Why This Agency Launched an Online Diversity and Inclusion Course During a Pandemic

Expanding D&I in a recession is a smart business move

There's no better time to harness D&I to strengthen a company, says the team at The Diversity Movement. The Diversity Movement
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Over 10 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in March. As layoffs and salary cuts earthquake through nearly every industry, some would say launching a new business right now is straight-up crazy.

But for the team at North Carolina agency Walk West, there’s no better time for businesses to commit to diversity and inclusion. That’s why Walk West on Friday announced it is launching a new D&I consultancy, complete with an online course, called The Diversity Movement.

“Diversity and inclusion is critical for communicating the right messages to the right audiences based on the makeup of the team that you have,” said The Diversity Movement vp of D&I and innovation Kurt Merriweather, who acknowledged that in many ways it “doesn’t seem like a normal time” to launch a new team strategy program for businesses.

While diversity and inclusion is often thought of as a hiring and recruitment imperative, Merriweather said it’s even more important as a business case for continued growth, success and accurate brand messaging.

“Especially at a time like this, it’s going to take folks being creative and inventive,” said Merriweather. “And making sure you’re taking advantage of the key ideas that come from everybody in the organization, because it’s going to require everyone’s creativity to figure out how to navigate the things that are happening right now.”

Diversity from home

There’s also never been a better time to launch a web-based diversity course. D&I trainings often take place in offices, led by outside consultants. What happens to those staff trainings while we’re all working from home?

The Diversity Movement’s core program is a self-guided, eight-hour course called Diversity Beyond the Checkbox that delves into the business case for D&I, unconscious bias in the workplace and implementing an ongoing D&I initiative among other topics. It launches April 20, but is packaged alongside a range of blogs, podcasts and an e-book—initial offerings that the program expects to expand soon.

Walk West, the digital marketing firm behind the new course, stands solidly as an example of diversity and inclusion at play. The agency is made up of 70% women and African Americans, with a black CEO (Donald Thompson) whose background as an entrepreneur and angel investor gives him a unique perspective on everything from timing to messaging in the brand marketing space.

“As we have worked with clients to help them build brands, marketing strategies and plans, diversity, equity and inclusion has become an increasingly important element of creating business value,” said Thompson. “Being able to build resilient, high-performing teams to drive innovation is a source of competitive advantage.”

Reaching the health industry

Healthcare organizations are among the client roster at Walk West, something that Merriweather pointed to as a sector that is both growing and eager to expand multicultural messaging. As statistics begin to show that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color and blue-collar workers, it’s vital that teams creating messaging around health and safety also represent the makeup of the communities they are trying to reach.

Besides, Merriweather added, business leaders concerned about uncertain economic times should be looking at ways to reinforce growth and stability—something that diversity and inclusion efforts have been shown to do. Whether the data comes from the Harvard Business Review or from a McKinsey report on why diversity matters, there’s a clear correlation among companies between high diversity indexes and high financial returns.

Is the team at The Diversity Movement concerned that cutbacks could mean D&I efforts go on the chopping block? Nah, not really.

“It depends on how the organization approaches diversity and inclusion in the first place. If it’s a business imperative, then that shouldn’t change—in fact, it should be stronger,” said Merriweather.

Merriweather said companies that have already committed to D&I have likely seen some rewards already, but adds that truly overhauling an office culture and the makeup of an organization is a marathon, not a sprint. With that in mind, The Diversity Movement was created as a long-term partnership that will continue past the point of course completion.

“It’s not a one-time training exercise, but is really a program that has multiple interventions over time so that an organization can experience the benefits that really have to happen through transformation,” Merriweather said. “We’ll have opportunities to come back into organizations and work with leadership teams over a period of months and really years, because one of the things we’ve seen is it takes a while for diversity and inclusion programming to reach the right kind of benefit.”


@MaryEmilyOHara maryemily.ohara@adweek.com Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.
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