Corporations spend plenty of time talking about diversity, but many of them are having the wrong conversations. It’s true that there aren’t enough women or ethnic and racial minorities in C-level positions, but there’s more to diversity than filling top-level jobs with token employees. It’s time for corporations to really think about why they need underrepresented groups to lead them. More and more of those groups are moving into the position of super-consumers, a change that means corporations will have to redefine the way they work, from hiring decisions to branding and marketing.
So-called “minority” groups will make up over half of the population of the United States by about 2040, but most of the country’s corporations are still using an overwhelmingly white and male consumer model. If companies want to stay relevant, they’re going to have to learn about different consumer groups. The current technique involves dividing the country into many different consumer segments, instead of blending general marketing to cover a wider range of groups. The term “diversity” has become associated with this type of division, causing business and government officials to view it as an inconvenience.
Historically, while America was called a “melting pot,” the reality for most foreign-born residents involved conforming to a “traditional” American lifestyle and thought process. Minorities who choose not to assimilate are often viewed with distrust and aren’t considered “true Americans.” This way of dealing with minorities has now become unsustainable, but many corporations view groups outside this mindset as a threat. They refuse to accept the fact that these people are becoming the country’s new super-consumers.
The habit of marginalizing new groups by default encourages quotas, tokenism and other false diversity. Sports writing’s treatment of Jeremy Lin, among other recent events, illustrates this behavior effectively. It’s only by truly embracing diversity and seeking to understand other groups that companies will really be able to succeed. It’s time for the business paradigm to encompass the cultural values of everyone, so that America can truly be united. Excluding or isolating new groups reduces the number of opportunities available and keeps us from being really innovative.
Women and minorities aren’t just following the dominant consumer paradigm anymore, and it’s changing how many brands do their marketing. Unfortunately, most efforts to change brand communication aren’t doing it well. Companies are miscalculating, relying on inappropriate stereotypes, and actually insulting the consumers they want to encourage. This negatively affects these brands’ ability to establish appealing identities, a fact that has to change soon.
In the end, the fact that most leadership positions are filled by members of the majority isn’t just about unfair representation. It’s about having the experience and knowledge to market to the groups that have become the new super-consumers. As the influence of women and various minority groups continues to increase, they become the market segments responsible for driving new products and technology. Right now, the most important consumer brands aren’t managing to communicate with these consumers. They’re not earning the trust they need to build good relationships. At the same time, they’re creating cultural gulfs that divide the country, encouraging people to see themselves as part of isolated groups that aren’t connected to other people. Corporations must work to truly understand minority groups, not just for their own bottom lines, but to encourage the kind of positive change America needs.