The Current Landscape of DEI Practices in Marketing

SearsPetersonLada_TheCurrentLandscapeOfDEIPracticesInMarketing June 27, 2022 By: Michelle Peterson, Stephen Sears, and Cathy Lada, CAE

Too rarely do people talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion practices in marketing and communication efforts. A new survey looks at how associations are integrating DEI into these departments and where there’s room for improvement.

Numerous articles have been published over the last few years on DEI practices in the association space, but not many from the marketing perspective. Have you wondered if there are DEI marketing best practices, or how your association’s progress compares to others?

The DEI subcommittee of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council conducted a survey to gain a better understanding of how associations are handling DEI in their marketing and communications efforts. Launched in April 2022, it had 85 responses.

The results provide insight into where DEI stands in marketing and communications and offer suggestions to how to better integrate DEI in our efforts. In the first piece of a two-part article series, we’ll look at where things stand, sharing data from the survey.

Addressing DEI Organization-Wide

More than 80 percent of the respondents are addressing DEI at the organizational level. Professional associations and those with budgets greater than $5 million are significantly more likely to have DEI practices in place when compared to trade associations.

The majority of respondents say they are using diverse and inclusive images on their digital and/or print collateral. Eighty percent of respondents were taking this step regardless of whether a formal diversity statement was in place. Still, 60 percent of respondents have a formal diversity statement, and approximately half said that DEI is intentionally integrated into the organizational strategy. Some of the tools that are used include:

  • DEI consultants on organizational strategy
  • DEI Council for staff and DEI member volunteer committee
  • DEI content calendar

When results are viewed through the lens of organization type, there are major differences between trade and professional associations. For example, respondents from trade associations were 30 to 50 percent less likely than professional associations to have a formal diversity statement or strategy, or intentionally integrate DEI concepts or goals into their organizational strategy.

Data Collection

When it comes to data collection, 60 percent of respondents keep track of key demographic information about members, including gender, gender identity, education level, race, ethnicity, and/or age. Trade associations were less likely to collect demographic data.

There are several data points the majority of respondents didn’t track that could be considered relevant: members’ disability/accommodation status, employment history, language preference, veteran status, and sexual orientation.

DEI in Marketing and Communications Efforts

Almost 60 percent of respondents say that their organization encourages “diversity of thinking” in their policies, processes, and/or governance. With respect to staff and members, almost 40 percent say they evaluate and review various selection criteria to eliminate bias and maintain diversity and inclusivity. Further, almost one third have conducted formal marketing staff training and education in DEI or related topics such as unconscious bias.

At the same time, responding association executives indicate that these are “early days” for DEI in marketing—especially for smaller organizations.

A relatively small number of organizations have formalized metrics, procedures, and statements. Forty percent of organizations indicate they have developed and implemented a formal DEI strategy, and fewer than 20 percent have DEI requirements in their bylaws. Only 15 percent have defined, measurable DEI-related marketing strategies or goals. Respondents from larger organizations (50+ employees) were more than twice as likely as smaller associations to define DEI-related marketing goals or strategies.

Additionally, responses for marketing and communications practices indicate more work can be done. While most said that they include diverse and inclusive images, fewer than half said they use gender-neutral emojis and icons or monitor for and remove web, blog, or social comments that convey bias.

While the data may not be as encouraging as some would like, this scenario could be indicative of the lack of universal understanding of DEI. In fact, respondents listed many challenges to implementing comprehensive DEI efforts:

  • Many volunteers in the DEI space don’t have an agreed-upon definition about what DEI is. Survey respondents from large associations were much more likely to have a shared DEI vocabulary than smaller associations. Nearly 80 percent of these large associations had shared definitions and more than 60 percent reported evaluating marketing policies and processes to eliminate bias.
  • Reviewing legacy content is a formidable task—especially since local chapters are frequently autonomous and operate on their own timetable.
  • Many members may not believe that DEI is a business imperative that can improve their bottom line.

When viewed through the lens of organization type—professional, trade, and other—the differences become more startling. Professional associations were 20 to 60 percent more likely to have a formalized data privacy plan, prioritize demographics to collect, have a shared DEI vocabulary among the marketing team, and evaluate processes and policies to eliminate bias.

While the survey results indicate associations have a lot of work to do, progress is being made. Best practices, case studies, example vocabulary, and a DEI roadmap are tools and resources that respondents said would help associations address DEI in their marketing. If you have samples to share, please post them on this Collaborate thread [ASAE member login required].

The next article in this series will look at additional data and ways to make an impact through vendor selection and accessibility.

Thank you to Andrea Wieters, senior manager of industry research and engagement strategy, and Tim Sanders, director of research, at the ASAE Research Foundation for their support in launching and analyzing the survey results.

Michelle Peterson

Michelle Peterson is senior account director at Marketing General Incorporated in Alexandria, Virginia, and a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.

Stephen Sears

Stephen Sears, MBA, CEP, is CEO of EIFS Industry Members Association in Falls Church, Virginia, and a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.

Cathy Lada, CAE

Cathy Lada, D.Sc., CAE, is director of marketing at the American Animal Hospital Association in Lakewood, Colorado, and a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.