What Vogue Can Teach Us About Being (Genuinely!) Inclusive
Companies have gotten wise to the idea that their customers want to see diversity in their organizations, both within their employee ranks and incorporated into their public messages, such as advertisements. A CNBC article by Michelle Castillo from 2016 titled “Study: Americans want more diversity in ads” says Americans want to see the growing diversity of the American populace reflected in their advertisements. According to the article, “A new study by BabyCenter and market research company YouGov that surveyed over 2,000 people finds that 80 percent of parents like to see diverse families in advertisements. Sixty-six percent said that brands that showed reverence for all kinds of families was a considering factor when purchasing a product.”
Given this customer preference, it’s no surprise that all kinds of organizations are looking for ways to display their diverse and inclusive values and the policies and practices that reflect those values. However, fashion magazine Vogue is finding out the hard way that consumers are looking for more than superficial displays of diversity.
Vogue’s cover for the March 2017 edition features seven models in swimwear on a beach. The magazine’s cover story says, “The cover of this magazine answers (the question of what a woman should look like). One fine, brisk day, a stretch of private beach in Malibu finds an eclectic group of models posing together on the sand: Adwoa Aboah, Liu Wen, Ashley Graham, Vittoria Ceretti, Imaan Hammam, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner … Each of these cover girls proudly inhabits her own particular gorgeousness in her own particular way. Together they represent a seismic social shift: The new beauty norm is no norm.”
The seven models include a variety of ethnicities; however, social media users were quick to point out how the cover wasn’t really that diverse. As Alexandra Larkin writes for CNN, “readers aren't convinced. Across social media, they're criticizing Vogue for staying inside the fashion industry's narrow parameters. … Graham is the only plus-size model, and all of the models have relatively light skin tones. In addition, Vogue has been accused of altering Hadid's hand in the photo to cover up Graham's stomach.”
We’re not making any assertions when it comes to Vogue’s cover. It may well be the case that they genuinely value diversity and inclusion. The moral of the story here, though, is that perception is extremely important. While consumers want to see companies embrace diversity and inclusiveness, they want that embrace to be genuine. They don’t want to see companies simply pay lip service to those values, and they can and often do see through insincere publicity stunts.