Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why intersectionality, technology and collaboration are crucial to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion goals in 2022

By Carlye King, Account Manager, Commercial, N. Europe, Xandr

The digital media space is an ever-changing landscape, and for those working inside the industry, keeping up with the rapid rate of change can mean that it’s easy to lose track of important cultural shifts that are happening in wider society. However, 2021 saw the digital media sector devote more of its focus and resources to addressing long-standing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in relation to brand marketing, media buying and publishing, and I’m excited to see this continue into 2022.

Expect a greater focus on ‘Intersectionality’

Fundamental to improving DEI in the digital media space is understanding the intersection of the component parts that affect diversity, equity, and inclusion in society. Law professor and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term intersectionality to describe the ways in which people’s social identities, such as race, gender, class and sexuality can operate together to create interdependent systems of discrimination. For example, the gender pay gap is often discussed in terms of women being paid less than men, which fails to recognise how the gender pay gap is often even larger for Black, Latinx, or Asian women than it is for white women. Historically discussions of inequality have focused on one trait, seemingly ignoring that many people are subject to more than one inequality experience simultaneously. 

By making conscious and consistent efforts to expand investments in media targeted at and owned by marginalised groups, advertisers have the power to make the advertising industry truly diverse, equitable and inclusive. As consumers increasingly seek to interact with brands who reflect their own morals and ethics, a lack of authenticity can prove detrimental to a brand name. Failure to understand the intersectionality of individuals might be considered a failure to understand the breadth of the audience you are seeking to engage with.

Not just allies, but collaborators

We need to transition from being ‘allies’ of DEI to being ‘collaborators’, coming together to actively pursue change within our own organisations by calling-out and addressing things that aren’t equitable, inclusive or diverse. Many of the corporate announcements of solidarity or commitments to expand investments in marginalised spaces seen in 2021 could be accused of virtue signalling. In other words, publicly signalling support for a social cause without necessarily doing anything meaningful to advance it.

In 2022, it’s time for companies who have talked-the-talk to walk-the-walk. Who is doing the work to invest in media targeted at and owned by marginalised groups? Who’s investing in DEI internally? Are those commitments alive and growing or did they lose momentum? At Xandr we are learning that there is no magic solution to affect change. It will take a commitment of time, resources, and cross-industry collaboration to make strides in the right direction. As an organisation we are prioritising doing the work to recognise our own biases and how they act as barriers to DEI in the workplace, with a focus on building a culture of honesty, acceptance, and accountability through actionable goals for annual review.

Technology – the great leveller?

The Covid-19 pandemic was a harsh lesson into the realities of keyword blocking. Once considered an effective brand safety measure, today we understand the downside of overzealous blocking, particularly when it comes to diversity conversations where most brands err on the side of caution. In their efforts to avoid controversy and maintain brand safety, many advertisers are inadvertently excluding huge swathes of potentially valuable customers from their campaigns. As an industry we need to be constantly reviewing, and in some cases challenging, our current best practices to ensure that we aren’t blocking progressive content or marginalised voices.

At Xandr, we believe that technology has a key role to play in transforming things for the better. We’ve begun exploring how, as an ad exchange, we can collaborate with publishers, advertisers, and external partners to develop long-term solutions that not only promote but grow marginalised voices and inventory owned by marginalised groups. We are committed to learning from and working with partners, such as Brand Advance, who are a positive force within the industry to help educate and drive change within the DEI space.  

Getting started is often the biggest hurdle

In 2022, I am looking forward to seeing how things continue to change for the better. As the co-chair of the Xandr Women’s Network in EMEA, the most common discussion I had with allies in 2021 centred around wanting to get involved but not knowing where to start. We all worry about making a mistake or saying the wrong thing; let’s embrace that vulnerability and dive in. Do the work to educate yourself on these topics and be willing to make mistakes.

Create actionable and measurable goals you can hold yourself and others accountable for within your organisation. Extend this work externally to address gaps in the industry by collaborating with clients, partners, and even competitors in ways that drive long-term progress. At the end of the day the only way we can make our industry more diverse, equitable and inclusive, is together.