and how to set a new, inclusive agenda for experience desgin and cognitive diversity.

Making investments in D&I starts with empowering the individuals within your organisation, according to DeLu Jackson, vice-president of precision marketing at Conagra Brands. “You can have an impact when you’re really focused on empowering the individuals within the organisation to take their superpowers and impact communities,” he said.

The same is true for BP, which is in the midst of a company reinvention around its purpose to become a net-zero company by 2050. D&I is at the heart of this restructure, as Nicola Buck, the energy company’s senior vice-president of customer value proposition and experience, explained. “First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do for the world,” she said. “But more than that, it’s the right thing to do for our customers. We have a hugely diverse customer base, so making sure our teams represent those consumers is the right way to get truly differentiated offers that we know they want from us. It makes great commercial sense to put diversity at the heart of everything we do."

The importance of ‘lived experience’

Guido Orgs, a behavioural scientist and senior lecturer at Goldsmiths University of London, noted that areas of study historically limited to the social sciences can change the way leaders invest in their teams: the importance of 'lived experience'.

“It is very different being a gay man or a person of colour,” he said. “Knowing that from the inside out is a very different experience than knowing something about that subject. In the context of leadership and consumer experience, incorporating that first-person point of view is important across all structures and in all areas.”  

Having diverse talent and bringing those lived experiences and perspectives into an organisation is the first step in gaining a deep understanding of diverse audiences. But creative teams also need to be diverse to bring new ideas and challenge biases, using their lived experiences to deliver messages, offers, products and services that audiences will connect with.

“On the one hand it’s a challenge for businesses because, in the cost-constrained environment in which we operate, there’s a desire for consistencies, efficiencies and doing things once and well,” said Buck. “At the other end of the scale, you recognise that if you take that ruthless approach to doing things once in a certain way, you’re going to miss a whole host of opportunities in really reaching your target audience.”

D&I recruitment requires a different mindset

In recruiting and growing the right talent, businesses need to make a conscious choice to approach talent in a new way, said Buck. “It requires companies to break down their traditional views of the roles people play. You have to let down your barriers, recognise what people are good at and put them in the right squads to utilise their skills and open your mind up to this notion of creating ‘team of teams’ – it’s a whole different resourcing model.”

“It’s about creating the mechanisms for people to contribute in meaningful ways outside of their functional roles,” added Jackson. “In the ‘team of teams’ structure, the consumer is at the centre, and we learn, teach and coach each other how to be effective in delivering the best outcome. It allows them to evolve and find new paths for themselves in an environment where people feel they are having a positive impact, which increases retention.”

Diverse viewpoints lead to better CX

Another scientific term moving into the mainstream is decolonisation. In the context of CX, Orgs explained that: “Decisions are being made, typically and historically, by white, straight males from western backgrounds. If we want to get to an inclusive understanding of customer experience, we need to ask questions from a different viewpoint.”

This can have practical implications for market segmentation and focus groups, as many marketers won’t be aware of segments that exist in society that they never have contact with. “If I’m in a decisive position in market research or design experience and don’t have people in my team who share that lived experience, then I will never find those segments," Orgs said.

Having open and honest conversations with diverse groups of people is the trigger to helping people break out of the mould and encourage them to start to think differently, which can “unlock all sorts of other ways of thinking differently in terms of innovation, offers, how you go to market, CX,” according to Buck. “It’s beneficial for everybody. We have to make conscious choices and drive empathy around that and embed it within our CX thinking, both in how we build diverse teams to represent our customers and the offers that are going to differentiate in the future.”

Watch ‘The inclusion experience: moving at the speed of trust’ on demand here.