Brands, You Might Be Putting Up Your Own Barriers to Diverse Creators

Interrogate processes and craft a clear mission statement for creator inclusion

The creator economy has always challenged the status quo around who can have influence, whose voice can be heard, who gets to work with brands and who gets to be a brand.

With this disruption, there have come more opportunities for people from historically excluded communities to monetize their creative talents and perspectives, establish influence and break into rooms and industries where their communities have been underrepresented.

Despite this, for diverse creators, the creator economy can mirror some of the same inequities we see across industries and in the broader global economy: pay inequity, lack of equal representation and processes that don’t consider the unique barriers and needs of different lived experiences.

Brands, here are three ways you can amp up your creator inclusion strategy to make the space more inclusive and more equitable.

Develop a mission statement

Why is it important for your business to build meaningful partnerships with creators from underrepresented communities? Why is diverse representation important to your influencer marketing efforts? How do inclusive creator partnerships allow your brand to better serve your audiences?

If the answers to these questions are unclear, pause. You need clarity to drive impact.

A mission statement helps empower your brand to shift from just following what you see from other businesses to doing what truly works for you and your creator partners. It will also help set the tone for how your teams come together to advocate for diverse creators.

While establishing your mission statement, also consider how your industry has contributed to barriers for historically marginalized communities in the past and present day. By taking into account the historical context of how marginalized communities have experienced your brand or your industry, you can make more strategic and inclusive decisions regarding your creator partnerships.

For example, imagine that you have a sustainable retail brand that wants to focus on increasing awareness around sustainability. Your first instinct might tell you to start by looking for creators who are passionate about environmentalism. But, when you take a step back and look at the historical context of environmental racism and how climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color, you may find that you should focus specifically on amplifying stories from creators of color whose communities are most impacted by climate change.

Relinquish creative control

It’s crucial to let creators tell their stories the way they want to tell them. And if it’s not possible to relinquish some control on a specific campaign, then it might not be the best fit for working with creators.

That’s not to say that brands shouldn’t have any say in the creative process—obviously, they should. But the goal should be to look at creators as your creative partners; the process should be collaborative, and there should be room for some creative negotiation.

This is particularly important for creators from marginalized communities, because all in all, a seat at the table isn’t enough. Brands need to create space for these creators to have equal stakes in the output of the content created. Otherwise, you run the risk of perpetuating an experience that says your brand wants to benefit from the proximity to this creator, and their community, but doesn’t want to engage with the creator’s full self and the impassioned viewpoints that come with it.

Try establishing a set of creative guidelines before you kick off the campaign. This should include all mandatories while leaving enough leeway and freedom for the creator to insert their own ideas and voice. Spend time aligning on these creative guidelines with your team, then share these guidelines with the creator and ask if they are aligned and if they have any guidelines to add as well. Use the guidelines as a tool when you feel your team is having trouble relinquishing creative control.

Interrogate whether ‘due diligence’ is creating barriers to entry

It’s common to see agencies and brands require that media, advertising and production dollars go to certified minority-owned, women-owned, LGBTQ+-owned, veteran-owned or disability-owned businesses.

Getting certified comes with great benefits for businesses. However, for some small businesses, those just starting out or even independent contractors—as many creators are—there can be barriers that prevent them from being certified.

For example, some organizations require proof of business address or a rental or mortgage agreement if the business is home-based. Owning or renting property can have barriers in itself. What if a creator is subletting and doesn’t have access to a renter’s agreement?

Other organizations may require a business bank account, a nonrefundable application fee or multiple years of tax returns to be considered—items that require monetary resources, time and a certain level of financial education, which might not be readily accessible for creators from low-income or working-class socioeconomic backgrounds.

Often, systems or processes that we view as mechanisms that help us do our due diligence also contribute to more hurdles for diverse creators. Let’s challenge ourselves to revisit and think critically about how systems might inadvertently make opportunities out of reach for the very creators that they are meant to amplify.

In many ways, a brand’s impact is only as strong as the operational structures behind its initiatives and statements. By taking stock of your processes and interrogating your assumptions about how people experience these processes, you can find strategic ways to remove barriers and mitigate against inequities.

You may not get it right 100% of the time, but we need to continue to set new standards and strive for inclusion, equity, and accessibility as a baseline for success.