Three simple steps to make your communications more inclusive

Three simple steps to make your communications more inclusive

As marketing and communications professionals, we’re increasingly expected to be conscious of diversity and to represent a broad range of people from all backgrounds in our work.

And yet, while creative industries are eager to portray a more diverse society, we’re still a long way from reflecting the world in all its wonderful complexity.

So what are the barriers getting in the way?

At Creativebrief's recent event, an amazing array of speakers came together at BITE LIVE: Smashing Stereotypes to share their insightful stories of trial and error, success and failure, experiences and revelations in championing diversity. Here are some thoughts on the lessons we learnt at the Creative Brief event.

STEP 1. Admit it’s not easy

Let’s not pretend there’s a ‘quick fix’: it’s a journey that starts with admitting and owning uncomfortable truths about ourselves.

We hate difference 

One of the most powerful quotes of the day came from Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500: ‘There’s one tribal truth we have to own as human beings: we hate difference.’

We’ve survived the evolutionary process because we’re wired to recognise difference as a threat to our own kind, and these protective mechanisms of dealing with difference by eradication or assimilation are deeply ingrained in the human psyche.


Change hurts 

The good news is, we live in a society where hanging on to primal instincts is no longer needed for survival. Ready for the bad news? Letting go of established habits is so hard it hurts. Changing our default requires conscious effort, and pushing ourselves to let go of our egos to deliberately confront our assumptions can stir emotions ranging from mildly uncomfortable to excruciatingly painful.

Getting ‘the right thing’ wrong is scary

There are no templates on how to do it right. Is there even such a thing as the ‘right way’? Our reality is one of constantly shifting cultural norms, and the black-and-white certainty simply doesn’t apply anymore. Looking back at creative work from even just a few years ago can feel uncomfortable, as when society moves on, we’re not always equipped to adapt fast enough. Even the best intentions can backfire, and we’ve all witnessed awkward missteps by brands that fill us with dread of falling into similar traps.

STEP 2. Practice self-awareness

How can we overcome the limitations of our own experience to create work that truly reflects and gives a voice to the diverse society we live in?

Lean into what unites us 

Every one of us knows what it’s like to be an ‘other’, to feel excluded. We can’t fit in all the time, and although every experience of ‘otherness’ is different, recognising that it can happen to anyone can help us to relate to each other as human beings – even if we can’t fully grasp experiences that are outside of our own.

Acknowledge our blind spots 

Being aware of our fears and limitations is only the first step. We also need to let go of the (often unintended) arrogance in thinking that being aware is the same as being inclusive; that we’re now equipped with the tools we need to make the right decisions. Because in trying to fix things on our own we perpetuate the mistake of shutting out the voices of those we are trying to include.


Collaborate: reach out for help and actively listen 

Building diverse teams is an obvious answer but it’s not enough to bring them together. Getting the best out of diverse perspectives is a skilful art that needs to be practiced deliberately and consistently by everyone involved. Start by practicing active listening: asking questions and suspending judgement will open up minds and create powerful team synergies.

STEP 3. Don't overthink it

Take small steps

Making change is a lofty task, and the enormity of it coupled with the fear of getting it wrong can hold us back. But we have to remember that doing something is better than doing nothing, and recognise the value in trying to do things differently. If, on every brief, we thought about how we could include diverse perspectives in a genuine way, that would surely help move things on.

Don’t design for a ‘reference consumer’

Caroline Criado Perez, author of ‘Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’ spoke about a ‘reference man’ – a hypothetical model of an ‘average person’ who doesn’t exist but is supposed to represent everybody.

Thinking critically of our industry, aren’t we often designing for a ‘reference consumer’? In describing our ‘target audience’ aren’t we guilty of the very same thing?

Building more nuance into our approach, thinking on an individual rather than group level, and uncovering what real people think and feel would help us to create work that’s not only more inclusive, but more genuinely interesting and insightful, too.



Anastasia Pavlova

Planning Director

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