How to avoid another H&M style mistake

H&M was quick to respond after an offensive ad for a line of children’s sweatshirts.

Still, the backlash was swift and extensive. But was this a lack of judgement or oversight in the creative department? Or is it something larger?

Need for diverse leadership

For anyone keeping track of diversity in the executive suite, the answer is simple. Ethnic and racial representation in leadership roles does not reflect demographics. In other words, while specific minority groups make up a large percentage of the population, decision makers are statistically mostly white and male.

Diversity of Thought?

Some might argue that “diversity of thought” is more important than racial or ethnic backgrounds, but there is an important skill set that gets lost on some, no matter how diverse their thinking. It comes from personal experience and having a gut for what is culturally acceptable and what should be avoided.

Could this ad have passed by a black decision maker and still been approved? Possibly. But not likely. The mother in the boy in the photo said she didn’t find the message on the hoodie offensive, as did many others who commented on H&Ms Facebook apology. Still, when your gatekeeper has a diverse cultural background, racial sensitivities stay top of mind. That’s because when you are a minority, you are reminded about race on a regular basis.

The cost of inaction

While many companies continue to push diversity hiring as a priority, others have entered into “diversity fatigue.” And while positions like Diversity Directors and even Chief Diversity Officers have been created in many companies, the percentage of Black and Latino executives of major corporations has mostly stayed stagnant. But is the investment in diversity worth it?

Today we learned that two celebrity partners announced they were pulling away from the partnerships with H&M over the ad, which is just one of many recent instances of cultural insensitively. In October, Dove apologized for a social media post that showed a looping image of a black woman removing a dark brown t-shirt to reveal a white woman. In that same month, Kellogg was called out for art on its Corn Pops cereal boxthat was deemed racist. And in April, the German company Nivea released a campaign with the slogan “white is purity” that was shared by right wing groups.

Diversity’s Dividend

According to a McKinsey study, companies with diverse workforces perform better financially.

The study showed that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. It was especially true in the U.S., where for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, EBIT earnings increase 0.8%.

So why then are we not seeing more brown faces in executive board rooms? It’s likely because most people tend to hire others that share similar background. If you are in a position to change that cycle, I encourage you to actively look for qualified executive candidates for your next leadership opening. I assure you they are out there and are easier to find than you may think.