Insights from my Diversity and Inclusion Internship
The Black Lives Matter protests throughout 2020 inspired reflection across the nation. Not only were individuals trying to become better allies, but some businesses were too.
Honey was one of these businesses that took a look at what they were doing and realized they had more to offer. Upon this realization, Honey came together to discuss areas in which they could increase their impact and posted them to the “Our Actions” page of their website. One of the actions Honey committed to was hiring a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) intern. That’s where I come in.
My Road to Honey
I was preparing to enter my last semester at Sacramento State University, finishing up my BA in Communication Studies, when I saw the posting on my school’s job board in late July. I wasn’t actively searching for an internship, but I had told myself I would keep an open mind if the right opportunity were to present itself.
Reading the job description for the Honey internship, I felt like it was made for me because of the experience working as a Student Equity Advocate at Folsom Lake College gave me. I had also recently joined the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Establishment of a Sacramento County Women’s Commission as the Co-Chair of the Youth Advisory Ad-Hoc Committee. Combining my work experience with my personal experience as a gay Black woman who had grown up in a majority white community, I was confident that I could make a positive impact on Honey while navigating a space others may find uncomfortable or unfamiliar.
But I did have concerns before I began.
Was Honey truly interested in fighting systemic racism, or would they be like many other companies who ran Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) campaigns simply to appear empathetic without being willing to put in the work?
Would my experience educating on these topics transfer over well from an educational setting to a business setting?
I had heard about the pros and cons of other DEI training and internships—even with companies that were sincerely interested—and it was very important to me that there would be a true opportunity for success.
My concerns were put at ease in my interview. There was a passion and genuineness emanating from Meghan Phillips that comforted me. This wasn’t just a passing thought or phase, but a true commitment. As I dove into Honey’s history and work by reading Blog Posts, Case Studies, and meeting with all the members of the team, I learned that this thoughtful passion was at the core of Honey.
Working with Honey
Throughout my time as an intern, I completed multiple projects. While providing Honey with tools and resources for their own efforts, my perspectives on DEI, marketing, design, and business were also broadened. For example, when reviewing the employee handbook, I reflected on how running a business, whether large or small, is a tricky balancing act. There is much to weigh: federal and state laws, a company’s financial and legal protection needs, the needs of employees — all while trying to create an environment that aligns with a company’s culture and values. It’s not an easy task. Knowing how to balance each of these aspects becomes even more important when trying to develop a diverse and thriving workforce.
Helping to build that foundation for a diverse and thriving workforce was my goal when I reviewed and made recommendations for Honey’s recruitment resources. Data collected from the 2010 U.S. Census shows that Black people, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are all underrepresented in marketing and sales management positions. With this underrepresentation comes a lack of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color leading the discussions around DEI in marketing and design, which I discovered when researching educational opportunities for Honey.
This lack of representation feeds into one of the biggest struggles facing the marketing and design industries when it comes to diversity and inclusion: impactless and unconvincing approaches that, at best, leave audiences with nothing to remember and, at worst, draw criticism and backlash. See, it’s not that brands aren’t attempting to be diverse and inclusive — in a study conducted by Adobe in 2019, 69% of respondents said that they had seen more diversity in advertising than they did 3 years prior. But the problem lies in the how. Radley Yeldar, an award-winning UK-based creative consultancy conducted a review of Forbes 100 Most Valuable Brands and found that 47% used clichés when communicating their D&I efforts.
When I presented “Best Tips and Practices for D&I in Marketing and Design” to Honey’s teams, I gave specific recommendations on how to avoid the problems we see so often, like tokenism and tone-deafness. I also went over the most common clichés and how to avoid those too. But as I thought deeper about the root of the issue when it comes to D&I strategies, not just in marketing and design, but across all industries, I realized that a list of “Dos and Don’ts” is simply not sufficient.
Creating a more authentic approach to DEI
DEI are not exact sciences. There is no perfect recipe for a diverse workforce or 5-step plan for creating the perfect advertisement. If anyone ever tells you that there is, run! Our ideas of what different traits make a person who they are and how they relate to others around them are constantly evolving. Therefore, the ways in which businesses and organizations engage with their employees, their customers, and their communities should too.
