Whether it is the Fearless Girl statue staring down the Wall Street Charging Bull or the introduction of the new Nike performance hijab for Muslim women athletes, the topic of diversity and inclusion will remain in sharp focus given a U.S. population that is becoming increasingly varied as each year passes. The issue is especially crucial for businesses since the complexities of gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation and sexual orientation affect every part of the modern workplace. After decades of chasing the “average” customer, smart communicators and marketers are gearing up for big changes.
Shifting Demographic Landscape
According to 2016 Pew Research Center findings, in 2055 the U.S. will not have a true racial or ethnic majority. Millennials will likely surpass Baby Boomers as the largest U.S. generation and already are the most racially diverse and most educated as compared to prior generations.
Pew findings also show that women’s roles in the labor force and in leadership positions are increasing. Mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner in 40 percent of households with children. As a result, the roles and responsibilities of mothers and fathers are now converging.
With regards to religious affiliation, the second largest religious group in 48 percent of the world’s nations is “unaffiliated.” It is predicted that the number of Muslims will equal the number of Christians across the world by 2050.
With all of these changes coming quickly to our global view, the needs for diversity in the workforce and an adjustment in an overall communications approach are critical for the future. First, we must define what diversity in the workforce means. Most understand it to mean race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. However in today’s world, diversity and understanding can extend much more broadly to encompass distinct experiences by generation, personality type, work history and thinking style.
According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who recently spoke about diversity and inclusion at his alma mater Auburn University, “The world is intertwined today, much more than it was when I was coming out of school. Because of that, you really need to have a deep understanding of cultures around the world. I have learned to not just appreciate this but celebrate it. The thing that makes the world interesting is our differences, not our similarities.”
Hiring Leads to Understanding
Cook’s remarks about a changing society are informed by his own experiences, both as an LGBT advocate and as a CEO of a global company that recruits heavily from the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, by 2018 the STEM workforce will be estimated at 8,650,000. Currently 84 percent of the U.S. working professionals in science and engineering jobs are Caucasian and Asian males. Recognizing the hiring needs looming, companies across the globe are making diversity and inclusion a point of emphasis. More and more are looking at a diverse workforce as an opportunity to gain a differential advantage.
According to Cook, this time in a 2015 interview with Mashable, “I think the most diverse group will produce the best product. I firmly believe that.”
It’s a view a growing number of business leaders share, reflecting that diversity and inclusion is no longer a “soft” issue, but a competitive necessity. It provides increased opportunities for innovation, improved storytelling and a greater understanding of the changing customer.
Changing Customer Profile
When businesses infuse values and practices that create a more profoundly respectful work environment, among the many benefits realized from their efforts are those focused internally on improving culture and acceptance of differences. However, the one that may have the most impact to the bottom line is around the customer.
As marketers, we have myriad ways to understand our customer. We develop demographic profiles by age, gender, income, geography, education, and more.
Yet, customers also have inner motivations that are powerful influences on their buying decisions. To shape communication strategies that create affinity and strengthen loyalty, marketers must take into account customers’ emotions, values and lifestyle preferences.
By analyzing essential statistics about the changing population and gaining deeper insights on the buying experience, marketers can improve the effectiveness of their communications strategy.
One recent campaign sponsored by Syngenta Crop Protection recognized a larger trend occurring in agricultural production. Through market research the company recognized important changes taking place among the customer population of farming decision-makers based on data and experiences. As a result of this discovery, the company embraced the trend as a key business and marketing strategy.
Embracing Changes to the Agriculture Industry
If you ask most people to imagine a farmer, many images come to mind. A ball-cap-wearing father and son working side by side in a cornfield. A lone man on a tractor, silhouetted against the rising sun. A seasoned farmer outstretching a weathered hand to a young grandson. These are iconic images we see over and over again to depict U.S. agriculture. However, these portrayals are no longer entirely accurate amid the changing face of agriculture.
The most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture in 2012 reports that women are the principal operators of 14 percent of U.S. farms, up 5 percent from 1978. The census goes on to report that women account for more than 60 percent of second and third operators. In total, there are one million female farmers in the U.S., representing nearly one-third of all of the nation’s farms. Looking ahead, researchers are expecting additional gains as an older generation of male principal operators retire and more women take charge.
As a result, the statistics suggest that companies marketing in the agriculture industry need to begin adjusting their messaging and overall communications to effectively address this shifting reality. Syngenta did just that by working with RFD-TV to sponsor a new television series called “FarmHer on RFD-TV.” The show series features women across in the U.S. who work in various capacities in the agriculture industry: producer, researcher, sales, media, and others. In addition to the show, the company developed an entire campaign around the topic, complete social media and digital, event promotion and internal communications efforts.
The results were tremendous. The FarmHer premiere set viewership records out of the gate. It debuted as the most watched rural life program for adult viewers on RFD-TV in more than two years.
In terms of impact to the sponsor, 2016 Syngenta market research revealed that that Non-Customers Affinity Index for the company increased by 7 percent. Company loyalty among non-customers increased by 1 percent, willingness to purchase went up by 1.3 percent and willingness to try a new product increased by 2.8 percent.
Preparing for a Changing World
The growing minority populations, expanding roles of women in various industries and influx of a new generation are significant factors changing society, which are also having a direct impact on the business landscape.
Companies are seeing success by capitalizing on these trends in changing customer demographics and experiences with authentic outreach. Research and insights are critical to determining those preferences and identifying the path forward. Access to different points of view through workforce diversity has also been key for innovating brand strategies by creating new narratives with relatable content that appeals to different audiences.
What communicators must help their business chiefs understand is that clinging to the notion of an “average” audience is not only antiquated thinking—it’s also the surest way to drive unexceptional business results.