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What does sustainability really mean and what is the importance of inclusive innovation?

Wanda Holopainen, Creative Mind

Values of Tokenism

Throughout my career in business and marketing as a young black woman, I have witnessed

companies talking about creating content to support the brand image. But is the content we

are creating truly in touch with the underlying values of the company and the operations?

As I have brought up difficult topics related to diversity representation and inclusion, it has

often resulted in a conversation set up in which one is extremely defensive. Instead of reflecting

on things they might have missed and not considered due to the lack of diverse perceptions

around the table. Rather than listening and reflecting, brands often start to give justifications,

examples of the campaigns, and pictures that they have done in the past that include minority

representatives. Is it a diverse company if diversity is only seen in the marketing materials or

if it occasionally takes part in a trendy movement? For me, this means, that it is only aiming

to gain likes and followers. Now, it is time to move from storytelling into companies

proactively driving for social inclusiveness in sustainability.

UGE International: Social Sustainability

Social Inclusiveness in the Age of Sustainable Development

Can we say or communicate to the outside world that we are a sustainable company or a

brand if the three pillars of sustainability are not at the center of the operation? Marketing

tends to follow trends. Sustainability has been the megatrend on the lips of every marketer for a while now. However, often the conversations and communication about sustainability

highlight practices regarding economic and environmental pillars. Thus, neglecting the

significant goal of sustainability to drive for social inclusiveness. In marketing, this stands for

the processes and level of participation of diverse groups in the creative process, from

strategy to execution.

As an entrepreneur focusing on social inclusiveness in marketing, I face hardening

conversations every single day. Rejections and dismissiveness of the topic more than I can

even count. Until this last week, most traditional companies in Finland still thought that there

was no need for such an issue of inclusiveness in the marketing of our socialist country. It is

unfortunate that it has required us to get to this global pandemic and war on equality to get

people and, most importantly, brands and companies to finally wake up to the importance of

social sustainability in business. But at the same time, this conflict is required for us to finally

have these conversations on the tables where change can be made. So, when we are reflecting on our actions as marketers, let's ask ourselves; what characters are highlighted in our communication efforts? Who is empowered to produce the stories we tell? Who are in

charge of innovating and creating the overall brand strategies to ensure that people are at the center of our communication team?

Data, Analytics, and Technology Enhancing or in the Way of Empathy

Participating in a broad range of seminars, training, workshops around the globe, and

reading industry articles and news daily, I have been astounded to see the extreme emphasis on data and technology. Especially when technology is one of the major forces driving inequality. We should have more measures and goals for social sustainability in an industry that has become so technology-centered. Thus, it is even more crucial to highlight social inclusiveness when it comes to data and technology. Moreover, by focusing on understanding our target audience and customers through data, we often isolate and distance ourselves from people and the emotions behind the data. But can we truly understand our target audience and what they want and need?

Marketers often rely on empathy, looking at a situation through someone else eyes.

However, people experience different levels of empathy that affect their ability to look at a

situation from a different perspective. Marketing and communication can create social change

through an understanding of social structures and humans. But how can we create change

through empathy and stories, when they are built on data and analytical insight? Are we wasting opportunities to create social change by using our time to understand

someone's perspective instead of having a person in the house who lives through the

emotions every day? Should we invest more in impact-driven communication than look for

sales-driven strategies? My answer is yes. The short-term goals will not ensure that you will

have a business to do marketing for in the long term if the social pillar of sustainability is not

considered. Mainly when the globalizing world of business operates around technology,

innovation, and profit. Variables that drive inequality.

Where does the Transformation Begin

Data and technology will not show the pain and emotions that a diverse representative or people of color experience in their daily lives. I am asking you, my fellow marketers, first to educate yourself and reflect on your actions before you stand with me and the black lives

matter movement for equality. So, before you put out any black boxes or other marketing efforts, you should know what you are standing for and why. Figure out the inner conflicts before creating marketing and communication about inclusiveness. George Floyd and the

rebirth of the black lives matter – movement is a platform for internal dialogue. Just remember that you should not be afraid of conflict. Thus, conflict is required for transformation to occur. It is a dialogue and a process in which one's existing truths and

knowledge are challenged. 

The Opportunity for Inclusive Innovation

It is time to reflect and proactively look for ways to learn about diversity as an individual and

as a team. Think about the steps that should be taken towards social inclusion. There is a

saying in sports that "champions are made when no one else is watching". This is not the time to jump on a trend to get more likes or more followers. It is time for internal work. How do we support diversity and innovation in the workplace and within the industry? How do our

actions affect the communities within the area of our operations? We should focus on how we can all move towards inclusive innovation to enable sustainable development. Let's have the conversations, listen to one another, learn proactively, reflect, support, and take


I challenge Finnish brands to reflect internally and to take part in the global #pullupchallenge

to show your numbers of black people as well as other minority representatives in your

leadership roles. Inclusiveness call for representation across the organization. This movement and these weeks are about making plans and setting strategies to enable the diversity you have in the house, to evaluate the culture you have in your organization and in your industry from a diversity perspective, and to think about what your brand is doing and how it affects the community and culture we operate in.


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