Gender Equity has become a top business issue. Companies are discovering their employees and potential employees want more than just state-of-the-art work environments and free lunch; what they really want is greater diversity, inclusion and support. These organizations are also learning that by delivering on these ideals they can actually gain a higher return on investment. This correlation between diversity and higher returns was actually documented in a recent report from McKinsey & Co sponsored by the Lean In Foundation. The researcher found that companies performing in the top 25% for gender, racial and ethnic diversity were more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians. This means that diversity, inclusion and gender equality have viable effects on a business’s bottom line. So, how can you make your company a more equitable workplace and your business an employer of choice?

Advancing Your Diversity Efforts

In the same report, McKinsey advises four steps to advance a company’s gender diversity efforts and create a fairer, more inclusive work environment:

  1. Communicate a compelling case to your employees for gender diversity. Use tactics such as storytelling, information graphics and frequent communication.
  2. Ensure that hiring, promotions and reviews are all fair.
  3. Invest in more employee training, helping employees understand what steps they can take to achieve equality and work to improve their company.
  4. Focus on accountability and results.

Steps 1 and 3, making a compelling case through storytelling, data and communication; and investing in employee training to educate your workforce, are two of the most important steps for internal marketing, employee communications and recruiting—all areas that help define an organization and its values.

Defining and Implementing the Right Tools: Employee Training and Education

Earlier this year, I became co-chair of AIGA (the professional organization for design) Women Lead, an initiative created to connect, celebrate and cultivate the achievements of women in design. Our leadership includes Su Mathews Hale (President, AIGA, co-chair emeritus), Deborah Adler (co-chair emeritus) and Jill Spaeth (my current co-chair). We recently launched one of our largest initiatives to date, the Gender Equity Toolkit. The Toolkit is a program that addresses gender equity concerns and can help companies of all industries and sizes achieve a greater understanding of gender-based issues in the workplace. The Toolkit has been informally tested in environments ranging from tech companies to the United Nations and has already started gaining traction within many organizations.

The development of the Toolkit began in 2015 when we engaged Dr. Leyla Acaroglu of Disrupt Design, to conduct the research and lead the analysis that provided the framework and concept for our team’s collaboration.* The research revealed several key findings, but most important, we learned that both men and women are both struggling with gender-based stereotypes and expectations that affect career advancement. However, women are consistently at a disadvantage—office structures and unconscious biases regarding leadership tend to favor men and masculine behavior, qualities that, when adopted by women, lead to negative connotations and feedback.

To test and further research our program, AIGA held five workshops around the US supported by the local chapters. At the New York City event, attended by both men and women, we witnessed not only enthusiastic participation, but also, individuals who were startled by their own unconscious biases. Needless to say, the exercises started many discussions including: Men who expressed their desire to spend more time with their children; men who felt too much pressure to be “the breadwinner”; and women who realized they were using passive language that undermined their authority in the workplace.

Communicating through Responsive Branding

The key takeaway from this research and the iterative design process was empathy. Social scientists and psychologists tell us that empathy is the key ingredient in fostering human connection, which is a pillar of a successful workplace and workforce. However, as we know, changing long-held belief systems and forcing empathy is very difficult. The only way to achieve this is to create more avenues and opportunities for people to connect, and to see workplace roles and expectations from different perspectives. When we develop stronger connections, our communication becomes more powerful and effective.

Creating compelling rhetoric and narratives around empathy and gender roles is not difficult. But gaining and holding audience attention is. In this 21st century hyper-media environment we need to devise new tactics that drive authentic engagement that elicit meaningful response.

Communications professionals with responsibility to contextualize a brand through recruiting and employee communications, have to be audience focused, and use delivery channels, in new and innovative ways. Brand leaders dominate because they understand how emotionally driven concepts amplify any message. Companies competing for top talent need clear and well-thought out communication that makes the effective argument for diversity, inclusion and most importantly, career development.

