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22.05.2024 By Rebecca Roussell, SVP of Inclusive Communications

Bridging the Gap to DEI.

Four panelist sit on a stage. From left to right: a white male in a Grey suit jacket, white shirt and jeans; A Black woman in a black blazer, white blouse and black skirt; a white woman in a black t-shirt and green skirt; and a Black woman in a flower dress. The backdrop of the panel is purple-hued banner that reads: BRIDGE24 Inclusion is Good For Business. There are screen to the left and right sides of the panel projection the panelists headshots and titles.

Four years ago, many businesses pledged to address systemic injustices against marginalized communities. Today, those commitments are being tested as budgets are cut and anti-DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) legislations are on the rise in over 30 states.  It’s a challenging time for the DEI industry, with resistance, risk aversion, and exhaustion among DEI professionals.

Earlier this month, I attended the second annual BRIDGE Conference in La Jolla, Calif. BRIDGE, stands for Belonging, Representation, Inclusion, Diversity, Growth and Equity . It’s an organization that aims to make inclusion  a standard business practice. This year’s conference agenda brought together DEI professionals, CEOs, CMOs and other corporate/business leaders to discuss the current DEI climate. As part of the experience, we also participated in cultural immersion activities, networking, and shared industry best practices for the DEI path forward.

The retreat ended with a special conversation featuring Dr. Clarence B. Jones, advisor and speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights activist, and author.

Here are some key insights from the conference.

Inclusion is Good for Business.

Inclusion is crucial to workplace culture, brand campaigns, communication strategies, and consumer engagement initiatives. Diversity and inclusion are intertwined. Inclusion is becoming the new metric in DEI, focusing on  moving from exclusionary practices to inclusive ones. It’s a team effort, requiring everyone to be on board. During the panel titled ‘How Change Happens: The Intersection Between Marketing, Business and DEI Practices,’ panelists spoke about this version of teamwork and how CDOs and CMOs must work together. Representatives from Discover shared how their DEI and marketing ensure all aspects of their creativestrategy, planning, and insights represent all their customers. “If you are serious about being a brand for everyone, you have to look through multiple filters,” said Jennifer Murillo, SVP Chief Marketing Officer, Discover.

Differences Make us Unique, not Deficient.

In addition to panels, there were sessions called BRIDGE Stories. Madison Tevlin, an actress, host, model, and advocate who has Down syndrome, shared her journey.  Tevlin has been told multiple times that she ‘can’t’ and that her disability would hold her back. But during her powerful speech, she provided all the many reasons why this just simply is not true and emphasized the importance of being intentional in connecting with and seeing underrepresented communities. Tevlin reminded us to see people for who they are—with a 360 lens—not letting our differences divide us. This is the essence of DEI. Tevlin also said she loves when people underestimate her because she thoroughly enjoys shattering their expectations, which got a resounding applause from the audience. She energized the entire room, and I was thankful to receive her energy that day. Among the multiple projects Tevlin is involved in, she shared a recent campaign for World Down Syndrome Day, ‘#AssumeThatICan, for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. Tevlin stars in the viral ad that is smashing assumptions, but also shining a light on inclusion for people with disabilities. Please take a moment to view it, linked here.

Change Does not Come Without Challenge and Resistance.

As communications professionals, we are preparing for another period of change that will be met with resistance. We need to guide our clients and stakeholders on how to navigate social issues  appropriately. Mindsets need to change in the aftermath of a global pandemic and protests of historic systemic injustices. With an election year on the horizon, global wars, attacks on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and the defunding of DEI program initiatives across country—all are dominating the news cycle. Last year’s repeal of Affirmative Action in college admissions and the recent dissolvement of the U.S. House Office of Diversity and Inclusion both fuel concerns for what lies ahead for DEI. Dr. Sesha Joi Moon, former Chief Diversity Officer, House of Representatives for the 117th and 118th Congress and Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law, New York University discussed what lies ahead given the current climate. Both talked about the need for continued education, discussion, and action during this time, while stressing the importance of togetherness to create solutions that will help foster change in the face of adversity.

Keep Going.

The conference ended with a conversation featuring Dr. Clarence B. Jones, advisor and speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights activist, and author.  He encouraged us to stay the course and keep going despite the challenges and setbacks. Listening to prominent storytellers like Dr. Joneshelps validate my purpose and  passion for advancing DEI. The road ahead will be tough, but this conference helped me connect with other professionals who are also fighting the good fight for inclusion and equity. Together, we will prevail and continue elevating our voices for the greater good.

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