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For the past four years, I’ve talked time and time again about one concept: community.

More specifically, I’ve spoken about how our community should operate… nothing less than being ‘positively lovely’. The sentiment I have always wanted to get across is this: if you are a human being with ideas and you are going to respect other people – you are welcome through our doors.

And while over these years we’ve done a good job at making people feel welcome, included, educated and part of something, it doesn’t mean we can’t do better for our community. Diversity is something, in particular, I know we can improve on.

Like many of us, this last week and a half has caused me to stop in my tracks and ask myself some serious questions. I’ve kept quiet so far because I needed to educate myself and listen.

The Marketing Meetup started as a hobby because I wanted to learn about our craft and meet other marketers, but do it in an environment which felt comfortable and welcoming. While nothing has changed there, the growth and scale of it amazes me every day. With this growth however, it’s slowly dawning on me I, and the company I run, have a responsibility to other people as our voice grows and people look to us for inspiration.

Slowly I’m coming to a place where I can start placing actions to match good intentions when it comes to making sure our community remains diverse and everyone feels they are as welcome as they are. This post, in particular, is written in the context of the global protests in support of Black Lives Matter.

Waking up

Honestly, it’s terrifying talking about race so openly. My personal experience is that I was raised to ignore external traits in favour of the ideas in the head of a human being and the contents of their personality. What is clear now though is by not having these conversations, we’re not making progress quickly enough to make sure our society presents equal opportunities for everyone in it. Truthfully, this is a heavy admission, and these last ten days I’ve largely been stuck in my own head, sludging through a constant process of questioning my beliefs.

But when a community shouts, you have to listen. And, the message is clear: the black community is hurting and needs us all to get behind the message with actions. This isn’t about treating the black community as if they are a separate entity to us. They are The Marketing Meetup community. They are our friends and our neighbours. They are us – this is super personal.

With a large dose of guilt, I knew the pain was there. But when I reflect on my actions, while I know I looked to support with gestures and good intentions, I sleepwalked through appreciating the depth and pain in the issue. Gladly, the protests have awoken me up and signalled now is the time for us to put efforts and attention into stopping the injustice we all know is there.

Actions, not gestures

Its clear action is going to be the thing that moves us forward, not just chat. It’s also clear the thing we should be looking to create is long term change, and not just make gestures because it’s in vogue to do so. The changes we should be aiming for are those that still have an impact when companies change their logos back from a black version, and when people stop protesting and posting black tiles.

This is also an opportunity for wider actions on diversity to come to the fore. Making sure we provide safe, inspirational and welcoming environments for all human beings. Any change we make is with this goal in mind.

There are a lot of people out there who are doing wrong in the pursuit of doing right. So, while there will be mistakes and missteps along the way, doing something is better than accepting this is the way things are. I’m happy being called out if it means we can do something better.

Specific challenges

As I said, these last 10 days have been an emotional quagmire. The enormity of the task is intimidating until you view it through the lens of thinking about the problems and actions our skillsets can produce the most impact on.

In my case, that’s helping within the wider marketing community I am so proud to be part of. It’s a chip away at the larger problem but focused small efforts add up to big changes when combined.

Through listening, discussing and reading, there are three problems I would like to do our bit to help solve. They’re not the whole puzzle by any means, but areas we can place our focus with the ambition of making a meaningful dent. These three areas are:

  • Helping inspire more people into our industry
  • Once in, helping them to rise through to leadership positions
  • Facing the internal bias head-on (and not being shy about it)

The way to tackle these challenges will then be looked through two lenses, again, with the ambition of identifying long-term, impactful actions, not just words. These lenses are: internal to The Marketing Meetup systems/team and external in how we display that to the community.

Help inspire more people into our industry

A few years ago, Marketing Week ran a survey suggesting only 3% of school-age children would consider a career in marketing. There is a talent crisis coming already, but anecdotally, we know an even smaller percentage of this 3% will be people of colour. In recent discussion with an HR-manager they said  ‘we want to hire a more diverse workforce, but we just can’t find them’. Whether this is true or not, we can certainly be doing more to sell a career in marketing to the next generation as ultimately, marketing done well is a ’noble act’ as stated by Rand Fishkin, Founder of Moz and SparkToro.

As an internally focussed activity, TMM will look to provide more role models by drawing up guidance for our organisers to strive for diversity when curating speakers. Additionally, The Marketing Meetup will draw up a hiring policy which makes it clear positive action is something we will utilise. Finally, we will actively also look to find local organisers for our events who can lead our communities.

While these actions are useful, it’s clear the main opportunity lies externally for this particular problem. Moreover, the solution clearly starts at the grassroots. We need to find a way to make the next generation aware the option exists, inspire them, and they are very welcome to our industry. Without meaning to be crass, a traditional marketing lifecycle model applies.

