“Meritocracy and equity are not interchangeable”: director of Mediabrands DCI | Marketing


One of Dharesheni Nedumaran’s roles as Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DCI) at Mediabrands APAC is to eliminate the idea that the benefits of DCI are limited to people. Instead, she wants everyone to understand that the benefits flow equally to all aspects of business and society. His ultimate ambition in his new role is to have a positive impact on society through progressive goals, which the retail industry is predisposed to do through the act of storytelling.

“Marcomms has the beautiful ability to tell stories,” said Nedumaran Asia-Pacific Campaign. “And in doing so, we have the opportunity to change the way society works. But we must continue to ask ourselves the questions: are our stories diverse? Are our stories fair? Are our stories inclusive? We must be careful not to multiply the dangers of a single scenario. “

The DCI process

At Mediabrands, DCI’s goals are based on four pillars: how employees are treated internally; how a “product” reaches consumers; how the network works with customers; and how DCI influences society as a whole. KPIs are also opposed to diversity and inclusion; capital monitoring is currently action-oriented as KPIs are not yet formalized. One of Nedumaran’s tasks as a new leader is to put in place a “listening strategy” to understand the gaps and weaknesses in the network so that more attention can be paid to these areas.

According to Neduamaran, a challenge for anyone doing DCI work is locating projects and priorities according to specific market needs. Each market may position issues differently based on culture and language, and research in Asia always tends to be more western. She said:

It’s about understanding that each market has different stories. And to do a good DCI job, we need to understand the context in which DCI exists, and understanding the story comes into play.

To work around these challenges, Mediabrands’ “listening strategy” includes an analysis of each market to identify under-represented groups. This is then compared to the research and statistics available in this area. Some markets, Nedumaran observed, are much more willing to have conversations about certain topics than others, and sometimes some “midair reading” is needed if an issue is not explicitly addressed.

“In Australia, one under-represented group that we want to stress the most are the First Nations,” she said. “Whereas in India it’s a lot about gender equity. And in Malaysia, one of our advocacy goals is to include more people with disabilities. “

Regulatory complexities can also come into play when designing policies, as these differ considerably from region to region. For example, laws still exist in parts of Asia that are counterintuitive in providing a safe space for LGBTQIA + people, such as the Penal Code in Malaysia which criminalizes same-sex relationships. In addition to this, there are factions in Asian culture that may portray LGBTQIA + issues in different scenarios. For example, in Indian history and storytelling, the presence of non-binary people has been around for centuries.

“When we talk and think about LGBTQIA + conversations, we always need to make sure these conversations are safe for our people in the market,” Nedumaran said. “For the people on the ground, you don’t want that moment where someone feels like ‘since my company is talking about it, I’m going out’ and then we’ve created a dangerous environment for that person by not doing the job of. safety first.

Of course, given the diversity of languages ​​and context in APAC, it is also important to consider local training partners capable of delivering content that responds to local nuances.

“For example, I can use the word ‘queer’ but that word has so many different meanings. This word was a bit coarser or insulting if you spoke to people who might be in a slightly older age group. But in fact, it’s the perfect word to use for people who might be younger, ”Nedumaran said.

When it comes to implementing progressive DCI practices at Mediabrands, Nedumaran works with HR, management and communications on many projects, but she stressed that DCI ground-level work has the most impact. impact on employees. However, the role of leadership in spearheading the cause is vital.

“If leaders don’t pay the word, DCI won’t impact all aspects of the business. Leaders must [lead inclusively] first. And then comes the building of confidence and the ability to [employees] to see that it’s something we take seriously, ”she said.

Reframing equality versus equity

When Asia-Pacific Campaign conducted an industry study with Kantar earlier this year, one of the main issues interviewees cited was companies putting the right policies in place, but the needle was not moving.

Nedumaran said that while the industry may continue to put policies in place, we must recognize that inequalities have already been built into our systems before people enter the workforce.

“And it’s important for businesses to understand that, because by serving consumers, they automatically create spaces where people who wouldn’t normally mingle start mingling. So there is enormous power in companies to start associating. While I think governments will have to do most of the work, businesses can ultimately influence government policies and move society forward, ”she said.

One mistake organizations make in this area, according to Nedumaran, is to implement policy before spending time on education and creating safe spaces for employees. For example, if a company implements a gender affirmation policy, education around marginalized genders must first take place. Otherwise, a policy might simply exist for the sake of good public relations.

“When you put one policy in favor, there is a ripple effect that requires education, implementation and correction of other policies to ensure that the first policy is sound,” he said. she declared. “It’s shortcomings like these that make DCI’s work important. We’ve been talking about it for 30 or 40 years and yet that’s why we haven’t moved the needle so much.

Industry leaders and employees also need to be educated about the inequalities embedded in social hierarchies and economic systems. This could ultimately lead to less hindsight when policies targeting under-represented groups are implemented.

“For a long time, the buzzword was diversity and inclusion. And then it became diversity, equity and inclusion; or diversity, equity and belonging; or diversity, equity, belonging and culture. It becomes a bit of an alphabet soup. But it has to be so because we are tackling a complex phenomenon, ”said Nedumaran.

Fairness may be a more recent topic of conversation in this case, but the industry needs to better understand how inequity is presented. While sometimes diversity quotas can be seen as the opposite of meritocracy, Nedumaran herself is “all for diversity quotas,” which she says can be controversial for others. And in some cases, she has indicated that quotas are the right thing to do in the short term before taking on the work required to get a business to eventually reach its goal. She said:

Meritocracy is a really interesting word when used with fairness. Because part of meritocracy is based on the assumption that people have the same starting point.

“If we are to create equitable results, we must also consider that everyone has different starting points and [accessibility], we need to think about how we can create equity before they even enter the workplace and how we build it in the long run. You might think that meritocracy and fairness are interchangeable, but they are not, “she added.

Regarding the measurement of DEI, Nedumaran said that monitoring human behavior by itself has not been ideally operationalized and, in this regard, can become a complex issue. Often times, diversity is followed by identifications that are physically visible, meaning that areas such as neurodiversity may not be traceable. One way around this problem is self-identification surveys which can be conducted anonymously by employees; this allows employees to securely identify themselves as they wish without worrying about how they present themselves physically and legally.

An important point made by Nedumaran is that companies cannot correct follow diversity, or they risk exploiting the DEI as a tick-off exercise.

“If you follow diversity and inclusion, you get a much better sense of belonging among employees, ”she said. “When someone is hiring, they can say ‘this is a woman, we have to meet a diversity goal, so let’s just hire her.’ Ultimately, you’ll ask employees if their company has created an environment in which they feel they can assert their differences and influence things. This is why having multiple data points gives us a richer scenario and prevents us from falling into the checkbox trap.

Along the way, companies will inevitably make mistakes, but Nedumaran said it’s just as important to take responsibility for them. She added, “I think that’s the way companies should approach DCI’s work; we can’t pretend we know everything.


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