How to improve the effectivenss of your DE&I campaigns.png

How to improve the effectiveness of your DE&I campaigns

What can we learn from the communications of the civil rights and feminist movements?

Agnes Meadows.png
Agnes Meadows Writer/Analyst
  • 4 minute read
  • DE&I

What does knowing about the history of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) have to do with producing thoughtful, targeted, and – that thing we all want – effective DE&I campaigns today? Well, DE&I’s roots in the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and ‘70s have a lot to teach us about backing up our words with actions to get the results we’re seeking.

Organisational commitments to DE&I have grown hugely over the last few years. And investment in DE&I efforts globally is expected to more than double to $15.4bn by 2026 from $7.5bn in 2020. So, as DE&I becomes integral to our communications, this is our moment to stop and reflect.

What are we aiming to achieve? And how can we get there more effectively? Ultimately, we believe you’ll find greater success if you shift your attention away from building a positive image for your organisation towards creating a concrete and sustained plan of action.

So why is DE&I becoming less effective?

The DE&I movement began in the 1960s, as part of civil rights and feminist campaigns. In its early days, the movement won a series of legislations in the UK that continue to shape our working lives today.  

For example, the 1976 Race Relations Act and the 1976 Sex Discrimination Act – now combined and expanded in the 2010 Equality Act – made it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race or sex in employment, education, training, and other key areas of public life.  

But today, DE&I campaigns aren’t bringing us the same results. The last 20 years have seen rapid expansion in DE&I efforts, but without the results to back them up.  

Research has found that the number of white women in management in the US only increased from 22% to 29% between 1985 and 2014. The number of Black men in these roles grew only 0.3% between 1985 and 2016 – that’s from 3% to 3.3%. And since 1955, there have been only 22 Black chief executives of Fortune 500 companies.

“We’ve lost focus on the original intent of anti-discrimination efforts.”
Lee Bollinger President of Columbia University

We’re doing a great job at talking about the issues, but our words aren’t consistently backed up by action. As the World Economic Forum put it, “existing DEI initiatives only expose discriminatory attitudes, but do nothing to mitigate their effects”.

We’ve gone from change-makers to image-shapers

One reason that we’re not seeing results might be the gradual drift from measurable, structural change towards a focus on image management and platitudes in the DE&I space. If we’re not careful, “DEI ends up a mere scaffold that does little to bring about actual, substantive change”.

“Educating oneself … will be meaningless unless leaders take the next step: investigating how their organisation’s culture has reproduced systems of oppression.”
Profs. Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas Harvard Business School

We can choose to shift back to action

Communications that aim to inspire change, and that commit to a plan of practical actions, will be more effective than those that aim solely to present a positive image of an organisation.  

So, let’s shift the focus back to action – where this movement began – by making sure that our communications are honest, accountable, and backed up by a measurable plan of structural changes.  

That means:  

  • Focusing on the outcomes that your communications can achieve – and not on the image you’d like to portray.  
  • Rooting your strategy in an honest evaluation of where your organisation is now and what needs to change.  
  • Creating and communicating your goals, which will need time, money, and attention to succeed.
  • Using your communications to stay accountable and build the momentum, by making an ongoing public commitment to action.  

And if you need help, work with - to create comms that inspire real change. From copy and art direction to social, digital and film, our experts are here to help you attract and retain diverse talent – in the right way.


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