I was having a conversation with the CEO of a major company about how to reach 57 million peple in the United States. When I mentioned that I was talking about reaching the Hispanic consumer there was a pause and a palpable change in the conversation. The enthusiastic CEO went into automatic mode accentuated by polite comments that indicated interest and understanding. Then the entire project was handed off to the person responsible for Diversity — a death knell for meaningful work.
The Chief Diversity Officer is a C suite position without budget responsibilities that lacks the clout that is necessary to execute. These positions are meant to deflect challenges to the status quo rather than define the possibilities and the opportunities in a growing market. With neither a place in the chain of command nor the portfolio that could make the necessary investments it is a place where ideas go to die. The Diversity person is there to make the company appear like they are doing something to serve their diverse consumer base.
Just like EEO Offices of decades past or the more recent renaming of similar offices as Minority, Disparities, Equity, or some other politically palatable name of the moment these offices do little more than develop plans and do training. Most companies take a 20th century approach and establish an employee group that is made up of the targeted community to advise them; hire outside expertise on the targeted group; create an advisory group of stakeholders; create a diversity, health equity, multicultural, or alliance development office; translate existing documents, webpages, etc. to the target language; add pictures of the target group; add food selections at corporate cafeterias that cover a variety of countries; and, sponsor “Month of…” events.
While these may be well-intentioned the totality of activities make it obvious that what has been accomplished is mostly veneer. Even worse they can be seen as a defensive response devoid of the tools to create the type of meaningful inclusion that produces financial results. This is bad for business and for our economy.
Reaching Hispanics or any target group means reaching individuals with an image, work, and product that resonates with who they are and what they want. It takes more than a diversity office to do that…it takes leadership and the commitment by every person in a company. That leadership is hard to come by when Hispanics are one in six persons in the U.S. but at Fortune 500 companies are less than 2% of the CEOs and less than 4% of the Boards of Directors.
Trust and brand loyalty go hand-on-hand and today each individual wants to know that a company knows who they are and what they want. Too often I hear that Hispanics are too diverse and because of that it is hard/incorrect/disrespectful to get a single message that resonates with everyone. That type of strategy reveals a lack of understanding of the American marketplace.
With the rare exception of being in a building that is on fire and yelling ”Fire,” it is unlikely that a single word can reach everyone. The era of the single message went the way of having only a handful of major networks. Each person wants and expects to be reached with a message that is tailored to them; that is why Google has been so successful. Google knows each of their users and craft messages for them.
So when I am asked how do you reach Hispanics? It’s the same strategy that you use for everybody—use language and images that are meaningful to the individual, make clear that you understand what they want and desire, and as a result earn trust and respect. You do different things at different times. Reaching everybody is no longer a one shot deal.