That being said, there are guiding principles or frameworks that may be useful in creating truly impactful change. There may be some principles or frameworks that are more fitting for certain organizations or companies. As I thought about Honey and their clients, I wanted to create a guide that would be simple to understand and easy to remember for everyday application.
Inspired by the needs of the marketing and design industries, coupled with Honey’s thoughtful passion, I created a simple guide for approaching DEI with the overarching theme of Authenticity.
Yes, consumers want to know that the brands they support are ethical. Yes, they want to be able to see themselves reflected back in the product. But they can also tell when attempts to do this are insincere—just a checked off box on a list of “Do’s.” As consumers grow evermore conscious of buying from brands that align with their values and the number of these types of brands grows, the need for authenticity becomes of utmost importance.
There are plenty of dictionary definitions for “authenticity,” but none of them captured the essence of what it truly looks like, especially in the context of DEI efforts. So I created my own:
Intention is a critical aspect of any foundation, but especially when it comes to DEI efforts. It makes DEI not just an afterthought, not just a task on a checklist — but a vital aspect of the company’s values, culture, and goals. It’s like creating a roadmap.
When we put into words why DEI aligns with the values of the organization, whether that’s by documenting it as part of a mission or vision statement, or creating a separate statement, we are setting our destination. When we conduct research to improve our understanding, we get a sense of where we are now. And finally, when we include DEI as part of our goals and processes, we start to answer the question of how we’re going to get there. This act of creating a roadmap is even more crucial if DEI is new to the organization because there’s a risk of getting lost easily, similarly to how one may get lost when driving in an unfamiliar area.
It’s great to make a map, but there’s no point in preparing for a journey if you never take it. That’s why Authenticity starts with intention, but requires action.
Taking action can feel overwhelming. There are many different issues that need to be addressed at any given moment, whether those issues be internal or external. And of course, no one person or group can focus on all of them. It may be helpful to separate who to reach into different levels. Ideally, actions should be aligned across each level.
For example, when thinking about the first level consider how it looks if a business is committed to planting trees in a rainforest, but doesn’t supply clean drinking water to its own employees. Or at the second level, where a business may be emphasizing clean drinking water for its employees, but run-off from its factory is poisoning the local water supply. And finally, at the third level, if said business is providing clean drinking water to their employees, donating water to other cities whose water may be polluted, but then polluting water sources in other countries.
Thinking about these levels, remember a couple of key points.
- First, there doesn’t need to be action occurring at each level, but there should never be harm occurring at any level.
- Second, it’s best to prioritize working from the inner level towards the outer level.
Finally, transparency = content. When a business or organization shares what actions it’s taking or even how they are preparing to take action by setting their intentions, that’s what should be broadcasted to the public. That’s what will stand out.
This is just one way to think about DEI. As I said, it’s not meant to be a list of specific steps or a perfect formula. It’s just one way to approach a topic that is often complex.
My time at Honey gave me many opportunities to think about DEI and create tools, such as this approach, that I will carry with me throughout my career. I’m incredibly grateful for the experience I had that was so wonderfully crafted by Michi and Meghan. I’m also extremely thankful for the rest of the team who taught me so much about marketing, design and Honey, and for their willingness to listen and be open. I could not have asked for a better group of people to both teach and learn from.
To be frank, not every brand values DEI. They may think it’s too political or have negative reactions to the words because for them, it carries a different meaning. While I don’t approve of this, it’s a pill I’ve had to swallow. Change will come. It’s already here. But it can’t be forced or faked. It comes from the authentic efforts of those who genuinely believe in the positive impact diversity, equity, and inclusion can have not only for brands, but in our world.
Diversity: Includes but is not limited to race, color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, socioeconomic status, veteran status, education, marital status, language, age, gender, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, genetic information, and learning styles. In design and marketing content, this is the representation of many of these different characteristics.
Equity: The guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all while striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups.
Inclusion: Authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power and ensures equal access to opportunities and resources. In design and marketing content, this about how people are portrayed, rather than just the fact that they are there.
When Diversity and Inclusion are used in this post, it refers to design and marketing content and strategies. The use of DEI refers to organizational culture and practices.