Sep 13, 2022

Diversity And Inclusion In Digital Marketing

by Digital Marketing Institute

Although corporations often espouse noble goals around the topics of diversity and inclusion, they need to move from sentiment into action and explore how to progress the narrative from a marketing exercise into something more cultural. This involves applying diversity and inclusion principles into not only their digital marketing content, but also into their day-to-day goals and activities.

Some companies do this by setting up dedicated task forces to promote diversity and inclusion. Others incorporate these principles into their mission statements and business objectives. And others make it an integral part of their business practices, such as refusing to interact with businesses that don’t adhere to these principles.

How can your company better promote diversity and inclusion? Let’s look at 5 key ways you can do it.

5 ways digital marketers can promote inclusion and diversity

Digital marketers can advocate for diversity and inclusion with their clients by:

  • Raising awareness
  • Understanding their audience
  • Adjusting their message
  • Gathering insights
  • Driving change

1. Raise awareness

Digital marketers have a crucial role to play in raising awareness about diversity and inclusion. This can involve including more diverse ranges of people in their ads, or it can involve creating ads that specifically target people who may previously have been excluded from mainstream advertising. The We All Win campaign by Microsoft is a good example of this. It specifically highlights the needs of gamers with disabilities, challenging people’s stereotyped images of gamers.

dmi video thumbnail

Join for FREE to access this video

Of course, not every company has Microsoft’s advertising budget! But even small companies can start a conversation around whether their advertising reflects the broad spectrum of modern society or whether it perpetuates outdated preconceptions. Obviously, the more diverse advertising is, the more people it will appeal to.

The Ad Council recently ran a series of PSA videos in the US to show that love has no labels. Its aim was to get people to think beyond traditional ideas of love and embrace its diversity. Underneath our superficial differences, we all look very similar behind an x-ray machine. Love includes all people.

dmi video thumbnail

Join for FREE to access this video

2. Understand your audience

The 20212 Bruce Springsteen Superbowl ad for Jeep divided viewers. On the one hand, the ad appeals to Jeep’s target audience, with its inspiring rugged landscapes, folksy feel, cowboy bravura, and musings about “a chapel in Kansas” that lies at the heart of America. However, the symbols used in the ad also alienated many people, who saw them as symbols of bigotry, fear, and division. Many people viewing the ad felt that it wasn’t speaking to them.

As a digital marketer, you need to find ways to craft your message so that it resonates with your target audience without, at the same time, excluding or alienating other people. Marketing must reach out beyond the core audience and embrace new potential customers.

3. Adjust your message

To reflect changing times and shifting demographics, companies often have to adjust their message to ensure it’s more in tune with the times. For example, life coach Kara Lowentheil has advocated on behalf of human rights, social activism, and issues such as sexual abuse. In the wake of Black Lives Matter, she started to adjust her messaging so that it would resonate more with women of color. She brings them into the conversation and ensures that her message speaks to them too. She has even created scholarships that are focused on Black indigenous people of color so that they can better advocate for themselves.

This shows how even a small business can lead the way in promoting diversity and inclusion.

4. Gather insights

It can be difficult for digital marketers to create truly diverse content if they are unaware of their own biases. As discussed below, it’s essential to develop self-awareness when aiming to be more inclusive in advertising.

It’s also important to gain greater insights into the brand you’re promoting. What makes the brand important to people? Look for the universal qualities that transcend race, color, gender, ability, and so on. Try to think beyond the labels and gain insights into how the brand could appeal to all people. For example, how could Jeep have ensured that its Super Bowl ad resonated with working-class black women in Florida?

5. Drive change

Often, digital markets respond to change, ensuing their messages are timely and relevant. However, they can also drive social change by exposing their target audience to opinions and insights that they may not normally be exposed to. We saw above how the Ad Council challenged people’s ideas about what love is, for example.

If you don't see the African American consumer market as a market that is viable for you, then you're not going to message to reach that market. However, if you want to grow your business and reach a broader audience, you have to be willing to drive change and bring those other audiences along you. Your brand needs to be reflective of what a diverse world looks like.

Consider how, in recent years, many organizations forged forward on social issues such as Black Lives Matter or the pandemic while politicians dithered and squabble. Nike’s Don’t Do It campaign was a good example of this. As the pandemic took hold, many companies proactively implemented and retained work-from-home policies to help reduce employees’ risks.  

4 ways organizations can promote inclusion and diversity

Organizations today are aware of the benefits of having a diverse workforce, and they aim to hire and promote people who can advocate for inclusion across the organization. Organizations as a whole can foster a diverse, inclusive cultures, but leaders, HR departments, and individual employees all have a role to play in driving change.

1. The organization

Organizations can promote diversity by:

  • Welcoming all people
  • Projecting an inclusive image

Welcome all people

Diversity isn’t just about race. It about respecting diverse belief systems, gender identity, sexual orientations, cognitive and physical abilities, and so on. Brands need to consider how they can welcome all people.

The Marriott hotel group, for example, uses it Empower Through Opportunity initiative to ensure greater diversity in its workforce and culture. And it partnered with the organization, equalpride in its #LoveTravels campaign to promote travel among the LGBTQ+ community. 

Project an inclusive image

One way that organizations can attract a diverse workforce is by ensuring that their website is welcoming to all people. Does the website imagery promote diversity or reflect outdated stereotypes?

Consider other ways that the organization’s image might be projected. What do the offices look like? What posters are on display? What images are used of people on away trips? The more inclusive the imagery, the most diverse a workforce the organization is likely to attract.

