Brands Must Step Up at the Olympics as Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Advocates

The Games have presented adversity for athletes, and marketers should be looking to weigh in with support

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When it comes to our workplaces, we encourage individuals to speak up. Yet many of us are bystanders watching things happen.

The bystander effect can also be true of brands.

When systems and processes are broken, there is a huge opportunity for brands to step up as diversity, equity and inclusivity (DEI) advocates. With the official start of the Tokyo Olympics only days away, we have seen some brands do so.

For the brands that stand to make money off the Games and choose remain silent, this is a missed opportunity. It’s easy for brands to say that DEI matters, posting powerful quotes and beautiful images on Instagram. But it’s time for brands to stand up for values in the moments that matter at the Games.

Provide a solution to systemic issues

Olympian Allyson Felix decided she didn’t want other Olympic moms to experience the obstacles she faced while competing. After giving birth to her daughter, her experiences as an athlete changed.

Felix was assigned a roommate at the World Championships shortly after having her child, who she would bring with her while traveling. “You absolutely can’t bring a 1 year old into a room with another athlete who’s supposed to compete,” she told Yahoo! Money in an interview. “I really struggled being in a completely different time zone—I’m trying to get this child on a schedule and I’m still trying to compete. The exhaustion from all that physically and mentally takes you away from being able to do your job.”

Brands have an opportunity to problem solve in real time.

So Felix teamed up with Athleta and the Women’s Sports Foundation. Together, they are launching a $200,000 grant program to help cover child care costs for mom athletes in Tokyo this month.

Like Athleta, brands have an opportunity to problem solve in real time and provide support at the games. By understanding the athletes’ journeys, they can show up as advocates in a meaningful way that ties back to their brand purpose and is in service of the Olympics.

Use the power of your voice

Members of the International Swimming Federation (FINA), put a ban on swimming caps designed for Black hair, not allowing them at the Olympics. Soul Cap, the maker of the caps, had partnered with Alice Dearing, the first Black female swimmer to represent Team Great Britain at the Olympics.

Soul Cap, a Black-owned brand, posted the following on Instagram in response to the FINA ruling:

Brands have an opportunity to use the power of their voice, and in this particular case, show their support for the Black community. There is a long history of racism in swimming, including the U.S. history of segregated pools and stereotypes around Black swimmers.

Top competitive swimwear brands such as Arena, Speedo, TYR and more should be rallying to support of Soul Cap and Black athletes and pressuring FINA to overrule the decision. Speedo’s silence is particularly loud following its partnership last year with the Black Swimming Association, where it stated it was “committed to encouraging and empowering all people to get swimming.”

No one should have to choose between a sport they love and their hair.

Step up and help

Becca Meyers, a deaf and blind Olympian, needs a personal care assistant (PCA) to function as an athlete and help in her day-to-day life. She had an understanding with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) that allowed her mother to travel with her to competitions as her PCA. Meyers’ needs have come to a head with the heavy restrictions at this year’s Games due to the pandemic. She is not allowed to have a PCA attend the Olympics with her and was told she would have to navigate Tokyo alone if she wanted to compete.

She had no choice but to quit Team USA, and now, no one wants to take accountability for the decision. The USOPC says the Japanese government isn’t allowing Meyers’ mother to attend with her while the Japanese government says the USOPC is ultimately responsible.

Brands should be watching and listening for crises happening in the moment, before or during the Games. This is a powerful moment for a brand to step in and support Meyers by appealing to the USOPC and the Japanese government on her behalf so she can travel with her mother and compete.

It’s easy for brands to say they care about DEI values. The important hard work begins when brands show up as true advocates in moments that matter most.