There are organisations who already exist who are working towards this end. The action I would suggest as a first step towards helping people of colour to feel excited about a potential marketing career is to use our collective voices to amplify messages of encouragement to the black community with the strong message: “we need you, you are welcome here, and this is a great place to be”.

The delivery of this programme will be discussed, as it may well be we are able to give additional backing to someone else activities already in motion. If this is not the case, then we can begin the process of shaping what a programme like this would look like collaboratively.

Actions:

  • Internal: Speaker diversity guidance for organisers
  • Internal: Hiring policy enforcing positive action
  • Internal: Encourage more diversity within local organisers
  • External: Get in touch with other organisations to see if we can set up a programme of helping younger folks understand the possibilities of a career in marketing

Once in, helping them to rise through to leadership positions

The Marketing Meetup provides education and networking opportunities for marketers. In truth, this is already a service in the pursuit of helping people rise through the ranks through becoming more informed and better at what they do. As said before however, it doesn’t mean we can’t do more.

Here, I believe there is a strong need to show people of colour can absolutely rise through the ranks by providing examples and giving these folks a stage and a louder voice.

Two actions fall out of this: guidance to organisers (internal) and providing opportunities for people of colour to speak on our stage as role models for people who wouldn’t think it would have been otherwise possible. The same principle also applied to non-male speakers who are less represented as speakers but also should be included as a proud and prominent part of our speaker selection.

Finally, there is a piece here on making sure people within the minority communities are aware we even exist and they are very welcome. This is a marketing and advertising piece which has layers of nuance within it. Specifically, things like making sure our wording in our materials, our imagery and our targeting are all appropriate to ensuring we are painting a picture to those who haven’t engaged with us before that they are very welcome to our happy community.

Actions:

  • Internal: Speaker diversity guidance for organisers
  • Internal: Provide guidance on gathering imagery for local organisers to ensure they are representative of the audience we get through our doors
  • Internal: Review marketing activities including wording and targeting to ensure we are not unintentionally putting people off attending our events
  • Internal: Proactive approaching of speakers of colour and women speakers
  • External: Making sure the voices of these individuals are heard through our platform
  • External: Marketing and advertising needs to match our open-door policy
  • External: How can we be using our platform to further the message of underrepresented groups in the future?

Facing the internal bias head-on (and not be shy about it)

The final problem identified was we just don’t talk about these things because it’s really uncomfortable and scary to do so. Honestly as a personal reflection, until two weeks ago, I didn’t think we even should speak about these things and just think about the ideas in people’s heads.

However, as we’ve seen time and time again with issues of social justice and change, these issues only move away from their current state when we start facing them head-on. Truthfully, of all the problems this is the one that feels the scariest, but also potentially has the ability to move the dial the most.

The actions here are internal and external. It’s a mindset shift from treating everyone the same to acknowledging there are differences between us which should be celebrated. There are also differences between us that need calling out right now and eradicating immediately.

The actions we can take here, once again, are to provide a stage, but to do it a) bravely – by curating topics we would usually be scared to do so, but also b) still within the marketing remit of our group. Example topics could be from influential marketing people who share their experiences of working in marketing environments, and what we can do to help. While we’re not an activist group, we have a privilege of selecting the information people hear, so let’s widen the reach. Again, this is down to speaker guidance, speaker curation, but also content distribution.

The other action I believe we should be taking is to write a code of conduct. 5 – 10 sentences which say ‘this is what being positively lovely means’. In this conduct document, we should be dedicating at least one of the values to diversity. Not only does this signify an intention, but it gives us something to be held accountable to. Again, this is scary – we’ve never had something public the community could pin on us and say ‘you’re not doing this’, but diversity feels important enough to make the commitment and work through the fear.

Actions:

  • Internal: Seek discomfort in topic selection
  • External: Broader speaker topics focused on furthering the conversation and educating people on uncomfortable topics
  • Internal/external: Code of conduct drawn up – the positively lovely charter

Reporting

Each month, we’ll make a report back to the community on the things we’ve done to better make our community a healthier and more diverse place to be. It doesn’t need to be elaborate but does hold us accountable to making long term decisions and actions that make real change and go beyond gestures.

Summary

Diversity is really important and it would be heartbreaking to think any of our activity to date has put people off attending on the basis of their external traits.

I know we will be judged not by the contents of this post, but by our actions. The result is however that in the future we can proudly say we’ve done something meaningful for our community that has made it better, more diverse, and as welcoming as we say it is.

This won’t come easy, and to be honest, I’m expecting a whole lot of discomfort along the way. That being said, if you think something is important, it’s worth pursuing… so that’s what we’re going to do.

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