2. The leaders

Organizational leaders can promote diversity by:

  • Leading from the top
  • Being willing to change

Lead from the top

Promoting diversity and inclusion must be more than box-checking moments for corporations. It needs to be embedded in all aspects of culture, starting at the board level. By leading from the top, corporate leaders can model diversity and inclusion in their actions and decisions.

Be willing to change

Managers sometimes tend to hire or promote people who ‘look like’ them or share their opinions and outlooks. This can become self-perpetuating if a workforce isn’t diverse and people aren’t exposed to alternative perspectives. By diversifying hiring practices and trying to engage with excluded groups, organizations can ensure that they reap the benefits of diverse skills and attitudes.

Making this change can make some organizations uncomfortable. People must be willing to recognize the validity of other people’s experience and move beyond past notions that some races or groups are ‘superior’ to others.

For example, if a company wants to attract young talent, managers need to become comfortable with the idea that the smartest people on the team may be younger than them. Perhaps that team leaders will be younger than the people they lead. Or people may be working with people who have very different ideas to theirs. This can make some people feel anxious, but if everyone focuses on the success of the team rather than individual achievement, they can see that everyone wins when the team wins.

3. The HR department

HR departments can promote diversity by:

  • Adjusting with the labor market
  • Providing opportunities

Adjust with the labor market

If companies want to attract the brightest employees, they must be willing to change with the times. They need to understand what’s important to diverse groups of people.

Provide opportunities

Companies aiming to increase the diversity of their workforces obviously must provide opportunities for diverse people. This can involve becoming engaged with communities and societies and providing opportunities for people who might not be aware of the organization. Many companies – such as Santec – provide scholarships to create opportunities for diverse groups of people.

4. The employees

Individual employees also need become aware of some uncomfortable truths. We all have biases and preconceptions. We're all affected by the messages we have taken in from birth, from our families, and our environment, everything around us. How can we move beyond our biases and embrace diversity?

Employees can promote diversity by:

  • Becoming aware
  • Owning their mistakes
  • Embedding diversity in the culture
  • Creating a safe space
  • Educating others

Become aware

Developing self-awareness is an important step on this journey. To what extent do you gravitate towards people who are similar to you? Are you surrounding yourself with people who think differently to you and have different abilities to yours? Become aware of how the people around you can influence the decisions that you make.

This goes beyond simple virtue signaling (“Look at how diverse my friends are!”) or casually adhering to company guidelines. It involves reaching out to diverse people. Think about how your own preconceptions affect others and make them feel. Be open to being criticized, and call out behaviors that make others uncomfortable. It’s a continuous journey, one that must be lived every day.

Own your mistakes

Most people don’t deliberately aim to upset others. They are simply unaware of the impact of their words or actions. Biases have been developed over years and can take time to unlearn. And society has evolved rapidly in recent years and people have to get used to new social norms. People will make mistakes and unintentionally offend others.

If someone calls you out on inappropriate language or behavior, own your mistake, apologize for it, and learn from it. It’s not enough to protest that you meant no offence. If someone is offended, accept that you caused offense, even if it was unintentional. Be willing to learn.

Embed diversity in the culture

Leaders play a huge part in bringing diversity and inclusion into an organization, but every person has a role to play. Indeed, often employees can help educate leaders in diversity. For example, Expedia has a mentoring program that includes reverse mentoring, where the company leaders become the mentee. This 360 communication helps ensure that ideas flow through the organization, enlightening everyone and helping people to look at the company from a different perspective. Expedia also has affinity groups that advocate for different communities.

Create a safe space

Although organizations are responsible for nurturing their corporate culture, it’s up to employees to live that culture. Do your words and actions create an inclusive, welcoming space? Think about your office or personal workspace. Is there anything there that would intimidate people or make them feel uncomfortable?

Create a space, even virtually, where people feel comfortable voicing their concerns. Show a willingness to learn from your own mistakes and educate others. Although some organizations set aside dedicated offices where difficult conversations can freely take place, the entire work environment should feel like a ‘safe space’ for all employees.

Educate others

As well as educating yourself, you can educate others to enable them to the be more inclusive. These can be as simple as having open conversations with colleagues or encouraging others to share their experiences of prejudice. It could also involve an allyship training program that aims to ensure all employees understand the importance of diversity.

Leaders can drive these initiatives and model best behaviors, and make diversity a core business strategy, but individual employees need to work together and listen to each other to help them all become more inclusive. As individuals, we must continue to be curious and really work with those team members who aren't as open to new and different experiences than things that they've lived or grown up with.


To promote diversity in digital marketing, we need to raise awareness and alter the messaging. Be aware of symbols, look for commonality, and move past labels.

If companies keep hiring the same people, they’ll perpetuate the same biases. Create opportunities for diverse people to come into companies. Leaders can drive the change, so that it cascades through the organization. Reverse mentoring is a great way of also ensuring that change gravitates towards the C-suite.

Increasing individual self-awareness is another way to promote inclusivity and diversity. Listen to other people's experiences, however uncomfortable it is. Appreciate your own biases and look yourself in the mirror.

Note: this article was adapted from a roundtable facilitated by DMI in which a number of DMI members spoke openly about their experience as digital marketers dealing with issues around diversity and inclusion.

Upgrade to Power Membership to continue your access to thousands of articles, toolkits, podcasts, lessons and much much more.
Become a Power Member

CPD points available

This content is eligible for CPD points. Please sign in if you wish to track this in your account.