Our approach, here at Decker Design is called Responsive Branding. Responsive Branding is an organizational creative platform that can support an entire campaign with a consistent voice, persona, value, and look and feel. It is ideal for creating marketing and communication programs that are dynamic, yet cohesive. It is a way of thinking that responds to the changing nature of the marketplace and allows for a high level of creative adaptability, targeted to audiences and media. Responsive Branding offers marketers an approach that embraces creativity, leverages media fragmentation and eschews uniformity.

We used this approach to successfully advance a recruiting and diversity effort for White & Case’s North American Recruitment Program. In this business challenge, the law firm wanted to be the employer of choice amongst top talent, but wasn’t sure how to promote themselves in an authentic and engaging way for their audience. Previously, the firm had a reputation amongst law students as lacking diversity, little access to mentorship and poor work/life balance. After a lengthy discovery, the Decker team found that current associates loved the firm, citing all of the qualities the prospective audience was seeking in an employer. Our recommendation was to allow the associates to speak in their own words about life at the firm—on camera. We created a library of over 70 short videos that supported and amplified the numerous reasons to work at White & Case: The brightest talent, career training, visionary leadership, diversity, reputation, summer abroad and international period. Our ultimate goal was to communicate clearly, concisely and honestly. Lending an insider’s perspective also demonstrated empathy for the audience’s concerns.

Choosing one’s summer associate assignment launches a career path, and bears great importance. It is a stressful time for students who have loan debt and worry about making the wrong decision. Using the current associates as brand ambassadors was so strong that it allowed us to repurpose and recast assets for event programming, and for print and social media channels —all reinforcing our core message—employer of choice.

Not only did the program and especially, the video shorts resonate with students, they were also meaningful to parents, who were often involved in their son or daughter’s decision. By pivoting the campaign’s focus from the firm’s internal dialogue to the issues mattered most to the audience: diversity, mentorship and work/life balance, we were able to make a strong and lasting connection.

The recruitment campaign was so successful that the firm received more than four times the response from the prior year and was able to create a summer associate class from the best candidates. The use of Responsive Branding allowed White & Case to stay true to their brand values, and create many layers of communication while authentically speaking to their target audience demonstrating their values, culture and benefits as an employer.

Making it Work for Your Company

To ensure your company’s success and growth, you must attract and retain the best talent, and to do that, you must be considered an employer of choice. That means being open, supportive and empathic towards diversity and equality and promoting and educating those values in thoughtful and highly communicative ways.

Below are the steps you can take to make these strategies work for your company:

  1. Create a strong conceptual platform to build your campaign on.
  2. Using both storytelling and data for maximum impact.
  3. Reinforce messages through different media channels. Use Twitter and Facebook to drive traffic to longer form communication.
  4. Conduct frequent employee education and support through workshops, town halls and internal communications efforts like newsletters, internal events and tool kits.
  5. Create viable and supportive environments for this information such as: microsites, white papers, events, and even social media platforms like YouTube and Snapchat.
  6. Reinforce your firm’s accomplishments and endeavors to the masses in an appropriate way through long-form publishing platforms such as Medium.
  7. Consider public relations: both paid and non-paid media are useful.
  8. Employees that have the talent and ability to speak at conferences or to serve as public ambassadors will put a human face on your brand.
  9. Don’t forget your alumni network. Create ways for people to maintain connections with the firm and co-workers. Having your firm listed on a resume should be a point of pride.

Social and cultural initiatives are extremely important, especially to the millennial generation. Talented individuals have a lot of choices in today’s market, so creating vibrant, thoughtful and directed communications programs to promote your company’s achievements, investments and progressive work allows your brand to stand out amongst the competition.

If you would like to talk about these issues further, or learn more about how Responsive Branding can help you achieve your marketing objectives, please contact us.

*AIGA Gender Equity Toolkit is a collaboration of AIGA and Disrupt Design. Adler Design generously contributed the visual and graphic design.