Inclusion: The Connectivity with Diversity

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Cover image for  article: Inclusion: The Connectivity with Diversity

What's interesting to me about this year's ANA Marketing Word of the Year "inclusion" is that it's a fast follow from last year's word of the year "diversity." Certainly, there's connectivity between the two terms as many companies focus on efforts related to both diversity and inclusion.

However, this also raises a philosophical question: Are there instances where the two concepts aren't coupled and put in practice together? For example, can a company be diverse but not inclusive? Furthermore, is there a gap that exists between the terms that we need to examine more closely?

To answer this question, I paused and asked myself: What does inclusion really mean? Are we really doing enough -- individually and collectively -- to be inclusive?

First, I had to define the word of the year.

In my humble opinion, inclusion is about having a fair voice. For instance, while my views may be different, I know my opinions will be considered alongside others' perspectives. Feeling included in the workplace means that my unique stance was shared and heard. More specifically, it gives me assurance that my input was melded, morphed or it served as a catalyst to seed other ideas that helped shape a broader perspective.

There's also the human element of inclusion: at the end of the day, we all want to feel respected, acknowledged and seen. This personal sentiment allowed me to be introspective -- on my individual upbringing and 20-year-plus career journey.

From a personal standpoint: I grew up in Singapore, a multi-racial and multi-cultural country. As children, we looked forward to festivals -- Ramadan, Chinese New Year, Deepavali and Christmas. We visited each other's homes dressed in traditional outfits and partook in meals and treats specially prepared for the holidays. I was truly raised in a diverse melting pot where everyone's unique backgrounds were celebrated. Flash forward to my life now -- I have lived in New York City for several years. It's not lost on me: I've picked places to live that celebrate diverse roots, viewpoints and cultures.

As I think about my work environment over the last two and a half decades, I realize how I've subconsciously been drawn to companies where it's clear different opinions are encouraged and celebrated. It is at these places where I've felt a part of a broader community that embraces my uniqueness, while also sharing a common vision or purpose.

Take for instance, my most current employer, Northwestern Mutual. A Fortune 100 company whose mission is noble and purpose-driven: to provide Americans with financial security so they can be relieved from financial anxiety. At Day 100, after assuming the role of CMO, I've felt right at home within Northwestern Mutual in both the Milwaukee and New York City campuses. This is because the company practices what it preaches when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).

This past fall, Northwestern Mutual hosted a women's summit, organized thoughtfully and intentionally by one of the eight different employee resource groups within the company that are all volunteer based. In addition to featuring women speakers -- from inside and outside the organization -- the conference was supported by its allies (many of them men), and the various vendors that were selected represented women-owned businesses.

When it comes to the business side, a sense of inclusion is also palpable within both the physical and virtual walls of the company. One of my favorite phrases frequently used at Northwestern Mutual is "co-creation." I truly believe "co-creation" embodies the sentiment of inclusion. When it comes down to it, we're a business that relies heavily on collaboration, respect for each other, and a commitment to do the right thing for our policyholders. Take for instance, our more than 7,500 financial advisors throughout the U.S. that co-create solutions for our clients in order to provide financial security. Our advisors take the time to understand unique life situations, diverse economic backgrounds, cultural proclivities toward spending and saving and different levels of financial literacy. Without co-creation, solutions will not be shaped to reflect the unique needs or challenges of our clients. Ultimately, our goal is to drive action through trust, conviction and ultimately, adoption. Co-creation is in many ways the manifestation of inclusion at its highest level.

And within Marketing, co-creation is something we live and breathe every day. I always say marketing comes down to both the "art and science." Taking a step back, marketing is such a robust field to be in. For example, you have the creativity of a visual designer combined with a numbers-driven data strategist and a program manager who coordinates all the various taskflows. Within my team, we're coming together with different skillsets and competencies to solve a problem together. It's imperative that opinions are heard and represented.

Finally, as I think about the word of the year, I believe it's critical that diversity and inclusion be interconnected. While there is certainly a lot to unpack with both these words, I would encourage more companies ask themselves: Are we really doing enough to be both diverse and inclusive?

This article was written byLynn Teo(pictured at top), Chief Marketing Officer of Northwestern Mutual.

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