Contrived Diversity

Some images strike a nerve. The bank’s glossy marketing poster fell into that category. Prominently placed in the branch’s main window, the image depicts three competent and welcoming staff. On a deeper level the carefully constructed portrayal highlighted gender, ethnicity and disability. Since the jolt was more of a dull throb, than a sharp zap, I planned to ignore it. But my daughter’s smirk told me that she’d read my mind. Kate nonchalantly commented that the bank was trying too hard. That sparked discussion.

At some corporate table the marketing strategy was considered a solid win. Obviously the goal was to project the bank’s well-established inclusive hiring practices. Yet the ad screams of forced association, with three boxes of diversity ticked, crowning it a winner. Minimally the blinders of privilege played a role in approving this choice.

My issue is not with the bank’s hiring practices, but more about the marketing approach. If the intent was truly to reflect competency and staff diversity, why not make it reflective of banking realities? The scope encompasses minority groups represented on the poster, as well as countless others, including populations who were once denied careers in the prestigious realm of banking. I’m not suggesting an empirical representation, but rather a more inclusive, less targeted portrayal of differences. The opportunity was missed to accurately reflect staffing diversity, where differences blend, being commonplace and complementary, contributing to a diverse whole. Instead, forced diversity hangs in the bank’s window.

The bank is far from alone with trying too hard. In a recent seasonal television ad, the hostess delivers tasty treats to her guests. A man with two prosthetic legs is centrally placed, while an able-bodied man sits off to his side. The inclusion of someone with disabilities is positive, yet the optics feel contrived and patronizing.

A balanced weight to the guests’ presence would have rectified the discomfort.

On a positive note, a recent Christmas ad for the craft store, Michael’s offers a fine example of inclusivity, earning high points for subtlety. Diverse artists are individually featured, each for a few seconds with their wide-ranging artistic creations. One such artist is a young man with a discernable developmental disability. He’s not showcased for his disability, but rather his artwork—just like the focus for all artists. This type of advertising conveys value, respect and comfort with diversity. Nothing contrived about it!

Susan Dunnigan

January 2021