In recent years, we've seen a number of marketing blunders that diversity on product development and marketing teams could have helped organizations avoid.
The benefits of workplace diversity typically focuses on how diversity strengthens the organization, enhances creativity and innovation, and increases productivity. A diverse workforce also allows organizations to better serve a diverse client population. Key to this is avoiding misguided products, or communication / marketing strategies that result from group-think or the blind spots that homogeneous groups can have.
I've highlighted five of these blunders that suggest that these organizations clearly had a blindspot. Someone, or a number of people, thought these were great ideas. In some cases millions of dollars were invested. But once a diverse population got wind of it, they reacted very differently.
1. Strange Fruit PR
A public relations firm in Texas was launched in 2012 with the name "Strange Fruit PR." "Strange Fruit" is the name of a famous 1939 song sung by Billie Holiday about the lynching of Black men and women in the American south.
The owners of the firm knew about the song and its meaning when they selected the name, but didn't think people would make the connection.
For over a year, people have been asking them to change the company's name. It is only after the issue blew up on Twitter that the owners apologized. The company has since deleted all social media accounts and is now known as Perennial Public Relations.
2. Shackled Sneakers
Adidas designed and produced $350 sneakers which included shackles that were to be strapped around the ankles. The shoe was widely criticized when it was debuted on Adidas' Facebook page.
When the reference to the shackles worn by enslaved Africans was pointed out, Adidas announced the shoes would be pulled from production and would not be sold.
3. Sexist Superhero T-Shirts
Multiple t-shirts with blatantly sexist messages were licenced by DC and Marvel comics to be sold in retail stores. This is despite having female superheroes that could have been featured with more positive messages.
In response to criticism over Twitter, DC Comics released a statement agreeing that the t-shirts are offensive.
4. Yorkville Cotton Window Display
A window display in Yorkville in Toronto, included two nooses dangling over a man's cotton shirt, surrounded by cotton plants. The company's sales director told the media that the display was to be a "whimsical display of a swing over a cotton field."
The display was widely criticized for insensitivity to the enslavement of millions of Africans on American cotton plantations from the 1600s to the 1800s.
5. NYPD Twitter Campaign
The New York Police Department asked its Twitter followers to send photos of themselves posing proudly with officers using the hashtag #myNYPD.
This campaign was labelled an #epicfail when users flooded the Twittersphere with hundreds of pictures of police violence. At one point, there were 10,000 tweets an hour criticizing police brutality and recalling the names of people killed by police. For a time it was the top trending hashtag on Twitter.
The lesson for organizations is that the more diverse your work teams, the less likely you are to make these blunders. A diverse team - made up of individuals who feel valued and comfortable enough to voice their concerns - will identify issues that others may not see. They can shed light on others' blindspots.
Staff from diverse communities, backgrounds and identities bring to the table a deep understanding of diverse communities that add value to all areas of the organization. As evident from these examples, diverse voices could have foreseen how the public would have reacted to these "great ideas." Those voices at the table would have helped avoid these blunders and saved the organization from the public relations disaster that these ideas became.