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How the “Diversity Triangle” can help media companies move forward

By Louise Story

New York City, New York, United States

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Diversity pledges are important and have been made in just about every industry since the killing of George Floyd.

The media is no exception. A variety of newsrooms have published letters to their readers about the ways their past coverage could have been more inclusive. Several have started training efforts to add more diversity among their sources and the people they feature in stories. Many have upped their efforts to recruit underrepresented groups to come join their teams. And some have announced plans to transparently report on the make-up of their newsrooms.

But these efforts will not succeed if companies do not take a holistic view of diversity. And media companies, in particular, have legacy structures that often get in the way of doing so.

And so, following my experience as one of the leaders who focused most heavily on diversity at The Wall Street Journal, I developed a framework I think can be helpful to media companies — and really all companies — trying to move the needle on diversity. I call it “The Diversity Triangle.”

Like all triangles, the "Diversity Triangle" relies on its three corners to be successful.
Like all triangles, the "Diversity Triangle" relies on its three corners to be successful.

Diversity of Audiences

Most companies say they want to broaden their customer base. And, especially as minority groups become larger and more influential in society and in the economy, most businesses need to broaden their customer base to survive in the long-run.

The problem is that in some companies, focusing on the customer and on new audiences is considered primarily a task for the marketing team. It’s as if those companies think marketers can sell anything, no matter what the product and content is! But it doesn’t work that way: Diverse audiences need to view your products as accessible and relevant. Otherwise, they will not buy your product. 

The takeaway? Diversity of Audiences will only occur if you’re also moving the needle on Diversity within Products. That brings us to the next corner on the Triangle.

Diversity within Products

For content companies, content is a large part of the product and typically the reason customers visit or subscribe to a Web site or app. Audiences expect to see people like them in the content and, more broadly, to experience inclusive product design with an eye on areas like accessibility. Beyond content, it’s the type of products, the price points, and whether they are relevant to different lifestyles that determine whether new audiences will flock to you.

You can’t have diverse audiences/customers without diversity within products. 

Diversity of Team Members and Company Leaders

Now, to bring this “full triangle,” you can’t create Diversity within Products without having Diversity of Team Members and Company Leaders. Creating inclusive workplaces is essential to being able to create products that resonate with new audiences.

It’s not just about hiring people from underrepresented backgrounds; it is also about listening to and empowering them once they’ve come on board. You are unlikely to make the right product and content choices if you have a non-diverse staff where talent with new perspectives are told “that’s not what we do here.” 

What’s your goal?

Depending on your job within your company, you may be focusing primarily on only one or two of the points on the Diversity Triangle. But the storyline I spelled out above plays out no matter where your primary focus resides. There is very strong interdependency for all three of these areas.

Say, for instance, you are mainly focused on increasing the diversity of your teams rather than diversifying your audience. You’ll find very quickly that new, more diverse employees will not join and will not stick around if you are not also focusing on the other two areas. Any attempt to hire and retain more diverse teams won’t work if companies aren’t also adding diversity within their products. Who wants to work at a company that makes products which don’t resonate with them, and isn’t interested in changing?

Why is a holistic view of diversity particularly challenging?

The problem, for many, are the silos that news companies created decades ago to keep content creation free from advertiser influence. Though many have found ways to work across organisational silos for new products and new initiatives, the silos must also be attacked with an eye toward diversity.

What does this mean?

  • More conversations among people across news companies about audiences and their interests.
  • More conversations among leaders around the company about not only recruiting but also about creating workplace culture that actively listens to employees about products, content, and community. 

The generation shift

Younger workers increasingly expect their employers to listen to both new audiences (potential customers) as well as employees, and to apply the insights to business decisions. Traditional command and control, top-down leadership does not work in a quickly changing society.

Thinking about the Diversity Triangle and involving teams in holistic thinking can help companies sustain change for the long run.

About Louise Story

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