Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging with Crystal Whiteaker
Inclusive brand consultant Crystal Whiteaker discusses diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and explains how brands and employers can become more inclusive.
Blog writer: Carson Kohler has been writing for the web since 2016. Based in Arlington, Virginia, she is currently a writer at a national news organization.
In the past decade or so, we’ve heard a lot about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. But what exactly does DEI look like IRL?
What about DEIB? (The ‘B’ stands for belonging.)
“When I think about brands being inclusive, we're looking at everything — marketing campaigns, language, email newsletters, nurture sequences,” inclusive brand consultant Crystal Whiteaker explains. “What are consumers or customers… receiving when they encounter your brand?”
Whiteaker works with entrepreneurs and brands to build genuinely inclusive messaging and environments rooted in core values.
She joined an episode of the Healthy Rich Podcast to discuss all things DEIB. We start by defining these terms then dig deeper into how brands — and employers — can become more inclusive. Hot tip: There’s always room to learn and improve!
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Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging — not your dictionary definition
Everyone defines and approaches DEIB differently. If you want the true, technical definition of these terms, hit up a dictionary. But here’s Whiteaker’s take on each.
Simply put, diversity is what gives people a seat at the table.
Equity is representation. It gives people a voice and allows them to speak their mind.
Inclusion is making people feel welcomed, heard and understood. In the context of DEIB, for Whiteaker, it’s really about connecting with people on a genuine level to understand their lived experiences and create space for them.
Belonging, Whiteaker explains, is more difficult to define because everyone has a different sense of belonging.
Here’s how she looks at it: It’s helping people create brave spaces rather than safe spaces.
“We are essentially creating an environment where we show up bravely as ourselves and create opportunities for people to show up as their whole, entire human selves, where they don’t have to segment off who they are,” she says. “They can be brave enough to be honest about their identity, their lived experiences and their perspective of the world.”
How brands (and individuals) can be more inclusive
A company’s branding doesn’t just refer to its logo, design and online presence. It’s about the internal organization and leadership, too.
“Those are a lot more synonymous than people want to admit,” she says.
Think about it: As society evolves, people care about products, yes, but they also want to know the humans behind those products. They want to know the brand values are reflected internally at organizations, too.
Becoming a more inclusive brand isn’t a matter of hosting a few DEI trainings throughout the year. Whiteaker shares some steps to begin thoughtfully working on DEIB with your brand.
1. Get rooted in your core values
Companies big and small must consider if their products or services align with the organization’s core values.
Core values, Whiteaker explains on her website, are “the soul of your brand and they’re essential to communicating your beliefs and commitments to your community throughout your brand messaging.”
Everything — on a personal and a business level — must relate back to these core values.
“That’s really the way I approach the work, is getting people rooted in their core values,” Whiteaker says.
And leaders must consider how their core values are connected to inclusivity. Ask: How is this discomfort showing up? How is working through this going to honor your values? And, as you honor your values, how will you do so through an inclusive lens?
2. Put in the work — 365 days a year
In February, we see a lot of brands celebrate Black History Month. In May, it’s AAPI month. In June, there are rainbows everywhere to celebrate Pride. But what about the rest of the year?
“If you are really only doing things for the sake of your bottom line, and you're not actually supporting the people in those communities throughout the year, then it's performative and that's going to be reflected internally as well,” Whiteaker says.
To become more inclusive, you have to do real work by putting in the time, resources and energy year round. It’s a continuous, ongoing practice. For example, your company makes a donation to an LGBTQ organization in June — but why not do it each month of the year? Or maybe you speak up about civil rights during a large protest — but what about when it’s no longer on the front page of the news?
“One of the issues I see over and over again is companies not actually investing in the work,” she says. “They treat it as an add-on or a checkbox type of situation rather than an integral way of operating.”
Worse, she sees companies put the labor on employees who are part of marginalized communities in an effort to appear more inclusive. That’s not OK either.
3. Give everyone a voice
“Equity is when you are considering where everyone is and determining who needs support to actually create fair opportunities,” Whiteaker reminds us.
Leaders must consider how certain aspects of the company may impact employees because of their lived experiences.
“Sometimes leaders will just make decisions because they think it’s the best decision for the organization without actually consulting members of the team,” Whiteaker says. “You want to make sure that everyone feels like they have a voice, like they are valued within the organization.”
4. Keep learning
Remember: “This is a learning evolution,” Whiteaker says. “A lot of this information is new to people, and the difference is, as you get the new information, how do you receive it? Do you get defensive or are you open to having a conversation?”
A big example of this is our shifting language. Whiteaker shares a few tips and examples you can keep in mind:
Avoid gendered language. For example, instead of assuming wife or husband, use spouse or partner.
Don’t use behaviors as adjectives to describe people or things. A common example is describing someone as crazy.
Avoid using labels or identifiers to describe people without consent. A simple solution here is to simply ask and never assume.
Replace ableist language. Instead of “read more” or “listen here,” replace these with “check out more” or “tune in.”
“Just those minor shifts really make a big difference for entire communities of people,” Whiteaker says.
At the end of the day, there’s always more work to do. We will never be done learning.
This article is based on an episode of the Healthy Rich Podcast, conversations with leaders and creators in the personal finance industry and beyond to discover steps we can take to bring inclusive, budget-free financial education to more people. Subscribe via email or wherever you listen to podcasts!
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